Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The Texas Parks and Wildlife program helps women master outdoor skills in 25 different aspects of the great outdoors, from camping and bird watching to fishing and hunting.
BOW participants pay $160 to attend weekend workshops staged around the state. Many of the participants are like former University of Texas-Arlington secretary Sarah Word, 49, who grew up in an era when girls were discouraged from outdoors sports.
"My father wouldn't have dreamed of taking me hunting, but he took my three brothers," said Word, who was raised in New York state. "A lot of women I've met through BOW are like me. They are single mothers who want to get their kids involved in outdoors activities."
In the process, said Word, the women realize that shooting, hunting, archery, fishing and a vast assortment of other outdoor sports are not just for men.
What outdoor skills are women most interested in learning? Shooting sports, particularly shotgun shooting, rank highest, according to Ashley Matthews, TP&W's BOW program coordinator.
Kayaking is another course that always fills up. Horseback riding is also popular, though it's not taught at all the BOW workshops. One of the new courses being offered involves the use of personal watercraft, and that's also popular.
"Most workshops will offer from 20 to 25 course choices," said Matthews. "Participants can only take four courses during a weekend, and we know they'd like to take more. Our average participant attends three different workshops before we don't see them again."
When the BOW program first started, 70 percent of the participants were repeats from previous workshops.
Matthews is pleased that recent percentages have reversed. Now, 70 percent of the BOW participants are newcomers.
"Since the program is designed to introduce as many novices as possible to the outdoors, we're pleased to see so many newcomers," Matthews said. "BOW is going gangbusters in Texas. I get an average of 10 phone calls a day from women who want more information."
BOW currently holds five workshops annually. Many more could be successful, but Matthews doesn't want to burn out her volunteer instructors.