When life gets complicated or takes an unexpected turn it’s critical to have a “thing” to turn to. One that urges you to climb out of bed, comb your hair, and go on when you think that you can’t. The “thing” that makes your heart sing and gets you excited about something outside yourself.
For me, women’s outdoor skills events were the “thing”.
Having grown up as a fairly feral child and being naturally interested in nature I took every opportunity to read about the outdoors. When other girls were subscribing to Seventeen Magazine and Tiger Beat, I was reading Outdoor Life and The Missouri Conservationist. Ernest Thompson Seton was my favorite author during my middle school years.
Being a man of his times, my dad didn’t think girls should be introduced to the blood sports of hunting and fishing. A few times I got to follow along when he had his bird dogs out hunting Bobwhite Quail. But I wanted to hunt with him, not just follow. I’ll never know if he would have changed his mind as I got older and my interest held strong. I’d like to think he might have…
My stepfathers were not outdoorsmen, but the man I married hunted and fished. I thought that I could learn from him. And I did go deer hunting with him. We shot skeet, and we had Brittany Spaniels that we hunted. But there’s a certain type of man who will make sure that his wife or girlfriend doesn’t really learn enough to make him look bad, and he will teach her skills in ways that are not comfortable, or are sometimes even painful.
I shudder to think how many women have given up outdoor recreation because a man let her get hurt the first time she tried something new. Sadly, some men will hand a woman or child a firearm that is too much gun for a newbie, and then laugh when the recoil ruined the experience. Those men will hand down their outdoor clothing and equipment to a woman so that he can get something new for himself. Women are not built like small men, it’s rare that this strategy works well for anyone except the selfish man. It’s no fun to sit in a rainy deer blind wearing ill fitting clothing and carrying a gun that is going to hurt when you shoot it.
Women-only outdoor skills events are wonderful opportunities to try out different activities to see if you enjoy them! Typically they are staffed by volunteers – both male and female. Lasting a day to a long weekend, these events are not expensive. (Scholarships are often available, too!) Food and sometimes camping or lodging is included, as is loaner equipment and all the supplies needed for the activities chosen.
What an outdoor skills event looks like
A one day event might concentrate on one activity with multiple stations devoted to the different aspects of waterfowl hunting, for example. At a multi-day event women choose from a wide variety of outdoor skills, usually a morning session, an afternoon session, and sometimes an evening activity.
Classes offered depend upon the skill set and interests of the volunteer instructors. They might be employees of the state fish and game department, a local expert, or someone with a passion for nature skills and a gift for teaching women. They always seem to have at least as much fun as the participants!
You will almost always find Dutch oven cooking, backpacking, bird watching, a fishing class or two, archery, and various hunting and firearms classes offered. I’ve seen horseback riding, kayaking, and even a climbing wall and ropes course at a larger event. Class size is kept small, and safety is a primary concern. It’s low key, and women learn at their own pace. There’s no pressure to perform, and lots of encouragement to move past a boundary. And it’s always so much fun!
One aspect that I appreciate is that by the communal lunch time the bird watchers and the bird hunters have become friends. I’m an unrepentant carnivore. I have never had an issue sharing a meal – or a class, or a cabin – with vegan non-hunters. Mutual respect is fostered by learning together under the proper conditions and the careful instruction of true outdoorsmen and women.
“You must go on adventures to find out where you belong.”
~ Sue Fitzmaurice
And here’s the important “thing”…hundreds of women attend these events each year. I imagine every single one of them has a great time, or even a great adventure. Some of them will take up a new pastime and make lifelong friends. Others will try something and decide it’s not for them. But every once in a while there will be a woman like me who will need courage to move past a bad situation. Developing outdoor skills gave me confidence and a desire to learn more skills. That desire was the “thing” for me.
If you don’t know what your “thing” is, I encourage you to experiment until you find it. It can be any activity that calls to you. And once you find it don’t ever give it up. It just might be the thing that saves you one day.
Here are 3 groups that I have direct experience with and recommend. I’ve been a participant at several Becoming An Outdoorswoman events, and both a participant and a volunteer for Women In The Outdoors and Washington Outdoor Women. I’ll discuss them all in more detail in another post.
What’s your thing? What would you like to learn? Leave a comment below.