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Becoming Outdoor Women
by Joe Wilkinson
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

The heavy flintlock rifle seemed nearly as big as she was. Paula Mullin steadied the barrel against a post. Squeezing the trigger, she waited for the kick. She waited a little longer. It came, along with the blast and flash of flame. She had held the bulky firearm steady, however, waiting out the hangfire. "That's a hard thing, with a flintlock," offered instructor Mark Wagner. "Usually, it will go right off. Sometimes, if the flint gets dull or there is a little fouling in the lock mechanism, there will be a hangfire."

Not just another day in class, or at the office, for Mullin and 80-plus other women at the Springbrook Education Center, near Guthrie Center, this month. But that is why they had traded phones, homes and families for the outdoors at this Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) workshop. "I've been interested in the outdoors since I was a little girl," explained Mullin, from Goose Lake and a University of Iowa student. She read about the weekend retreat in the Iowa Conservationist. "Once I mentioned it, it turned out I knew a few people that had been here. They said it was interesting, a good time. So I came."

Each woman-and they ranged from their early 20s into their 60s-selected from 25 outdoor topics over four sessions. Each runs about three hours, providing background and instruction, but leaving plenty of time for 'hands on' experience. The favorites? "Maybe the outboard motor boats and backing the trailers," chose Nancy Giesking of North Liberty. "I learned lots of stuff about digital cameras in nature photography. I was stumbling with electronics."

Besides guiding women past barriers in what might be considered male-dominated territory, BOW gets them a step ahead in the cutting-edge stuff. "In the GPS (global positioning system) session, we played a game called 'Geo-Caching Treasure Hunt'," relayed Giesking. "You learn where certain 'trinkets' are hidden, by finding them on computer. Then, you get the coordinates and go out in the woods and find them." She says that has already come in handy back home, as she comes across virtual hunts on the Internet. Giesking also appreciated the air-conditioned dorms and cafeteria meals. "You don't feel obligated (to do all the work). That leaves you free to go to the classes."

The women of BOW range from outdoor novices to multi-year returnees. Each pays $135 for the Friday afternoon through Sunday noon course. Dana Pinkelman was a first timer this month. Her mother missed this one, but has been to seven sessions over the years. "She talked me into it. It was not a tough sell," confided Pinkelman, of Council Bluffs. Her priority for the weekend was to learn to drive…backwards. "I haven't ever backed a trailer in (to the water) before. I had to take this course before I was allowed to back our jet ski in. I did great," she laughed.

The 30 instructors include conservation officers and biologists and volunteers, proficient in their outdoor fields. Many are women, but men are on hand, too. Several husband-wife teaching couples share duties. "The instructors make it clear what they want everyone to do, yet they are not talking down to me," assessed Giesking.

On the muzzleloader range, for instance, instructor Mark Wagner insisted on safety. That's why Mullin held on to her shot, when it did not fire immediately. "I thought it was going to be a lot harder. He made it pretty straightforward," she offered. "I have a neighbor who has a muzzleloader and he told me I can use it. I'm pretty excited now."

"We went through development, history, artistry of the muzzleloader," explained Wagner. "When we got down to the shooting range, it was 'hands on'; actually loading and firing themselves. Once they started shooting at targets, it was very natural. Some of them did quite well."

Some classes are yearly standards. Others are seasonal; ice fishing in the winter; boating in warm weather. Some teach 'specialties'; fly casting, dog sledding. All of them, though, subtract a little of the mystery from, and inject a little more involvement in, a wide world underutilized by half of our population.




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