Call me an outdoors woman -- Part 1

Jun 26, 2013 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

There is no doubt that I learned a few things the weekend of June 14-16. I attended the Becoming an Outdoors Woman camp at the Whiskey Mountain Conservation Camp near Dubois, hosted each year by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Camp coordinator Janet Milek said 150 women applied to the three-day camp. They randomly-picked 50 thirsty-for-adventure women and provided them with a short escape from the jobs, husbands, children or chores that awaited them back at home.

My Friday afternoon began with archery lessons, and continued into rifle marksmanship and canoeing on Saturday and horse packing Sunday morning before I made my return to the real world.

I had only tried canoeing a few years ago when I was a senior in college at a leadership retreat at Camp MacLean in Burlington, Wis. At the Becoming an Outdoors Woman camp, we canoed first in calm Trail Lake and then, once we got the hang of it, we had to canoe down Torrey Creek -- a less calm body of water. With practice in the river, I'd like to say I mastered the quick reverse paddling method (and other methods I might have made up myself) after crashing into the edge -- several times.

We also learned how to enter the water with the canoe and what to do in case we flipped underwater. Playing that possible scenario in my head made me realyl nervous only because I'm not the best in swimming and I've been taken by a fast current before. My husband saved me that time, but this time I was only equipped with a personal flotation device and a trusty canoe partner. The instructor assured me she'd be there to help, so that helped ease the mild anxiety.

Did I really become an outdoors woman? Indeed I did. Not instantly, but the process of becoming one has begun. I am sure it will continue now on my own will. I realized that after shooting at 3-D targets and paddling that canoe and doing 360-degree pivots, my desire to own a bow, a canoe and all other fun grown-up toys grew tremendously.

To me, this camp was about learning, being in a new environment, socializing with different women, and getting convinced to invest in Wyoming's outdoor hobbies. Had it not been for this camp, I probably would've delayed my plans on signing up for hunter safety or purchasing a fishing license.

Now, I am more interested in effectively releasing the fishing line into the water. Now, I am more impressed by the discipline and skill that is required in hunting. That means I need to purchase the appropriate gear, licenses, and stickers. So, in determining this chain of events I can understand why the department holds these incredible camps and courses. And the agency probably could hold two more throughout the year, seeing that more than 150 women applied.

About 80 percent of the department's financial support comes from the license fees and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. But the department faces big budget cuts. Wyoming legislators voted down increasing hunting and fishing fees -- something that would surely help the financial problem. Rep. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, was invited to attend as well as other female representatives. She was the only one to make it. She sat next to me one day during lunch. She told me she was having a great time and that she was excited about teaching her husband a few things she had learned. We also talked about her voting against the increase of fees. She said it all came down to separating that gap between our "wants and needs."

During our conversation, Wyoming Game and Fish director Scott Talbott joined us. I asked about the elimination of archery and fishing lessons in elementary schools. The response was that is it was all due to budget cuts, of course. I was more surprised those activities were even offered in schools. If they had offered that in Illinois when I was a kid, I'd be an Olympic archer by now.

Talbott added that the department is considering eliminating the production of the Wyoming Wildlife magazine, which costs about $400,000 with circulation of less than 50,000

The camp transformed this once-city girl, who made infrequent trips to Lake Michigan for lousy attempts at catching a fish instead of shopping at the nearby mall, into a rookie outdoors Wyoming woman who now finds it thrilling to take a few deep breaths before placing a finger on the trigger.

It convinced me (and I've convinced my husband) to buy all the necessary gear and participate in these sports many of you Wyoming natives do on a regular basis. I realized Wyomingites are experts of these sports by the time they're my age because they've been doing it since they were little. And that could eventually be the case for my 5-year-old daughter, who is already learning how to ride a horse.

That's something we never even thought of doing back in Chicago. People in Chicago don't ride horses. They ride the "L."

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