If someone asked you where they could go to learn about the outdoors, would you know where to direct them?
Learning about outdoors activities can be especially challenging for women, as the idea of being in the company of a strange man in a remote location is about as appealing as walking through a rattlesnake den blindfolded. You could do it, but why would you risk your safety? Fortunately for those ladies with a burning desire to learn about the outdoors, there exists the national program, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, or “BOW”.
The Basics of BOW
BOW’s mission is to educate women about the outdoors, with the courses being evenly divided between hunting, fishing and outdoors recreational activities. BOW has been in Alabama since 1995 and is supported by National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA). There are two large-scale events each year in the spring and fall with approximately 125 women attending each event. These ladies are between the ages of 18 and 80 and come from all walks of life and multiple states. Some come alone and others are mother-daughter pairings, sisters or groups of friends. There are women who have never attended a BOW event and ones who are regulars.
Since 2015, the events have been coordinated by Hope Grier and Marisa Futral of the ADCNR. Many of the over 50 learning topics have been available since the inception of the program, but Hope and Marisa added bow fishing and medicinal plants to the list. The objective is to always add new and fresh ideas to the event.
Getting Your BOW Bearings
I arrived at the facility late on Friday evening, so it was already dark outside. On the curvy roads with buildings scattered about I was worried that it might be a bit like a maze, but it was easy to navigate and I quickly found the registration office. Upon checking in, a group of ladies happened to be walking by and offered to walk me to my dorm room. As we walked, they told me about themselves. It was the first BOW meeting for one, the second for another. One had experience in the outdoors via sons who were in the Boy Scouts, another had no outdoor experience outside of gardening. All were equally excited to be there. As we walked, we passed dorms and I could see ladies congregating in the common areas. There were friends happy to be seeing each other again and new attendees being welcomed into the fold. It was late and I planned to be up much earlier than the other ladies in the morning, so I bid them good night and got settled in.
“With topics including archery, canoeing, fly fishing, shooting, outdoor photography, hiking, bow fishing, ATV handling, beekeeping, deer hunting and mountain biking – just to name a few – there is literally something for every interest and level of experience.”
Five thirty in the morning, I was up and out of the door… and I was nowhere near being the first one up. There were ladies walking, running, sitting around fire pits and squirrel hunting the second it was light outside! I arrived a half an hour early for breakfast and the room was already halfway filled with ladies who couldn’t wait to get the day started. Carla Wortman, a wife, mother and registered nurse joined me at breakfast. She is a BOW veteran, having attended the spring and fall sessions for two years. For her, the BOW event is an opportunity to get away from the day to day, learn new things and work on herself. She enjoys the chance to get into the outdoors and relax. Lydia Fassett had joined us as well. She and Carla know each other from both having attended prior BOW events. Lydia elected to camp out rather than stay at the dorm. She looks forward to the camaraderie with the other women, but with twin three-year-olds at home she also relished the peace and quiet. It was fascinating listening to everyone at the table talking about registering for the different sessions. It was like college registration – setting an alarm to be the first one to register so that you can make sure you get the sessions you desire. With topics including archery, canoeing, fly fishing, shooting, outdoor photography, hiking, bow fishing, ATV handling, beekeeping, deer hunting and mountain biking – just to name a few – there is literally something for every interest and level of experience. For each topic completed, the ladies can order pewter pins that are a highly sought-after prize. Many were sporting their accomplishments on hats, bags, and vests, including some from attending BOW’s in other states. One lady proudly displayed her pins for ice fishing and snow trekking! That isn’t something you see a lot of in the South!
The Bonds of BOW
The meals were always an experience, with Ginger Howell emceeing each one. She not only updated everyone with the day’s events, she managed to squeeze in some t-shirt tosses, door prize drawings and added a sense of humor that kept the room right on the edge of being rowdy. She has been with BOW for 18 years and it was clear that she has a passion for the program. Never once during the weekend did she appear without a smile on her face. Like Ginger, the instructors are professional and skilled at what they are teaching. Questions are welcomed and encouraged and the participants are supportive of one another. Doug Darr with the Fisheries Department of DCNR and Tom Reburn led the fly fishing instruction with an incredible balance of skill and patience all the while verbally sparring with one another like a well-practiced comedy team. Jerry Whitaker’s apiculture (beekeeping) session was fascinating as well. My husband pretended not to see the “I want bees” text that I sent to him when the session ended. Jerry delivered some interesting information. For example, did you know that bees can’t fly in the dark because they need light to orient themselves to fly? They can, however, walk and climb in the dark so it is still possible to be stung. It is probably not a good idea to agitate them no matter what time of day or night.
With the approach of Hurricane Nate, the weather was questionable and some of the sessions were canceled. Participants were quickly shifted into indoor sessions and everything continued smoothly. Hope and Marisa made it look easy to wrangle 125 women with varying interests into a shortened list of sessions at the last minute. Throughout the quick changes, no one complained. The only disappointment apparent during the weekend was when people were packing up to leave. There were a lot of hugs, exchanges of contact information and plans being made for the next time.
If you are a woman over 18 who is interested in learning more about ways to enjoy the outdoors, then this is the program for you. There is fun, education and fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere where you can be yourself among ladies who are there to encourage and support one another. You can find out more about the program at http://www.outdooralabama.com/becoming-outdoors-woman-bow.
Registration for Spring BOW Workshop Opens January 3
Registration for the next Alabama Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshop opens on January 3 for first-time attendees and January 8 for both first-timers and those who have previously attended. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) sponsored event takes place at the 4-H Center near Columbiana, Ala., on March 2-4, 2018.
BOW is a three-day workshop designed for women ages 18 years or older who would like to learn new outdoor skills. The workshop offers hands-on instruction in a fun, outdoor learning environment. Participants choose from courses such as rifle, pistol, archery, fishing, camping, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, and many more. Two new courses will be offered this spring – wildlife identification and predator and prey.
BOW coordinator Hope Grier said the classes offer basic outdoor skills training. “There are many ladies who have not been exposed to these outdoor activities and are apprehensive about trying them,” she said. “BOW is ideal for those women because everything is taught at a beginner level.”
The registration fee of $275 covers meals, dormitory-style lodging, program materials and instruction. Those interested in attending are encouraged to register as soon as possible because enrollment is limited and classes fill up fast.
For more information on the BOW workshop including the class schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/becoming-outdoors-woman-bow or call Hope Grier at 334-242-3620.
To view photos of past BOW workshops, visit Outdoor Alabama’s Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/outdooralabama/albums/72157629421999224.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.