Twenty Years of Serving Novice Outdoorswomen
Becoming An Outdoors-Woman provides weekend workshops around the country
By Barb Baird
It started with one workshop in Wisconsin in 1991. An outdoor skills program for women, Becoming An Outdoors-Woman (BOW), now offers more than 80 weekend-long workshops throughout North America annually. Because of BOW, about a half a million women have been introduced to outdoor skills over the past 20 years. According to Director Peggy Farrell, "All regular BOW workshops are required to have one-third hunting-shooting, one-third fishing and one-third 'other' classes like camping, canoeing, etc."
Dr. Christine Thomas, Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, developed the program and said, "It has really changed lives. Not the least of which has been mine. ... This popular program has had many dedicated coordinators who have advanced in their careers as a result of this experience. Instructors love the program and clamor to teach in it, because they change the lives of the women who take their classes. The women tell us that this experience improves their self-esteem, raises their self-confidence -- and is just plain fun."
Thomas credited the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), among others, for the success of the program. She said, "NSSF was the first major sponsor of BOW. Bob Delfay, Doug Painter and Steve Sanetti have been steadfast through the years."
Farrell described a typical weekend in the BOW program: "The original concept and format of BOW, a Friday-Sunday workshop offering more than 20 different classes with topics divided equally among hunting and shooting, fishing and boating, and complementary activities like camping and bird watching have not changed." Today's BOW finds workshops in 38 states, Canada and New Zealand. It also has expanded into occasional "Beyond BOW" activities, which might include a one-day shotgun event or a four-day wilderness canoe trip.
Farrell said that anyone who signs up for a shooting class first takes a 3 ½ hour firearms safety class, without live shooting. She said, "We cover the basics of safe firearm handling, nomenclature, difference between a rifle and shotgun, gauges and calibers, a little bit about ammunition, and spend about 1 ½ hours with hands-on gun handling so that participants have an opportunity to safely pick up an unloaded gun, work the action, become familiar with different safety buttons and their placement and practice keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction."
Susan Herrgesell began her affiliation with BOW as the state coordinator for the California program in 1997. The state cut the program in 2003 because of budget constraints. She said, "I resurrected the program as a nonprofit organization in 2005 and have been serving as president ever since. We have a board of directors that steers the organization. We depend on grants and donations to keep the program alive. We are all passionate volunteers." About women and first-time shooting experiences, she noted, "We hear words like 'empowered' and 'thrilling.'"
Herrgesell tells the story of a day on the shotgun range with a woman who stood there, shotgun in hand, and would not fire the gun at a flying clay target. Herrgesell urged her to shoot the gun downrange, just to pull the trigger and experience the effects. The woman did, shattered that clay and every other one thrown for her. Two months later, that woman received a Benelli shotgun for Christmas. The following year, she was shooting competitively. Said Herrgesell, "That's the kind of thing that happens at a BOW workshop!"
Californian Bridget Maloney-Krips credits BOW with her reintroduction to shooting. She said that although she spent time as a child shooting with her dad, she turned to BOW to reacquaint her with skills so that she felt comfortable taking her son on a junior duck hunt. She described the first BOW experience: "It filled my weekend with hunter safety, gun basics and shooting on the range. This was the great fun." Since then, she has participated in a BOW duck hunt and pheasant shoot. She said, "Yes I got birds. One thing I guarantee, you will never find another sport that fulfills the inner experience. Shooting accuracy relies on slowing down, controlled breathing and quieting the sprit within."
Each year, Krips marks her calendar for opening weekend hunts and meets friends in the field and on the range. She said, "BOW opened doors for another side of what I can do to enjoy life."