One Man’s Look Inside a Woman’s World
By MWF Managing Director Rob Olson
I’ve had the great pleasure of being part of some pretty special events in the outdoor world. Organizing the first youth duck hunt event in Canada in 2000 at the Delta Marsh was a great one. Seeing those little guys get their first duck – awesome.
But last weekend left me speechless. No small feat if you know how much I like to talk.
I was a token male instructor, invited to teach ladies how to filet fish and field dress a game bird, at the 21st annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman extravaganza. This is a gig where 75 female participants from all walks of life and of all ages, come together at Circle Square Ranch near Austin, Manitoba for a unique outdoor learning experience. Spread over three huge days the third weekend in May, it was simply the coolest outdoor event I’ve been a part of, and I’ve participated in some cool stuff.
It’s over-the-top for many reasons. There are over 35 workshops offered by expert instructors, everything from trailering, to outdoor survival to field dressing a big game animal. Soup to nuts, you want to be an outdoors-gal, BOW has got you covered.
And BOW gets you covered in fish slime. I personally taught fish fileting. I had 5 ladies initially sign up for the workshop. We’d bought a 75 lb. box of whole, frozen perch (that’s a lot of perch!) and a 75 lb. box of whole, slimy pike. I wondered how 5 ladies and I would get them all processed. But then women started filtering in from the sidelines to step up and try it. In the end, over 35 ladies had learned to clean a perch or pike. All told, we fileted for over 7 hours! Twenty of them even learned the tricky art of getting the pesky Y-bones out of those slough sharks. These ladies are keen as mustard.
What was amazing, was how many Gals said from the back rows of cautious observers, “I’ll never try fileting”, and then eventually, they couldn’t help themselves. There’s a certain magic going on here that’s powerful. The weekend is short on testosterone and bravado, and high on peer support. Girl power on full display, and it is beautiful. No pressure, just a magical vibe that has ladies stepping way out of their comfort zone to try new, and possibly scary or “yucky” things… like tackling a big, slimy pike.
At BOW the ladies get to shoot everything from a bow, to a muzzleloader, to a .22 and shotgun, to a .243 rifle. There was one woman, literally shaking with fear about firing the guns, but she was determined to try. Her gal pals provided all the support necessary for her to not only try, but to end up hammering away with the big rifle. Basically anything is possible at BOW, thanks to the camaraderie between the girls and the careful guidance from the mostly female, world class instructors.
In spite of the obvious support and goodwill flowing freely around Circle Square Ranch, that didn’t stop the MWF’s Carly Deacon or I from being more than a little bit nervous about introducing a totally new component to BOW: the harvesting of live animals as part of learning how to process game.
With the localvore movement, 100 mile diets and just the general interest from people nowadays to reconnect to their food, there has been ongoing demand by the BOW ladies for training that allows them to harvest their own food from the field, and take it right to the fork. Still, I was a little nervous about bringing in some live chickens and sheep. Enter Dr. Birte Klug, another amazing BOW instructor among many.
Dr. Birte is a veterinarian from Selkirk who purchased the chickens and sheep for our first foray into harvesting animals at BOW. She eased some of our fears because of her professionalism and experience with this sort of thing. Yet I still wondered how the ladies would react to us killing chickens and sheep at BOW. Was this too much?
And yet, to learn to clean a duck, goose or grouse, you need a bird, a dead one. And to learn to field dress a deer, you need a dead ungulate. And it might as well be a fresh one and fresh means we can make use of the animal, which is the ultimate form of respect.
First up was field dressing. Dr. Birte humanely dispatched the two sheep. She did it discreetly in the livestock trailer. But the moment was still very heavy. BOW lead organizer, MWF’s Carly Deacon and I, felt the tension. To me, dispatching livestock is not hunting, in many ways it’s harder. As MWF Board member, cattle producer and BOW volunteer, Fred Tait says, “That’s why you don’t name your cows”.
One woman helped Dr. Birte drag the still kicking sheep out of the trailer. She was emotional, everyone was, but Dr. Birte was so good. She was respectful of the animals, and also business-like. She got the girls in there with knives and away they went to work, removing the entrails on the grass. At this point, it shifted from tension, to wonder, to curiosity, to taking part in the harvest.
Then the sheep were hoisted up and skinned, followed by instruction on taking the meat off the bones. Every participant had a lot to say about the enormity of the experience. It was emotional, but the sentiment was that it was necessary to see it, and to participate in this. Especially given that we all essentially pay someone else to do this work for us nowadays, and in that, some of the connection to our food has been lost. BOW is in part, about reconnecting to our food as part of the outdoor experience.
We went on to dispatch a couple dozen chickens. Again, at first it was a little tense. But one by one, ladies came forward to help kill the chickens. And again, once we started cleaning the birds in ways the ladies would need to know to handle grouse, ducks and geese on their own, the vibe shifted from reticence to participation. It went from tension, to immersion in being a human being, to being an honest omnivore in an urban world. It was a powerful moment.
We cleaned everything up and made chicken jalapeno poppers: chicken breast sliced thin, with cream cheese and peppers on the inside, just like we often do with ducks in the Fall. Onto the barbeque they went. Everyone sat around, talking openly about the big experience they’d just gone through. For many, it was the first time they’d seen an animal die. And then, here we were, eating yummy food from those animals. It just felt right, and “connected” and the conversation amongst the girls confirmed it.
I felt privileged to be part of this ladies event. It was so much bigger than I realized going in. For many of the women, it is life changing. Congratulations to all the ladies who participated, you girls are incredible.
For pictures and women’s reactions after attending BOW 2015, please visit our Facebook page: Becoming an Outdoors Woman (Manitoba)