By Lisa Shrewsberry
Contrary to typical opinion, bows are not always for tying hair and an attractant is not something to dab
behind the ears. Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, the focus of a recent activity-filled weekend held twice each year by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, represents an increasingly popular, off-the-beaten-path lifestyle that also deserves recognition.
The outdoor women of West Virginia keep proving they don’t need a man to bait their hook or skin a buck. Come secluded tree-stand or stocked trout stream, they’re ready to have an adventure without four walls and to do it their way.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources hosts two BOW weekends, the most recent completed April 11-13 at Tygart Lake State Park, and another planned for fall. It is both a time for those well-versed in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing and for women stepping onto the learning curve, looking to the more experienced at getting started in an array of hands-on outdoor skills, from pursuing in-season prey to cooking it.
The recent Tygart Lake outing filled up quickly, with 71 women taking part in any of 32 different classes, including hiking, biking, camping, archery, digital nature photography, handgun and self-defense classes, deer hunting, outdoor survival, shotgun classes, fly and boat fishing and wild game cooking.
The BOW weekends are part of the International BOW association, a non-profit educational program focused on encouraging women’s interest in the outdoors and cultivating friendships with other adventure-seeking ladies of all ages and fitness levels.
Billie Shearer with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources commented, “All participants were very excited about their classes. Each participant had four classes over the weekend.”
It is amazing to her, she says, which classes fill up the fastest.
“Sometimes, it is the shooting and other times it is fishing. Women 18 to women in their eighties come and enjoy time with others who share some of the same interests. You don’t have to be a hunter or a fisher to enjoy the BOW weekend.”
The WVDNR’s fall BOW is planned for Sept. 12-14 at Watoga State Park, and spots fill quickly. Check the WVDNR website in July for specific dates and registration information (www.wvdnr.gov).
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Locals are accustomed to women who consider blue skies to be the ultimate vaulted ceilings — women like Tina Cales of Sandstone, who moved from the heart of Texas to the heart of fishing country in southern West Virginia, when her military family relocated back to her dad's childhood home.
“We moved back when I was 14. I was raised on a lake and we did a lot of fishing. Outdoors was a way of life there and here in the mountains.”
When Cales reached adulthood, the itch to play predator went from casting a line for fish to sighting both deer and bear. Today, she hunts with a bow, rifle and crossbow, and after a two-year hiatus to recover from breast cancer, she’s looking forward to getting a line wet this fishing season, then treeing bear in the fall.
“There’s nothing like it — you get out there, and there’s an adrenaline rush,” she said.
The biggest challenges Cales faced transitioning from mother and grandmother to huntress was the elevation and the solitude.
“I remember the first time I ever shot a deer with bow. I was scared to death in the tree stand alone. The hardest thing to overcome was being able to sit up there all by myself. Being quiet didn’t bother me. You get to stop and see what God created and you let all your worries go.”
A Beckley Wal-Mart employee for 19 years, duties from which she nearly always takes a vacation for the sole purpose of hunting, Cales survived breast cancer and has been cancer free since 2011. The treatments took her away from her love of the open air for a painful couple of years. “I took chemotherapy and couldn’t be out in the sun. It was really hard.”
Back to her old self, Cales plans to hit the streams as long as the sun is shining. “It may still be a little chilly, but I’m going anyway,” she said.
Cris Houchins, another fin and fur femme, is a preschool teacher and freelance graphic designer living in Raleigh County — that is, when she isn’t under the uninhibited sky or climbing toward it.
“I love to camp, mountain bike, road cycle, hike, fish, swim and hunt for fossils. I was always drawn to the outdoors,” she said.
She credits her grandparents with the habit of going outside to seek entertainment.
“I feel it is where I am closest to God,” Houchins said.
In addition, she snow skis and participates in outdoor photography and horseback riding — an artist requiring only the mountain air as her medium.
Living in West Virginia is the ultimate playground, says the Type A-for-Adrenaline thrill-seeker. She didn’t make it out for spring gobbler hunting this year, but she has already managed to squeeze into her busy schedule a number of serious trout fishing trips.
“I love having such a beautiful area to play in whenever I want and to not have to leave the state,” she stated. There are many things Houchins is hopeful 8-year-old son, Bryan, takes from her side of the family, in particular being an adventurer. “He does almost everything outdoors with me. I’m trying to spark the obsession — he loves it,” she said.
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All that’s required for an excursion outdoors is the will and, for some activities, the right gear. Women are a prime market for makers of firearms and hunting equipment these days, says Mark Dempsey, Flat Top Arms store manager.
Dempsey sells a variety of firearms and accessories in pink, black and camouflage, including Muddy Girl Camo brand and Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 AR15s in purple platinum, just to name a couple — guns mainly for target practice.
Dempsey says indoor and outdoor shooting ranges continue to fill up with women aiming for sport and for personal reasons.
“We teach a lot of women how to shoot for recreation and home protection,” he says. Dempsey instructs alongside his wife at Gunsmoke Indoor Range, Beckley. He describes a gun with red scrolling he recently purchased for her, like the guns he sells at Flat Top Arms, increasingly designed with color and scrollwork appealing to ladies with a sense of style and a pinch of Annie Oakley to their personalities — determined to prove that hunting and shooting are anything but sports resigned to a man’s world.
“Mostly, they come in to buy something for personal protection, but we have an increasing number of women who purchase bows for hunting, and they’re not just coming in with husbands and boyfriends. They’re doing it for themselves.”
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