Women Learning From Women: All About "Becoming An Outdoors-Woman" Workshops

Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, commonly known as BOW, is a national education program that strives to make women more comfortable and aware of the outdoor world.

You can trace the history of Becoming an Outdoors-Woman to Dr. Christine Thomas. She spent her career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources. In 1991, Dr. Thomas led the committee that established the first BOW program. Thomas developed the program after researching why more women were not participating in outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. Her research pinpointed several barriers unique to women. It concluded that (generally) women prefer to learn outdoor skills in a non-competitive atmosphere taught by other women. The model that she established is still being actively used today at BOW workshops all across the nation.

"BOW's aim is to teach adult women new outdoor skills in a hands-on, supportive, and encouraging environment," said Katrina Talbot, a New York BOW Coordinator and biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife. "Program administrators help women who have little outdoor experience step out of their comfort zones, feel empowered to try new things, and join an incredible community of outdoors women."

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BOW offers women this opportunity through skill-building and hands-on workshops in a supportive environment. The organization designed the entire experience to be conducive to learning new things, challenging self, making connections, and having fun. No experience is required-they've geared the workshops toward beginners.

BOW programs exist in several regions across North America, including 38 states and six Canadian provinces. The standard BOW workshop format is a three-day, multi-course event with several classes, including fly fishing, archery, shotgun, rifle shooting, wildlife habitat, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, camping, nature photography, basic fishing, boat and trailer skills, and more. Individual state coordinators can tweak the format as they need to. Several states, including New York, offer "Beyond BOW" opportunities. These programs can include single- or multi-day events with a single topic like a day at the shooting range, charter fishing, kayaking on a local lake, a weekend camping, or an archery clinic.

"Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) and Beyond BOW are programs designed to teach women outdoor skills," Talbot said. "These programs provide women with information, encouragement, and hands-on instruction in outdoor skills such as fishing, shooting, archery, hunting, trapping, outdoor photography, map and compass, survival, camping, canoeing, and outdoor cooking."

BOW program coordinators like Talbot strive to offer workshop attendees various classes, and new courses are often added every year. The program provides safe spaces for women to learn about the outdoor activities they are interested in, in the safe and supportive space they crave. Talbot can testify to the blossoming she sees in the women who participate in the program.

"Our BOW program has seen women from age 18 all the way up to 80 join our workshops," she said. "It's rewarding to see the transformation from reluctant and apprehensive participants upon arrival on Friday into confident, empowered, excited [women], and eager to head outdoors on their own when they leave on Sunday."

Many women who attend BOW describe it as prolific or empowering.

Carly McAllister of Long Island, New York, first attended a fall BOW program. She enjoyed it so much that she returned for the winter workshop. Even that was not enough because the following year, she returned not as a student, but as a class instructor.

"The experience of going to BOW was life-changing," McAllister said. "It's so special that the instructors are volunteering their time and skills. These women are so amazing. A lot of the instructors are very educated, smart women. It's very inspiring. The program has helped me with my hunting skills and confidence. I've learned not to be afraid."