Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

From the February 2014 Conservationist

A line of women standing outside practicing shooting skills

Photo: Becoming an Outdoors Women

Becoming Outdoors Women

By Debbie Jackson and Gloria Van Duyne

Fishing, shooting, archery, hunting, camping, canoeing, outdoor photography, map and compass, survival and outdoor cooking. These are just a few of the skills that women who attend a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshop can learn.

For the past twenty years, the BOW program has been successfully teaching women such outdoor skills. Participants rave about the program, which was established to teach women skills they might otherwise never have the opportunity to learn.

These "workshops have really changed my life," said one participant. "I [now] participate in so many activities that I never would have tried otherwise. My husband doesn't hunt or fish, so when I go out to do these things I'm alone and the education I got here gave me the start I needed to get going and continue enjoying these activities."

Another participant summed it up by saying: "It is a life experience! I wanted to learn skills that my husband, brother and father never had a chance to teach me. And to challenge myself without the guys around, I felt this was my chance."

Recently, two DEC staff attended a BOW weekend workshop. Here are their stories, in their own words.

Debbie Jackson:

I love being outdoors. Whether it's backpacking, camping, hiking, canoeing or kayaking; just being in nature replenishes me. My husband and I have shared those experiences with our kids and some of our favorite memories are being outdoors together. The children are now grown, and my husband and I still camp and kayak, but I also enjoy hanging out with my female friends.

For years, my office has posted information about the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program, advertising upcoming workshops. So, when my friend Terry Laibach suggested we go, I agreed. Here was a great opportunity to be outside, learn new things, get together with Terry, and make some new friends.

A view of Silver Bay, Lake George
Silver Bay on Lake George provides
a beautiful setting for BOW

When I first received the list of sessions, I was a little overwhelmed. From archery and fishing, to reading a compass and wilderness first aid; there were so many choices, and they all looked good. It took me awhile, but I finally made my selections.

The workshop was held at Silver Bay on beautiful Lake George in the Adirondacks. When I first arrived, I was immediately impressed with the number of women there. They ranged in age from late teens to 80s, and were from all walks of life. Some were sisters, some were multi-generations (mothers, daughters, granddaughters), some were friends, and others came alone. But they all had one thing in common: They were looking for new outdoor adventures and experiences!

People running the program were warm and friendly, and we quickly jumped right into the first session. I had signed up for Backpack Camping, hoping to get ideas on how to lighten my load (I hate to admit it, but I'm getting older). Our group was incredibly diverse. There were young and old women, city dwellers and rural residents, newbie campers and seasoned hikers, and everything in between.

a woman with long braids and a whistle on a rope around her neck
With the skills she gained in her Map
and Compass class, Debbie Jackson
feels confident of her ability to navigate
in the wilderness.

The session was great! Our instructor, Leslie Surprenant gave us a lot of good information and even had a summary hand-out so we didn't have to take a lot of notes.

My next class was Map and Compass. I thought this would be a good choice since I like to hike, but rely way too much on my husband's navigational skills. I wasn't disappointed. The instructors, Sheila and Sonny Young, provided classroom and outdoor training, and I learned a lot. In fact, I'm confident that with a little more practice, I could use a map and compass to find my way around any deep woods!

I have to say my favorite session was Crossbow. With no experience in archery, I was a newbie. But our instructor Chuck Dente was great. He made us all feel comfortable with the crossbow, and provided interesting targets to shoot for. We had a blast hitting the targets and were impressed by the strength we didn't know we had!

To top off a fun and busy day, there were more activities at night. Since Terry took different sessions, we exchanged stories on our way to the evening festivities. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed our classes, and discussed coming back to take others.

On our last night we were treated to two slide shows: "20-Year Anniversary" and "You Were There." Everyone enjoyed the shows, especially the second one which featured photos from that weekend. It was entertaining to see ourselves learning and having fun.

I couldn't believe how fast the weekend went, and I am already making plans for next year. I'm hoping to try something way out of my comfort zone and want to take a rifle course. Having never handled a gun before, I can't think of a better environment to try it in-great instructors giving everyone the confidence to try!

Gloria Van Duyne:

Ever since I read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I wanted to procure meat for my table. I like eating meat, including venison, and thought it would be a good experience to harvest it myself. However, I did not grow up in a hunting family, and needed someone to teach me about guns and gun safety, as well as get my hunter education certificate.

Enter BOW.

I had heard from other BOW workshop graduates that it was a great experience. So when I learned that I could earn my hunter education certificate and practice handling a gun at a BOW event, I decided to take the workshop as a birthday present to myself.

Upon arrival, everyone seemed open and friendly, and we quickly got to know each other. Women came from all over the state-from NYC to Buffalo, and way up north near the St. Lawrence River. I came alone, but others brought friends and family members.

two women standing under a tent; one is holding a rifle aiming at a target
Shooting sports classes are led by
certified instructors who stress safety.

I had signed up for the Beginning Rifle, Beginning Shotgun, Field Dressing Game, and Hunter Education classes. Because I was working toward getting my hunter education certificate, I needed to study online materials at the International Hunter Education Association's website ( prior to my classes. The pre-work took about 12 hours, and covered a myriad of topics, including types of guns, gun parts, how to make sure a firearm is unloaded, wildlife conservation, conservation funding, and hunter ethics. Safety was stressed first and foremost, with coursework covering important concepts like how to walk when carrying a gun, how to cross streams with firearms, and how to transfer your firearm to another person safely. I learned a ton and felt it was well worth the effort.

In each of my classes, participants ran the gamut in their experience. Like me, some had no prior experience with guns. Others grew up in hunting families and around guns but did not go out with their fathers, brothers or husbands. One woman was a pistol instructor and wanted to learn to use a rifle, and a few just wanted to learn so they would be knowledgeable and safe around firearms. Because I had done "homework" prior to my classes, I discovered that I had a leg up on a number of my classmates.

A smiling woman holds up her target from a rifle course
The author proudly displays her
target from the Beginning Rifle course.

The instructors were phenomenal. They kept politics out of the class, and kept participants focused on safe handling and use of firearms. I discovered I was a pretty good shot; that is, as long as the target wasn't moving. While I could repeatedly hit hanging clay pigeons with the shotgun, I couldn't even knick one that was passing overhead. However, I did manage to hit the target 90% of the time with the rifle, and even got a few bull's-eyes.

I approached Field Dressing Game with enthusiasm and confidence. After all, I'd need to clean whatever I successfully hunted. However, while most of my classmates were initially uncertain how they would react to handling dead animals, they all did fine, while I, on the other hand, became nauseous and light-headed right from the get-go. However, I rallied and did just fine as we cleaned deer, rabbit and fish.

Based on my reaction during that class, I decided not to get a big game license, but to hunt for turkey instead, which is probably better anyway: I have a small freezer. A coworker is going to take me turkey hunting.

The whole weekend was amazing. Classes were first-rate, and the instructors were knowledgeable and really cared about our learning experience. Some instructors have been teaching for the entire 20 years BOW has existed. Volunteers, the instructors do it for the love of the topic and to share that activity with others. I had so much fun, learned a lot, and even earned my hunter education certificate!

I am looking forward to attending BOW next year. It's so exhilarating and inspiring. There was one participant who was 83 years old. She took a mountain-biking class. I only hope that I can take mountain biking when I am 83!

So whether you want to learn something new, or hone existing skills, consider signing up for the next BOW workshop. You won't regret it.

Debbie Jackson works for DEC's Division of Materials Management. Gloria Van Duyne works for DEC's Division of Lands & Forests.