I just got back from an outdoor program put on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It's called Cast and Blast, and it's only for women. We all meet at a state wildlife site, in this case, Lone Cone. There's a cabin there with bunkrooms, a kitchen, and lots of wide open spaces. There were about fifteen of us, plus 4 DOW officers.
Now, I've grown up in the outdoors. My father hunted, and myself, my mother, and siblings went with him. I've gone on an elk hunt through the Women in the Outdoors program. My husband hunts and most of our friends hunt. The Cast and Blast program is intended to help women get comfortable with being in the outdoors, and hopefully to develop an interest in hunting to help manage the game in Colorado. I know there are people who don't believe in hunting, and I don't believe in trophy hunting, but I grew up eating wild game, probably 90% of the time. Getting a tough old beef round steak was a Saturday night extravaganza. The rest of the time it was elk, deer, antelope, and one unforgettable (for many reasons) season of bear meat. If my dad wasn't successful hunting, we would be eating a lot of mac and cheese and hot dogs.
Most of the women in the group were very new to the outdoors, although not all of us. It was really interesting to listen to the reasons they were there. Some had left relationships and felt that getting out in the wilds, and having the confidence to try hunting, gave them an emotional freedom, and helped them feel able to manage on their own. Others had moved "out west" and felt it was almost a right of passage to be able to hunt. I just enjoy learning the skills, and honing some I don't use much.
The "workshops" included archery, with both normal straw bale targets, and 3D animal targets; orienteering (a difficult but interesting method of map reading and navigating in the wild which I discovered I suck at!); survival and hunt prep; and rifle shooting.
The only time I've ever done archery has been at these events and this was the second time I've tried it. I was pleased to see that I was no worse than before, and maybe a little better (and especially that this time I didn't "twang" my forearm, which is painful to say the least). There were others a lot better than me, but I generally tend to compete against myself more than against others. I'm not saying this is me in the picture. I'm not saying it's not, either.
We'll skip over orienteering - you can probably tell why by the paragraph above.
Survival and hunt prep was great. Our Wildlife Office was very thorough on what you need to have with you for survival vs. comfort (not sure I can agree with food and water being comfort vs. survival, but he explained that most people are found within 24 hours and you can survive just fine without those two items for that period of time), how to pack and what kinds of packs work for different kinds of use, simple and efficient fire starting (hint: cottonballs drenched in melted wax, or soaked in Vaseline), what to do if you think you're lost (and you're probably lost if you ask yourself the question "I wonder if I'm lost"). He also showed us some great tools including water filters, knives, saws, etc. that are small, affordable, and strong enough to actually be useful. He took us on a walk-about to show us how to track animals and what they were, based on their prints in the dirt, the distance between steps, what blood trails look like and why they might come and go when you're following them, and lots of other interesting facts that I think will probably be used for human tracking in one of my stories in the near future.
I went with a friend who had never shot a weapon of any kind before she attended an earlier Cast and Blast with me (she was absolutely amazing with a shotgun!) and this was her first time shooting a rifle (as it was for many of the women). The officers were incredibly patient in making sure each woman was, first and foremost, comfortable with a gun. They explained how they work, why some "look" scarier than others, why some are loud and "kick" harder, why bullets and shells look different, and a lot more. I always enjoy shooting. It's fun for me to see how many shots go into the bullseye, and how far I can be accurate. Those metal targets that "ping" when you hit them are just so satisfying!
The best part of this program is that you don't have to want to hunt animals to get a lot out of it. Being comfortable around guns, especially in my neck of the woods, will make it much easier for you to hang out with friends who handle guns. Being safe handling a gun, and knowing when someone else isn't being safe, is important. I've also learned to fly fish, read topo maps, use a compass, shoot sporting clays with a shotgun, and other outdoor skills.
If you are a woman who wants to be more comfortable out in the great wide open, whether or not your spouse or significant other is, I'd recommend these events 100%. Just having someone who isn't judging your skills, or lack of them, and who's only interest is in teaching you the best way to do things, takes a lot of the discomfort out of the process. My husband is a great hunter and outdoorsman, and has taught me a lot, but I do like having a "stranger/expert" give me info on subjects I might be a little hesitant to ask hubby about for fear of sounding silly.
The Cast and Blast really was a blast. I'll probably do it again sometime. Maybe I'll see you there?