OCALA NATIONAL FOREST — The ferocity of the shotgun volleys ringing out over Lake Eaton never hinted at their source — a half dozen diminutive teenage girls blasting at flying clays on the shooting range. The girls and their mothers were part of a group of 75 women from across the state who gathered last weekend at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Hunter Education Training Center for the sixth annual Women in the Outdoors workshop.
The women, ranging from teenagers to grandmothers, spent the weekend learning or refining skills in archery, handgun and shotgun use, geocaching, canoeing, kayaking, outdoor cooking, fly-fishing and more. The half dozen or so men at the event variously helped teach classes, cooked and cleaned. In short, it was the outdoor woman's dream weekend.
Forging inroads to going out
An outreach program of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Women in the Outdoors is dedicated to providing interactive outdoor opportunities for women to help them form a better understanding of shooting sports, ethical hunting and scientific wildlife management in conservation efforts.
Pattie Boon is the WITO state volunteer coordinator responsible for events like the one in the Ocala National Forest. In her day job, she is a senior telecommunications specialist for Liberty Mutual insurance in Orlando. Her idea of a wild weekend is a weekend in the wild.
Boys and men are always encouraged to enjoy traditional outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing, Boon said. "But women aren't," she added. "The more women are exposed (to outdoor sports) the more they're inclined to teach their children and to inform them about conservation efforts."
It's fun to see women becoming empowered in the outdoors, to learn that they can handle a gun or shoot a bow, she said.
"Like they say at Remington Shotgun," said Boon, whose two teenage daughters were among the skeet shooters, "shoot like a girl if you can."
Weekend in the woods
The event cost $100 and included registration for four classes, all meals and accommodations. In addition to the workshops, event participants enjoyed crafts, raffles, games, demonstrations and silent auctions. The registration fee also covered a one-year membership in the organization.
The shooting sports were a big draw, and included both introductory and advanced classes. It was an opportunity to try a broad range of weapons, from .22-caliber handguns to high-powered shotguns.
Lake Eaton lent itself to watersports, including beginning and advanced kayaking and canoeing classes, and fly-fishing. Many classes included background materials for further study or exploration. Other women enjoyed more low-key activities, such as geocaching, photography and outdoor cooking classes.
Women bunked in "Night Owl" and "Early Bird" cabins, and kept a wide range of hours, prowling the shoreline with flashlights at night for a glimpse of alligators (there were none), and sharing hunting stories by the fire.
Mild-mannered by day
Sophia Horsman lives in St. Petersburg, where she works for MetLife as a "mild-mannered claims manager by day." She has been a WITO member for six years.
"My husband hunts," she said. "I have no interest in hunting, but I like being outside and I enjoy learning new things. "
At WITO events, she said she has learned to drive an all-terrain vehicle and rock climb, among other things. "I'm trying stuff I'd never tried before."
She attended the Ocala event with her three teenage daughters. "It's a lot of fun to get away with just the girls."
Competing for gear
The most coveted items during the raffle and silent auction were a handgun and a shotgun. Other treasures included a canoe, hunting knives, binoculars, sleeping bags, and outdoor cooking equipment, great goods for future outdoor activities — such as the WITO Broom Sage Quail Hunt in Callahan on Jan. 23.
"Watch out," Boon said. " 'Cause the girls are going to take over the woods."
Learn more about Women in the Outdoors workshops and other upcoming events at www.womenintheoutdoors.org, or contact Pattie Foster at email@example.com.