Arkansas’ outdoor resources are the envy of every state in the nation. The state offers numerous places to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, from lakes, to hiking to hunting, to camping and fishing. They don’t call us The Natural State for nothing.
Northwest Arkansas is particularly blessed with natural beauty, nestled into the Boston and Ozark Mountains and featuring many areas to catch a fish, hunt a buck or just pitch a tent and spend a weekend watching the sun dip below the horizon.
Traditionally, outdoors activities were primarily male pursuits, both in terms of participation and for passing along the rules of the outdoors to the next generation. Not so anymore. Women, while still in the minority, are a growing segment of the outdoor culture.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, women made up 26 percent of freshwater anglers and 9 percent of hunters in 2001. A decade later, in 2011, those number had crept upward to 27 percent of anglers and 11 percent of hunters. But just two years after that, reported the National Sporting Goods Association, women who hunt spiked to 19 percent or more than 3 million. And the rate of growth among women getting into outdoor sports continues to outpace men in recent years.
With higher numbers comes higher buying power. Women’s participation in outdoor sports has been credited with increases in sales of fishing boats, bows, rifles and, of course, apparel. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by manufacturers, who have steadily increased the available offering of women-specific apparel and gear for women in the great outdoors.
Experts say it is hard to pinpoint one reason for the surge in women getting outside, but one program that gets mentioned often is Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW), a non-profit educational program offering hands-on workshops to adult women. Launched in 1991 in Wisconsin, BOW targets women of all ages and fitness levels to teach the ins and outs of hunting, fishing, camping and a myriad of other activities.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has offered BOW courses for nearly 25 years, according to Tisa Bomar, program coordinator.
“It all started with trying to get women more involved in outdoor activities,” Bomar said. “A lot of women try to get involved by having their husbands teach them, or their fathers did when they were little and now that they’re grown they want to get back into it.
“I myself went hunting as a child with my dad. Then, I became an adult and I moved away from my family and away from the state. If you grow up, move on, your husband doesn’t hunt and you’re still interested in it, how do you go about continuing that?”
Arkansas’ BOW program offers more than 30 classes for women during its annual BOW Weekend in the fall, covering everything from traditional camping basics and outdoor cooking to the aforementioned hunting and fishing subject matter. But it also includes outdoor survival skills, geocaching, birding and how to improve backyard habitats.
“BOW (curriculum) is geared towards what they call three rules; it should be one third hunting, one third fishing and one third non-consumptive activities,” Bomar said. “Non-consumptive is usually on a larger scale, say, we do trailering where women can learn how to back up a trailer, how to drive the truck with a trailer, things like that. That goes also towards our fishing and our boating side of it as well.”
“We have rifle marksmanship for primarily shooting. Kayaking, archery for sport, photography and camping with kids are the additional ones we have now. Those are some of our newer, more popular non-consumptive activities.”
Bomar said the program has an important role to play, not only to educate women on surviving and recreating in the outdoors, but as a means of cultivating the next generation. Given the growing percentage of single-parent households, the number of children who lack male influences — traditionally the teachers of outdoor knowledge — gets larger every year.
BOW is also helping to make inroads into demographics which have traditionally been underrepresented in the outdoors. Bomar said the past couple of BOW Weekends have seen greater participation by African-American and Hispanic women, something she hopes will continue to grow.
“I don’t know that we’ve been perfectly successful yet with it–not enough to say that our numbers are equal across the board, but we’re pushing for that,” she said. “Those are the people and the groups we’re trying to reach. We want to reach out and say. ‘This is something that’s an interest to everybody across the board.’
“Our goal, and the goal of every BOW program, is to try to get first-time women in… people that have never been to BOW, women that want to learn something new that don’t know where else to go or how to learn it.”
Indications are that the weekend, held at the 4-H camp in Ferndale, is making progress meeting its objective. Last year was the program’s biggest class — 148 attendees and 90 first-timers — thanks to keeping costs low and providing interesting programming.
“We hope, if not this year, then in the next couple of years, to add a stand-up paddleboard class as one of our non-consumptive workshops,” Tomar said. “We’re also looking to add a class that’s a little bit more broad range all about hunting, where you get to learn about every different type of hunting opportunity that can be had out there.
“We have classes that focus on deer, waterfowl and/or turkeys, but this one would be a general one, for folks to go, ask those questions to learn about each different type of bird, and feel comfortable enough to discover which type of hunting they might be more interested in.”
The 2017 BOW Weekend is slated for September 29 to October 1, which affords four class sessions — Friday afternoon, Saturday morning and afternoon and Sunday morning. All classes are held at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center located about 15 miles west of Little Rock.
Those wishing to further their outdoor education should investigate Beyond BOW, which offers more in-depth instruction via one-day and weekend courses held throughout the year at locations around Arkansas.
For complete details, consult www.agfc.com or contact Program Coordinator Tisa Bomar at 501-978-7366.