Hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports may traditionally be considered “men’s” activities but times have changed and family dynamics have changed. Women all over Arkansas are seeking the outdoors and are becoming outdoors women.
Hunting camps may still be male dominated but women are making their appearance, and they are doing more than just cooking. Each September, women from all over Arkansas and surrounding states gather together to learn about the outdoors thanks to the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program. The learning and experience don’t stop there as many of these women go on to be involved in Beyond BOW, the Women Outdoor Network and other outdoors programs around the state. More importantly, women are passing their newfound skills on to their own children or grandchildren. BOW alumnae are heading to hunting camp for sure, but you won’t find them sitting alone in the cabin all day. They’ll be out in the deer woods. And when they take down that prize-winning buck with a single, beautiful shot, they’ll be field dressing it and processing it themselves.
Arkansas Game and Fish organizes and sponsors the annual BOW workshop which hosts up to 140 women at the C.H. Vines 4-H Center in Little Rock. It’s a weekend of classes and workshops designed to teach and enhance outdoor skills. This year, the 28 different courses offered, including fishing, shooting, archery, kayaking, boating and trailering, dutch oven cooking and SCUBA. Plus, classes on outdoor survival skill, processing wild game, nature hiking and many more. Each participant was able to participate in four small group classes plus a variety of other activities including crafts, pickin’ and singin’, a nighttime herp walk and a birds of prey presentation.
I was excited to be selected to attend this years program and got to take classes in outdoor survival, birdwatching, field to freezer (where I learned how to butcher a deer and to skin a squirrel) and nature observation. As a mom to a toddler boy, I feel compelled to learn about things that I see being of interest to my son in the future. I missed my calling to be a field biologist and naturalist, so this is also a great opportunity for myself. When I spoke with other women at the workshop, many women had the same sentiment, though the reasons for attending were varied.
“I grew up hunting, and BOW is a great way to hone my skills and learn new ones.”
“I’m retired. This gives me an opportunity to learn about things I have never done before. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!”
“I want to be able to teach my kids about the outdoors and hope they have an appreciation for nature.”
Regardless of their reason for attending, I witnessed over and over women reaching beyond their comfort zone and trying new things. There were women (including myself) who skinned a squirrel for the first time, and women who learned how to back up a trailer and launch a boat. There was even a woman who was terrified of guns and challenged herself to take every shooting workshop offered.
Lea Gray is the BOW Coordinator and Hunt Natural Mentor Coordinator. Although Gray has been the BOW fishing instructor for 15 years, this was her first year as the program coordinator. According to Gray, 131 women (including 85 first-timers) attended this year’s BOW weekend. Women came from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Missouri to participate in what is believed to be the 24th year of the program.
“Women, after they go through the course, can do what they were taught. They are confident to do it on their own. Women are building a knowledge base. I have seen women overcome fears. That’s really what BOW is about.”
AGFC intends for attendees to learn skills that they can keep using. Many of the skills relate directly to game and fish programs. The cost of attending BOW is supplemented by AGFC license sales, sales tax and other related sources; therefore, the program becomes reciprocal. Attendees of many of the classes, such as fishing, go home with equipment so they can continue to learn and participate. They in turn purchase hunting and fishing licenses which then provide funding for future attendees of BOW.
Attendees are also encouraged to get involved in continuing education programs offered throughout the year. Each of the four AGFC Education Centers provides Beyond BOW classes. They are open to women only and cover topics from knife sharpening to dutch oven cooking. Recently a group of women organized a squirrel hunt. The Witt Stevens Nature Center in Little Rock hosts a Beyond BOW class on the first Monday of every month. Attendance at BOW is not a prerequisite for any of the workshops. Many of the centers also offer a host of other hunting and fishing workshops for men, women and families.
BOW is open to all women over the age of 18. Dates for the program are announced in the spring, and the application window usually opens around the first of June. Priority is typically given to women who have not attended the workshop before. If you would like to learn more about Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Arkansas, you can visit the AGFC website or follow BOW on Facebook.
Additional Women-Centered Outdoor Resources
Wild Women Wednesdays – Pinnacle Mountain State Park (June-September)