Editor's note: My Back Pages recalls previous columns penned by the author.
My Back Pages: Reel women
More doors have opened for those who've felt excluded from outdoors
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — As she prepared to tackle the wilderness with a map and compass in hand, Carrie Carpenter remembered her youth and the frustrations over being unable to hunt with her brother and father.
"I was never included, nor was I ever taught how to handle a gun. It was a man's sport," said Carpenter, 59, of Reseda, Calif. "It was not open to women, nor did I know anyone in my family or any other women who were interested in doing that.
"Now I am curious," she said, poring over charted destinations and routes with three other lady trailblazers. "I'm just catching up in things I've wanted to do for years."
The wilderness, in this case, was a Boy Scouts camp near Santa Barbara County's Lake Cachuma. Instead of tracking deer or bear, she was employing her new-found orienteering skills to hunt down wooden wedges cut in the shapes of animals that were strewn about the compound.
As one of more than 100 participants in the three-day seminar, "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman," Carpenter was gaining a new appreciation for nature, along with a strong sense of confidence instilled and reinforced by bonding with other women.
More women, many of whom were initially steered away from outdoor sports by stereotyping, are finding they can fend for themselves in the wilderness, from fishing and hunting to backpacking and rock climbing to snorkeling, canoeing and dogsledding.
And "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman," a hunting, fishing and overall recreation program offered in 44 states and eight Canadian provinces, has served as a springboard for dozens of similar projects and outdoor-oriented women's organizations.
"We opened up their eyes," said Diane Lueck, national program director for BOW, initiated in 1991 by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's College of Natural Resources. "That was the goal, to raise awareness for the need for programs for women, and I think that's happened. If that was our one goal, we've been really, really successful."
The stats appear to be in Lueck's favor. The number of female firearm hunters increased by 49 percent from 1989 to 1996, a jump from 1.75 million to 2.6 million, according to surveys conducted by the National Sporting Goods Association. And while women represented 31.4 percent of the fishing population in 1991, the proportion rose to 35.1 percent by 1996, reflective of the 22 percent increase in women anglers – 13.1 million to 16 million – during that period.
Researchers note the findings are far from definitive, however; survey methodologies vary and so do results.
Within BOW, enrollment has seen dramatic gains. There were 106 participants at the inaugural seminar in 1991; this year, more than 10,000 women will take a course.
"I do think probably the time was right," said Lueck, whose program has graduated more than 35,000 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 84, since its inception. "Had this started 20 years ago, maybe it wouldn't have gone so well."
Peg Lonnquist, executive director of Woodswomen, a women-only adventure travel organization in Minneapolis celebrating its 20th anniversary, agreed.
"This generation of women grew up with Title IX, and they know they have strong bodies," Lonnquist said. "They don't question they can go out in the woods and be involved in these activities."
"Even the older women are kind of surprised at themselves that they are able to do these activities," Lueck said.
Some women had never spent the night in a tent, or, if they had, it was a man who had set it up and staked it down. Some had been told they were too frail and fragile to wander into the wilds without a man, let alone. Others are divorced or widowed and have lost a nature lover in their life. And still others look to the outdoors because their husbands, boyfriends, children or female friends aren't interested.
"It's hard for me to find a companion. Most of the friends I have don't regard any of this as of particular interest," said Mary Carol Rudin of Bel-Air, Calif., registered in her second BOW seminar.
Last year at a northern California workshop, she took shotgun and rifle shooting, firearms safety and a wildlife biology course. In June at Lake Cachuma, she signed up for map and compass reading, field orienteering and flyfishing.
"If you are an urban dweller like I am, it brings you into another kind of contact with the outdoors and the earth and nature that you might not otherwise experience if you don't have friends who are into that," Rudin said. "I'd like to be more comfortable in the outdoors, just as I am in the city."
Tied by common threads of gender and inexperience, program enrollees enjoy a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of adventure and increased levels of confidence, self-esteem and relaxation.
"Because we're women together, I don't feel intimidated by things I don't know, because they want to share their experience," the widowed Carpenter said. "If you're with other women and you do stupid things or ask stupid questions, it isn't quite as degrading as it is if you ask a dumb question in front of a guy who has no patience.
"I think men assume you should know a lot – things that have become second nature to them. I say, 'Hey, you had to learn it, too. Someone had to tell you.'"
Gearing up for the Dutch oven cooking class at Cachuma, Louise Aldrich, and her sister, Joanne Cashman, both of West Hills, Calif., were glad there were "no men huffing and puffing around saying they knew more," as Aldrich phrased it.
"Many of the women were there because they had boyfriends teaching them, but they weren't addressing size, capability and strength," Aldrich said upon returning home. "Many women didn't have the right equipment – waders that didn't fit properly, bows and firearms that were too heavy and backpacks that were too big."
Between rifle rounds at the target range, Tamara Carousos of Vacaville, Calif., said her husband, a hunter, encouraged her to take the BOW workshop because he wasn't trained to teach her how to shoot. "So you can learn how to do it correctly the first time," she said.
"Yeah," Lydia Dodson-Lehrer of Brea, Calif., chimed in, "so you don't get into bad habits, like the guys already have."
Women are coming to a greater understanding they can do physically demanding activities in the wilds, regardless of stature and often solo, said Kathy Etling of St. Louis, a BOW instructor and author of "Hunting Superbucks: How to Find and Hunt Today's Trophy Mule and Whitetail Deer."
"When I go shoot a deer, I don't get my husband, I get my horse," said Etling, who also tracks turkey, pronghorn antelope, elk, bear and bighorn sheep. "I lasso a rope around the antlers. My horse loves to drag deer. Other women get their friends to help pull deer out.
"Women have realized that men have had the fun all along," she said of the growing number of women's outdoors programs.
Nan Caddel of Burbank, Calif., said she felt the spirit and inspiration of a sisterhood in nature during the Cachuma seminar.
"It was quite amazing to see how many women from different daily walks of life share an interest and love in camping and hiking, as well as archery, boating, shooting and fishing," Caddel said. "I think there is a lot of encouragement for women to be much more active in the outdoors."
This article originally appeared Aug. 17, 1997, in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Fore! Vet takes swing at saving snake
We're going with a more liberal definition of "outdoors" today, but, hey, this is Backcasts, for goodness sake, and what else would you expect, really?
Indeed, this is just too good to pass on, and that's really a big part of the story: not being able to pass something.
Apparently a couple in New South Wales state were discouraged with their hen's lacking desire to nest. So they had the bright idea of placing golf balls in the chicken coup to stimulate what they hoped would be a natural mothering reaction, the Australian Associated Press reports out of Brisbane.
Unfortunately, another critter had an even brighter idea and, naturally, the golf balls disappeared. Lo and behold, shortly thereafter the couple found a lumpy-looking carpet python nearby.
All right, a snake mistaking golf balls for a meal of chicken eggs is plenty worthy of Backcasts exposure, but here's the kicker: The couple delivered the hapless serpent to an animal park, where a vet removed the balls from the intestine of the 32-inch nonvenomous snake.
Thanks to the quick thinking of all involved (except the python), the scaled slitherer is making a speedy recovery, according to Michael Pyne, the senior veterinarian at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary who performed the procedure.
"Those golf balls weren't moving any further. They were stuck where they were," Pyne said. "If it hadn't been found, it would have died for sure."
The hunter who went out after bunnies and came back with a bear story
A hunter pursuing rabbits on Alaska's Kodiak Island ended up shooting a charging grizzly when it got to within 10 yards of him.
How 'bout that? Wake up dreaming about hasenpfeffer and lay down that evening thanking your lucky stars that the firepower from your pistol was able to stop an angry sow … and a potentially nightmarish scenario.
The recent incident near American River, about 15 miles outside of Kodiak, was the second time in a week hunters had encountered the female brown bear and her three cubs, according to the Associated Press.
The last time it was one of the cubs that charged a father and son out duck hunting as the mother and the other cubs slept nearby. This time, the hare hunter – carrying two weapons – was charged after he rounded a corner and surprised the sow.
"A rabbit hunter was in the brush and kind of woke them up out of their beds," said John Crye, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "He felt threatened by the sow, so he shot the sow."
The hunter immediately notified Alaska State Troopers and the state Department of Fish and Game, the AP reports. Crye went with troopers to the site where the 8-foot, 400-pound sow lay barely alive.
It was determined that she was too badly injured and would have to be killed, so she was shot again.
The cubs, two males and a female weighing about 140 pounds each, were shot, as well, because they were too young to survive on their own and too old at nearly 2 years to be good candidates for zoo placement.
"The cubs wouldn't have made it through the winter, so we euthanized the cubs," Crye said.
Now, wouldn't you expect brown bears on Kodiak Island to be sound asleep at this time of the year?
Indeed, it is unusual for a bear family not to be denned by November's end, much more by late December, and in this case there are a couple of reasons why, according to Alaska Fish and Game biologists.
At an estimated age of at least 25, the sow was thought to be unusually old for having young cubs. Combined with the island's poor berry crop, she was underfed and still hunting to put on a more fat going into winter, the AP reports.
About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site. He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.