For 51 weeks of the year Lander, Wyo. is a lazy frontier town of 7,123 persons tucked away along the backbone of the continent among an Indian reservation, national forests and the wilds southeast of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Except for a desultory war whoop on payday, life is tranquil in Lander; even the wind, according to the U.S. Weather Bureau, blows less there than anywhere else in the nation.
But last month it was again confirmed that for one week each fall Lander undergoes a metamorphosis. Overnight it dons the garbs of circus, rodeo and state fair. Traffic blocks its streets, out-of-towners overflow its motels and revelers its restaurants. From all over the country and as far away as Europe and Africa, movie stars, diplomats, TV personalities, politicians, princes, financiers, socialites, industrial czars, writers, artists and astronauts descend upon Lander, turning it into the liveliest and most celebrity-studded spot in the West. For a few days, one of the zaniest contests in all sport—Lander's One-Shot Antelope Hunt—is where the action is.
Although festivities begin several days before with shooting events, sighting-in sessions and partying among former one-shotters who annually return like old grads to a college reunion, the hunt takes place between dawn and dusk of opening day of the antelope season. As the title suggests, each shooter on the various three-man teams is given a single cartridge—silver-coated. To score for his team he must down a buck antelope with that one bullet. There is no premium on the size of the trophy, but there is on how soon it is taken.
"When you know you have only that single shot," says Denver businessman John King, a member of the Colorado team in 1963, "there is a special kind of pressure. It gets worse with each hour, and it makes you overcautious. Then you become so afraid of missing that you can't shoot at all."
To his dismay and enduring embarrassment, Roy Weatherby (of Weatherby Rifle fame) had just this experience the year he shot on the California team. Even redder-faced was John Olin, one of the country's best shots, who managed to squeeze the trigger on his Winchester and then missed by a mile. Neither performance is unique at the One-Shot.
Harold F. Evans of Lander and the late Harold W. Dahl Jr. of Denver dreamed up the One-Shot Antelope Hunt more than 30 years ago. They were sitting around a campfire one evening after a day's hunting, musing about the past when the Indian with his bow and the frontiersman with his muzzle-loader stalked similar quarry through the same stretches of golden-yellow sage. The evening meal of such early hunters depended upon the skill of the stalk and the accuracy of a single shot.
The next day Evans and Dahl each took an antelope buck with a single shot. This, the first of three decades of contests between Wyoming and Colorado, ended unofficially in a draw. The following year the two men met again, this time supported by four teammates from their respective states. After the hunt, which Colorado won, a One-Shot Club was formally organized and plans were started immediately for the next year's event. Except for four years during the war, the One-Shot Antelope Hunt has been held annually ever since. Over the years the number of teams has increased, the crowds have grown larger, the celebrities have become more numerous and the rules have gradually been refined to accommodate the changes.
Shooters are now limited to three per team, and no more than eight teams—preferably only five or six—may compete. Originally, all the teams represented states and, after the first few years, were captained by their respective governors who challenged the governors of Wyoming and Colorado. More than two dozen states have fielded teams.
So much emphasis on heads of states made non-governors begin to feel discriminated against, and in 1953 a group of U.S. Senators issued its own challenge. In subsequent years their example was followed by non-gubernatorial challenges from such varied areas as industry, Hollywood, All-America sportsmen, archers, astronauts and past one-shotters.
The enthusiasm and solid support of former participants, in fact, are major reasons for the One-Shot's success. They return each year in droves—shooting jackets bedecked with patches and pins from previous hunts, rifles oiled and polished and sparkling with silver and gold and ivory inlays—greeting each other and the townspeople in noisy reunions, lured from a hundred diverse pursuits by a contest that equalizes them all.