Call Of The Wild Woman

The great outdoors is no longer the domain of men alone. On the water and in the woods, women are learning the ropes -- and in the process overcoming a backpack full of stereotypes.

Focus On Outdoors

May 20, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN OUTDOORS WRITER

Women in the outdoors. Not too long ago, the first and last words of that phrase went together like hot chocolate and Brussels sprouts.

Men didn't like women in the outdoors, and most women were fine with that. For men, the feeling might well be summed up by that rugged sportsman Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady":

"Why can't a woman be more like a man? Men are so decent, such regular chaps. Ready to help you through any mishaps. Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum. Why can't a woman be a chum?"

Women of a certain age best summed up their feelings about the outdoors this way: "Ick!" Translation: "I don't sleep on the ground where crawly things are, and I'm not going two days without a shower."

How times have changed. Today women who want to step into the great outdoors have any number of programs available to them that are either specific to a single activity or provide a broad-brush introduction to a backpack full of adventure.

"We've had the fun far too long to ourselves and it's time to share," says Steve Palmer, who organized last year's Women in the Outdoors event at Woodmont Lodge in Washington County.

Two dozen women took the two-day Women in the Outdoors course in Hancock last year. It was sponsored by the Monocacy Valley Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Palmer's Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.

For Barbara and Lynn Kambarn, a mother-daughter team from Salisbury, the weekend was a continuation of their exploration of the outdoors that began when Lynn was a Girl Scout and her mom was a troop leader.

Participants chose from a smorgasbord of offerings: fly-tying and casting, canoeing, turkey calling, camping and firearms safety.

After an hour of lessons, the women took their new skills into the field for testing.

"By taking this course, you don't have to have your husband or boyfriend as a teacher, but once you learn you can join [them] later," says Lynn. "And you can be very confident because the people here know how to teach."

Instructors of everything from fishing to shooting say women students are easier to teach than men.

"Women who would like to get involved in the most elegant of blood sports -- and that's what fly fishing is -- seem to grasp the elements of physics needed to cast," says master casting instructor Philip Krista, who teaches women-only classes in Howard County.

"Men try to muscle everything," he says. "It's awfully hard to get them to master the delicate touch."

If you're thinking about becoming an outdoors woman, here are a few things to keep in mind:

* Some folks were born outdoors, but no one was born with outdoors skills. In other words, everyone has to start somewhere.

Berdette Elaine Zastrow didn't start hunting until age 46. Now 59, she's served as a member of the South Dakota Fish and Game Commission and written a how-to hunting book for women. "If I can do it," she says, "you can, too."

Zastrow adds: "Don't take yourself too seriously. Have a good time and enjoy all experiences -- you are not in competition with anyone."

* Don't be afraid to ask questions; dumb ones don't cost any more than brilliant ones.

* Outdoors skills aren't brain surgery. There's usually more than one way to approach something. Your way may be as good as the bearded guy's. But don't completely dismiss the bearded guy, especially if he's got the keys to the car parked two miles upstream.

* Finally, when it comes to the outdoors, the sky's the limit, so go to it.

And men, we leave you with a thought from Steve Palmer:

"If you're a crusty old sportsman and you fail to realize that women and children are the future of outdoors, then you will die a crusty old sportsman -- alone."

OPEN THE DOOR AND STEP OUTSIDE

GENERAL SKILLS

If you feel the great outdoors calling, here are a few ways to answer the call:

* The Department of Natural Resources holds "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" classes. For a schedule and more information, call Karina Blizzard at 301-478-2146 or visit www.dnr.state.md.us / wildlife / bow.html.

* The popular "Women in the Outdoors" program at Woodmont Lodge is being held June 8-10. Call Sandra West, 301-293-3500 or Steve Palmer, 301-432-7121. Similar programs in the region are sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Call coordinator Tammy Mowry at 724-284-9201.

FISHING

* Master casting instructor Philip Krista is offering a "Fly Fishing for Women" class for ages 12 and up from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 14. The class is $60 and is held on Warfield Pond in Howard County. Call 410-313-4705 to register.

* Join Chesapeake Women Anglers the second Saturday of each month for "Fish / Lunch / Learn" outings to local waters. Club membership is $25. Buy a Maryland fishing license and trout stamp for $15 (an extra $9 if you want a license to fish in tidal waters like the Chesapeake Bay) and learn to catch rainbow and brown trout. For more details, call Barbara Cooper at 410-661-1869.

SAILING

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