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Programs open the great outdoors as women's domain

May 30, 2004|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT - Celia Palmer isn't your standard trophy wife.

More comfortable working her .243-caliber rifle than the kitchen stove, Palmer shot the 10-point buck now mounted on her wall - her husband cooked up the venison.

"Steve does all the cooking," said Celia Palmer, 50, of near Williamsport, president of the Washington County Chapter of the Izaac Walton League of America. "I shoot - pistol, rifle, shotgun, bow. I hunt. I love to fish. I do quite a few things, but I don't cook."

The Palmers are avid outdoorspeople with their own unique hunting styles. Celia prefers the sit-and-wait method, while her husband is more proactive, she said. And Celia can dress a deer with the best of hunters - a skill she taught herself after watching friend and hunting mentor Terri Narron perform the messy deed. Celia Palmer began hunting in 1990 after seeing Narron fell a deer with her .300-caliber rifle - dubbed "the cannon" - in Big Cove Tannery, Pa. The women sometimes partner to hunt game ranging from squirrels to deer, they said.

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"We've been wackin' and stackin' for a long time. We have a good time," said Narron, 49, of Hagerstown, who serves as treasurer of Sugarloaf Mountain Coon Hunters. She recently got her husband, John Narron, interested in hunting.

Like Narron and Palmer, an increasing number of women are taking their places among the traditionally male ranks of hunters, anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts. Programs such as Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, which is coordinated through state natural resources departments, and the National Wild Turkey Federation's Women in the Outdoors offer females the skills they need to thrive in the wild.

The Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program offers outdoor skills workshops targeted at women ages 18 and older, but men can participate.

The hands-on workshops include classes about a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities in a casual, nonthreatening environment, according to information from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service at www.dnr.

state.md.us/wildlife/bow.html on the Web. Western Maryland native Karina Blizzard, associate director of wildlife and heritage information and education at the Maryland DNR in Annapolis, was instrumental in starting the state's first BOW workshops 10 years ago. The program has enjoyed continued growth in popularity, Blizzard said.

An estimated 20,000 women now participate in BOW weekend workshops in more than 40 states and several Canadian provinces, according to information from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point - which started the program in 1991 - at www.uwsp.edu/cnr/bow on the Web.

Weekend workshop participants choose four, four-hour seminars from among 30 outdoors skills offerings - including fishing, firearms safety and handling, outdoor photography, plant identification, mountain biking, bird watching, shotgun skills, small game hunting, archery and bow hunting, backpacking, kayaking and outdoor cooking, according to the state's BOW Web site. Women who want to learn even more can sign up for such "Beyond BOW" events as turkey or deer hunts, guided fly-fishing, caving excursions and canoeing trips.

"Some years the hunting classes will be really popular, other years the recreational courses will be popular," Blizzard said. "Outdoors survival and camp skills are always popular, and so is shooting."

The National Wild Turkey Federation's Monocacy Valley Chapter will host a Women in the Outdoors weekend at Woodmont Rod & Gun Club near Hancock from Friday, June 4, through Sunday, June 6. Dozens of women from up and down the East Coast will hone such outdoors skills as canoeing and kayaking, identifying trees and animal tracks, bow hunting, trap shooting, fishing, fly-tying, reading maps and more during the event, coordinator Melody Smith said. All spaces have been filled.

"We have women who come back every year. Everyone always says how much they enjoyed it and how much knowledge they gained," said Smith, a bird dog trainer who participated in the local Women in the Outdoors program for two years before taking the helm as its coordinator.

Past participant Olga Smith called the workshops "empowering." A Philadelphia city girl who married a hunter from rural Maryland, Olga Smith said she lacked much knowledge of the outdoors before attending her first BOW workshops at Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Md., about six years ago. She's since attended several Women in the Outdoors weekends at Woodmont. Smith's outdoors knowledge now includes turkey calling, animal tracking, and fly-tying - though she doesn't have enough patience for fly-fishing, she said. She also learned about gun safety and how to properly operate a firearm.

"It's nice to be able to pick up a handgun and know if it's loaded," said Smith, 34, of Carroll County, Md. Her husband bought her a gun for Christmas, and the couple have enjoyed several grouse hunting trips together.

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Smith said.

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