BOW program teaches women to shoot straight

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(Host) The number of Vermont hunters is decreasing, down 13% in the last decade. In an effort to stem the decline, the state wants to tap a group not usually associated with hunting: women.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports from Craftsbury, where a group of women are learning a few things that may have been omitted from their girlhood education.

(Sound of a rifle shot) “Woo hoo!”
(Instructor) “Now shoot the top one.” (Sound of more shots.) “Atta girl!” (Sound of applause.)
(Woman shooting) “That really felt good!”

(Keese) These women want to learn to shoot straight… or call a wild turkey… (sound of a box caller, “Bawk! Bawk!) Or catch a fish with a fly made of deer hair and chicken feathers…

(Instructor) “We’re going to hold the rod a little higher on the grip…. Hold the fly line against the rod…. First, we’re going to roll cast it out, get the line out nice and straight.” (Sound of casting.)

(Keese) Welcome to Becoming an Outdoors Woman. Everybody here calls it BOW. For three days each summer, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Agency holds a sort of scout camp for women in the woods and fields of Craftsbury. It’s a chance for them to learn new outdoor skills and connect with others who share their interests. BOW got its start about a decade ago in Wisconsin. It’s now in almost every state.

Eric Nuse, Vermont’s hunter training coordinator, helped organize the first BOW weekend here in 1995. He saw it as something Vermont women had been waiting for.

(Nuse) “The story that you hear is, ‘Well, I was always interested but my dad took my brothers and they were the ones that learned, ’cause girls weren’t supposed to do this.’ Or, ‘I wasn’t invited.’ Or, ‘I didn’t think of it.’ So this is that invite.”

(Keese) Participants are health care workers, lawyers, farmers, teachers. There are single moms who want to pass the lessons on to their children. Denise Gibeault, a retired restaurant owner from Shoreham, is a lifelong outdoors woman, back for her third year this summer.

(Gibeault) “I think a lot of them had babies and just work, work, work, and they don’t know what it is to be an outdoors woman. They’re just finding out that they can be themselves and there s another world out there.”

(Keese) Even women who hike or hunt with their husbands say it’s often easier to learn from someone who is not a relative. And while many of the instructors are men, there’s something less inhibiting about trying something new in the company of other women. Debbie Snow, an office worker from Stowe, appreciates the all-female atmosphere:

(Snow) “It’s not as easy with mixed gender. I mean, you’ve got guys in there and even though it’s stupid to think you need to live up to certain expectations, your behavior is different. You don’t want to do bad in front of them. Whereas here you’ve got girls of all sizes. Everybody’s not drop-dead gorgeous and size 4. In fact very few are, which is pretty comfortable.”

(Keese) The weekends have been so popular that their organizers are planning a follow-up in Castleton this September.

(Megan Price) “For some women, this kind of weekend actually changes their lives, and they’ve told me that.”

(Keese) Megan Price is the BOW coordinator. She directs traffic from a big tent where the women gather to eat and regroup between workshops. Courses range from nature photography to kayaking to compass and survival skills.

Theresa Smith is a dental assistant and taxidermist from West Topsham. In her class on tracking and observation, she teaches the women to use their peripheral vision and look through openings in the landscape. In the woods, the group spots a turkey feather near a patch of disturbed earth.

(Smith) “Christine, what direction do you think it’s traveling? Hmmm look at the way it’s doing this.
(Student) “It’s going this way?”
(Smith) “Exactly. Because its pile is always in back of it.”

(Keese) Even when the rain moves in, no one complains. The archery class continues under a tent, with a target in an open field. It’s all part of the weekend experience that leaves the women with new confidence, and new friends.

(Instructor) “Can you see the string in front of your eyes?
(Student) “Yeah.”
(Instructor) “Line it up at the end of that dot and put it right in the bull’s eye. (Sound of arrow hitting the target.) “Nice job! Beautiful!”

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Craftsbury.

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