Have you ever participated in a Becoming an Outdoors Woman class?
If so, you have Dr. Christine Thomas to thank.
For it was Dr. Thomas, currently a professor emeritus, who created BOW. She did so in 1991, one year after she hosted a conference titled Breaking Down Barriers. The purpose of the gathering was to determine why women did not hunt and fish as much as men.
The event proved insightful.
In fact, by the time the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point event was over, Dr. Thomas had pin-pointed 21 unique barriers. Fourteen related to women simply not knowing how to hunt or fish. These findings were the seeds that ultimately grew into a national program dedicated to teaching outdoor skills to women in a safe, supportive and friendly environment.
Initially, Thomas believed BOW should offer a single hunting and fishing workshop. Yet after her first event she realized women wanted more opportunities.
“The women learned to shoot and fish, but that is not what they talked about,” she recalled. “Instead, they talked about how learning outdoor skills had changed their lives by increasing self-esteem and confidence.” Dr. Thomas recalled that women also talked about “how much fun they had.”
Based on this early feedback and on-going feedback in the years ahead, BOW perfected the model it uses today. That model, a three-day weekend workshop that includes fishing, hunting and outdoor skill classes, remains popular and effective. Thirty-seven states and six Canadian provinces offer BOW workshops.
Today, 30 years after Dr. Thomas’s pioneering Breaking Down Barriers conference, thousands of women throughout North America are hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors in many other ways because they have participated in BOW.
Minnesota’s BOW program took shape in 1994 under the direction of the Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Director Roger Holmes. A citizen committee was formed and together with Dr. Thomas the first Minnesota BOW workshop was offered in 1995 at Gunflint Lodge in northern Minnesota. Minnesota was the first state to offer multiple workshops in one year and the first state to offer winter workshops.
Much of the growth in Minnesota, from two weekend workshops the first year to multiple programs today, has come about through working with and through others in the outdoor community who motivate, inspire and educate women about the activities they want to pursue. This model is beneficial for the participants, who learn lifelong skills, and for the volunteers, mentors and mentor organizations as they enjoy sharing their passion and wisdom with others. These organizations often provide sites and equipment for many of the workshops and programs.
Volunteers also make up the BOW Steering Committee that meets to organize and host the fall and winter workshop and help direct the growth of BOW.
BOW provides a supportive environment for women to develop outdoor skills but also strives to provide social connection to other women interested in similar sports. Many women bring a basic knowledge but lack confidence. Some women have passion for a sport but need a network of hunting and fishing friends. Some women simply want to learn a new outdoor sport. BOW provides programs to meet these needs.
Whether you're new to the outdoors or just want to learn new skills to enhance your camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing experiences, BOW is a great place to start. Sign up for a class today!