by Joan Smedinghoff
March 08, 2018
Growing up in the suburbs, I had little exposure to many outdoors activities. As a kid, my family went camping and hiking—two things I still love doing—and I consider myself outdoorsy, but there are plenty of activities I have little- to no experience with. That’s why, on a sunny October day, I found myself driving to Killens Pond State Park in Felton, Del., for what I affectionately think of as Girl Scout camp: Delaware’s annual Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.
“The goal is to encourage and enhance participation in outdoor activities,” says program coordinator Lynne Pusey, “which includes hunting and shooting sports, fishing and boating, and non-harvest activities.”
Many of the women I met at BOW were in a similar place as me; they went birding or occasionally went on fishing trips with their families, but they wanted to learn new skills and take on these outdoor activities with confidence. Along with those of us in the middle, the other attendees spanned the spectrum of knowledge. There were plenty of experienced outdoorswomen there as well as some who have never camped before.
“I like the fact that we have some participants coming to us with some background and skills,” says Pusey. “And then we have some that are brand new and looking to try things out for the first time. I think that adds to the experience.”
The three-day weekend consisted of courses such as canoeing, hiking, fish preparation, plant identification, archery and fly fishing. For the first time in its history, Delaware’s BOW offered a monitored deer hunt. That event was a rousing success and they now plan to add it into future BOW programs. The evenings kept us learning and growing on another level. We did a night hike, went stargazing and—of course—built campfires and enjoyed s’mores.
“I think women oftentimes may be intimidated to try these activities,” says Pusey. “BOW offers that unassuming, safe and accepting environment where they don’t have to be an expert, where they can learn new skills with likeminded individuals and other people that might not be experts.”
“I did bow and fly fishing,” says Lisa Hanson, a BOW participant and my tentmate. “Those were adventures I’ve never done. I have gone fishing before with my father, but I’ve never shot a bow.”
“Even though people had various levels of experiences, when we came together as a group we were just women having a great time,” recalls Hanson. “There were no big ‘I's’ and little ‘you's.’ There was no, ‘I have more experience than you.’”
Despite the difference in skill levels, it never felt weird to have people of such different experiences mixed together. “I think it’s a reassuring and comforting environment in that aspect,” offers Pusey.
Hanson echoes the same. “We were more supportive of one another, more encouraging and more sharing of our experiences. That’s why more people should do it. No matter what your experience level is, everyone fits in.”
Women helped each other out wherever they were, and those who were experienced in activities lent their insider knowledge. “I’m a city girl,” declares Hanson. “I’ve never been camping in my life, even though I was in Girl Scouts as a kid. Me being outside—first of all sleeping outside—that was an adventure.” I had been camping before, but seeing my tentmate jump into new things wholeheartedly gave me the courage to go all-in at BOW. I was able to help her as we set up our tent and encourage her throughout the weekend as she tried new activities.
On the first evening, a group of women invited me to tag along as they went fishing. I’ve only fished a handful of times; these women brought their well-used poles and tackle boxes. One of them took me aside and taught me proper casting techniques before fishing with the others. I learned as much from the other women there as I did from the instructors.
While this was my first time at BOW, there were plenty of veterans. One group of friends I met had been attending BOW for years as their annual girls’ trip.
BOW gives you a whole new network of friends who have similar interests to you. After my intro to shotgun class, I overheard two women talking about how much fun they had. “No one will do this with me,” said one. “My partner thinks I’m crazy.” After agreeing to meet up at the range sometime, the other offered, “Now you have someone to go with you.”
The program is so popular that every year, they need to turn people away. In 2017, 60 women attended BOW.
Says Hanson: “It took you out of your comfort zone and helped you experience something brand news. It’s great and I want to come back next year.”
I think I’ll join her.