Where can you learn how to ice fish, cast a fly, shoot clay pigeons, target shoot with a bow, ski down a hill, skin a black bear, or drive a dogsled all in one weekend? The annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Winter Workshop, of course. This year’s winter workshop was held the first weekend in March at Victory Bible Camp, located at mile 96 of the Glenn Highway.
The BOW program was developed in 1991 by a professor of Resource Management at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The workshops were designed to teach adults hands-on outdoor skills, in a non-threatening atmosphere, centered on hunting and fishing. BOW workshops are currently held in 38 states and in a few international locations, such as Costa Rica and Australia. The Alaska program, made possible through a cooperative effort between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska, started in Fairbanks, Alaska in the mid 90s.
The 2016 winter workshop opened on a bright, blue-bird day on a Friday afternoon, attended by 134 women and 1 man, plus approximately 60 instructors. After the participants found their bunks in a rustic cabin (with bathrooms down the hill) and ate a hearty lunch, they meandered their way to the first of 4 classes they had chosen for the weekend. Each session consisted of a selection of different classes associated with fishing, hunting, or winter outdoor activities. Class selections for Session I varied from Archery, Firearm Safety, Field Dressing, Shotgun, and Small Game Hunting to Dutch Oven Gourmet, Pond to Pan, Maps & Compass, and Snowshoeing. The majority of the three and a half hour long class time is spent outside performing hands-on activities and it is not unusual for the different classes to intermingle. For example, the Field Dressing class, where three elk were field dressed, was held in the same area as the Dutch Oven class. The students who had their hands in the warm cavities of the animals were able to catch delightful smells from Dutch ovens simmering on the charcoal. Simultaneously, the snowshoe students were packing the snow near the sled dogs, who were bedded down waiting for a run on the snowy trails.
The Dutch Oven class is not only a hit with the students in class, but also with instructors and students from other classes. Social hour at the Dutch Oven classroom was the place to be at 5:30 – time to sample all the goodies. Dishes available for tasting included elk lasagna, caribou stroganoff, scalloped potatoes, cheesecake, cornbread, and pork loin. At dinnertime it was easy to see who attended the Dutch Oven social hour by the small portions on their plates.
Friday evening activities included Round Robin Skill Stations where instructors gave brief lessons in their field of expertise. There were 10 stations including skills such as fire starting, survival kit items, fish identification, yoga, how to pee in the woods (a delicate matter for women dressed in multiple layers), backcountry trip planning, and how to differentiate between 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotgun shells. Following the Skill Stations, Ginamaria Smith gave an informative and entertaining talk, “Whooos There: Owls of Alaska.” The highlight of the show happened when Gina introduced Archimedes, a great horned owl, who was rescued as a fledgling and partially deaf, to the audience. He was quite vocal and displayed his wings to the delight of the crowd. After the evening indoor activities concluded, the inner-tubing hill was opened for anyone with energy left to burn. The laughter and screams from the hill could be heard across campus until after 10.
Saturday morning dawned with lots of sunshine, very little wind, and pleasant temperatures for the outside activities in store for the day. The morning and afternoon sessions included a few repeat classes from Friday and new classes such as Black Bear Hunting, Butchering Wild Game, Chainsaw, Cross Country Skiing, Fly Tying, Outdoor Photography, Rifle, Salmon Leather, Skinning & Hide Prep, Winter Survival, Canning Fish, Ice Fishing, Moose Hunting, Smoking Fish, Trapping, and Wild Edibles. Quite a selection and no doubt it was difficult for most participants to decide which two classes to take!
The Wild Game Butchering class sliced up yesterday’s elk into ribs, tenderloins, and backstraps, and ground scraps into burger. Participants in both the Field Dressing and Wild Game Butchering classes took home the meat to share with family and friends. The Chainsaw class proved to be a popular class with a waiting list. The students’ voice impersonations of a chainsaw firing up were heard throughout the weekend. Clay targets were shattered and paper targets boasted tight clusters in the shotgun and rifle classes. Ice fishing was held off campus at Long Lake. The bite was off as only one rainbow trout was caught, but it was still a fun adventure on a sunny day. After all, that’s why they call it fishing, not catching!
Many classes again crossed paths with each other to allow students a glimpse into the other activities available. Fly Casting was held outside, next to the serenading sled dogs and the Photography class walked past the dueling chainsaws and honed their photography skills amongst the dog teams and skiers. A runaway dog team was rescued by the Cross Country Ski instructors much to the relief of Jane Faulkner, the mushing instructor, who was hanging on to two teams as they careened around the lake.
Saturday evening commenced with a round of BOW trivia. Everyone, instructors and students alike, split into their cabin groups and tried to come up with the correct or – when all else failed – clever answers to the questions. Afterwards, rifles and red ticket raffle items were awarded to the lucky ones. The tubing hill re-opened and a cross country ski group was led into the star-filled, moonless night to conclude the evening’s activities.
Sunday morning arrived with continued good weather, a few bleary eyes, and tired bodies. The workshop session included classes mentioned earlier plus Avalanche Rescue, Duck Hunting, Fur Sewing, and Sourdough. The Fur Sewing class made beautiful beaver head bands. The Duck Hunting class processed and butchered Barrow’s goldeneye, harlequin, king eider, and long-tailed ducks, learning skills from gutting and filleting breast meat to cooking up delicious duck jalapeño poppers. The Sourdough class was new to the program and utilized 50-year-old sourdough starter to produce tasty artisan bread, pretzels, and waffles.
The Winter Workshop ended with new skills learned, friendships formed, and shopping lists to please most spouses – guns, fishing gear, skis, snowshoes, outdoor clothing, and possibly a few new handlers for local mushers. Ultimately, fishing and hunting licenses will be purchased and new faces, with kids in tow, will be seen on our local streams and trails.
For participants wanting to improve the skills they learned with a more in-depth experience, the Beyond BOW workshops are designed to use these skills in small groups during all day or weekend adventures. In late February, an overnight Backcountry Ski Adventure was led into the Kenai Fjords National Park to a public use cabin at Exit Glacier. A group of skiers learned preparedness in the back country, gear, and ski tips, and were challenged with the weather thrown at them. One participant said, “I never thought I’d ski in a rain poncho, but I was prepared and had a great adventure.”
The BOW program is not only rewarding to the students, but also to the instructors and organizers like Tracy Smith, Southcentral BOW coordinator, who stated, “The BOW program has enabled me to share my love of Alaska with workshop participants across the state. The ability to share that love is extremely fulfilling and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the confidence grow within a workshop participant. I am so fortunate to be part of such an empowering and life changing program.”
For a complete schedule of events and more information on the BOW program, navigate to this link:
Patti Berkhahn recently retired from her biologist duties after 26 years with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Soldotna. She has been involved with BOW since the inception of BOW workshops in Southcentral Alaska as a coordinator, instructor, and/or volunteer.