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Program Teaches City-Slicking Females Basic Outdoor Survival Skills

By Todd Eric Lovato
Journal Staff Writer
    Outdoor survival, firearm defense and alfresco cuisine— it's all part of Becoming an Outdoors Woman. On May 19-21, eight miles south of Raton on the grounds of the NRA Whittington Center, more than 120 women will gather for New Mexico's annual Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop.
    The weekendlong camp offers an assortment of classes ranging from bowhunting and beginner shotgunning to weaponless self-defense and gardening for wildlife.
    "It's kind of a nonstop whirlwind of a weekend," says program coordinator Coralie Carrier. "Everybody's going to go home on Sunday feeling tired and happy."
    Designed primarily for the outdoors novice, daytime classes are led by more than 30 specialized volunteers, including a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent, a geologist and many veteran outdoors enthusiasts.
    Carrier, who teaches a survival skills course, has worked as a firearms instructor for more than two decades and teaches at similar camps across the Southwest.
    "All of the instructors are really nice and really understanding towards people who are just learning," says Tracey Keel of Edgewood.
    Keel hasn't missed a year since the program started in New Mexico in 1995 and says she is excited to revisit her favorite classes— shotgunning, self-defensive pistol and archery.
    "It's nice to have a structured event to learn these things," says Keel. "It's less intimidating to have other women around, and it makes it easier to practice things that are usually a man-dominated field."
   
Choosing classes
    The weekend is designed so each camper can participate in a maximum of four half-day classes. "We're going to be offering 25 to 27 classes, so picking out just four can be difficult," says Carrier. "But we're also able to keep the classes fairly small so there's lots of hands-on."
    Campers engage in classes centered around fishing, backpacking, outdoor survival, cooking, first aid and wilderness tracking. "We also have some really lighthearted kinds of classes like creative gourds, nature painting and a class called 'lotions and potions,' where you make your own lotions and soaps from materials like glycerin, beeswax and natural aromas," says Carrier.
    The camp's registration fee covers all materials, lodging and meals provided by the NRA Whittington Center. "We supply the firearms, ammunition and all the other equipment," says Carrier.
    The weekend costs $200 or $225 depending on the choice of sleeping quarters. For $200, guests can bunk in cabins with four other roommates. For $225, campers get a little more privacy in on-site housing apartments that sleep two. All accommodations have running water, electricity and "nearly all the comforts of home," says Carrier.
   
Pretend hunting
    Some of the most popular classes include a map and compass course, an unarmed self-defense class and a faux hunt in which armed women and an instructor move down a simulated course scattered with foam and metal animal targets. "It's a very good introduction of what it would be like to walk through the woods with either a bow or a rifle," says Carrier.
    For the culinarily inclined, Carrier says the Dutch oven cooking class is also a perennial favorite. "It's usually the first one to fill," says Carrier.
    While preparing a variety of dishes, women learn about the intricacies of fire starting and various outdoor cooking techniques. "It's a whole lot more than making apple pie in a Dutch oven," says Carrier.
    During the cooking class, women also have a chance to sate their appetites with some of the more unorthodox flavors of the wild. "We're often donated game meat so the women often have a chance to taste bear, oryx, elk, deer, antelope and buffalo meat," says Carrier. "It can become quite a culinary adventure."
    Carrier says two new classes— a gardening for wildlife tutorial and an emergency auto mechanics course— will also be popular among campers.
    Following a rigorous day of classes, campers will enjoy various types of entertainment, including performances by cowgirl poet Peggy Godfrey and magician Diane Shepard.
    The evenings will also feature a "how-to-flirt" class, various craft activities and shooting exercises.
    "We'll do air rifle and air pistol shooting for the people who wanted to shoot during the day but didn't take the specific class," Carrier says.
    Men are welcome to the camp but should be prepared to be outnumbered. "Typically we'll get some men, a man a year is not uncommon," says Carrier.
   
'Very empowering'
    Keeping women connected to the traditions of the outdoors is at the heart of Becoming an Outdoors Woman, says Carrier. "If women don't have an invitation to the wild, they won't get involved.
    "There have always been barriers to women and hunting and women and the outdoors," says Carrier. "That's why this program was started. A lot of these classes are very empowering for women."
    Carrier says the camp offers a friendly, noncompetitive atmosphere to learn about the outdoors. "That's why we say during the camp, 'No competition and no politics,' '' says Carrier. "That way everybody has a good time."
    The program is sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and part of an international program that offers similar workshops in 40 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces. Since its inception in 1991, the program has amassed more than 20,000 participants across North America, says BOW's official Web site at bownewmexico.com.
    Carrier organized New Mexico's first BOW camp in 1995 and says the camp's popularity has spread quickly. This year, due to the size of the facilities, the program can't take in more than 125 campers so Carrier says to contact her for information regarding early registration.
    Scholarships— including several full scholarships— are made possible each year by the Friends of the NRA. Participants must be at least 18 years old.
    "We're especially looking for single moms, teachers, full-time students or anybody that might need a little help to get up to Whittington," says Carrier. "And I'm very proud of the fact that we've never turned a scholarship down."
    For more information, visit bownewmexico.com, call Carrier at (505) 382-9087 or e-mail her at safe@zianet.com.