by Nancy Boldt and Brittany Fish

If you see a group of women bundled up on a sunny, cold winter day in scarves, gloves, jackets and snow boots, you may have stumbled upon a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman winter workshop. This gathering is where women learn techniques of darkhouse spear fishing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and tracking, winter camping, winter birding and other activities found in the North Dakota outdoors this time of year.

Each year in February, North Dakota Game and Fish’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Program (BOW) provides the opportunity for women to participate in these winter activities through a number of one or multi-day workshops. Participants often attend with like-minded friends or they may be venturing to the workshops on their own.

As coordinators, we try to visit all of the various classes to take photographs, make sure things are going smoothly, or try to pick up a few new pointers on an activity. Many times we walk into a class and the group is laughing and smiling as they learn to take that first step on those flat, cumbersome snowshoes. The many falls in the snow remind us to let our inner child take over and just have fun.
Snowshoes are a wonderful tool to help us wander outside and see what nature is up to during North Dakota’s leanest months. One may find various tracks to examine. The puzzle is trying to figure out whether they were made by an animal that hops, bounds, waddles, or walks and trots. Hoppers (rabbits) have large hind feet that are significantly longer than their front feet and leave sets of four tracks with their hind feet ahead of their front feet. Bounders (mink) have long narrow bodies and short legs, these animals crouch and jump off their hind feet. Creatures that waddle (raccoons), have short legs and heavy bodies. Lastly are the walkers and trotters (coyote), whose body length from shoulder to rump is about the length of their legs.

As we venture into another class, participants might be trying to manage the first few feet of gliding with cross country skis and learning how to make that curve in the trail without falling. Once they get in the rhythm, the women can visit on the trails and listen for birds and other animals that may be venturing nearby. Occasionally, you’ll hear some laughing and giggling after a participant lost control and is trying to pull herself upright.

Other classes offered during winter months include winter camping, ice fishing, wild game cooking, pine needle beginners, winter birding, and darkhouse spearfishing. Women learn a multitude of skills they can take home for use in everyday life; continuing to participate in these outdoor activities, while passing these new skills on to family members.

Being outdoors in winter is a very different experience from being outside during summer. The weather is usually brisk, but peaceful as you walk through dormant woods or patiently sit atop the ice waiting for a fish to bite your bait. Learning and listening for the different sounds made by wildlife that tough out North Dakota’s winters remind us of their amazing ability to survive the frigid temperatures and blanket of snow.

BOW offers various one-day events throughout the year. In January we offer a darkhouse spearfishing event. Participants experience a more primitive type of winter fishing in this class. After learning the basics on how to drill holes and set up a fish house, participants get to look through a “window” in the ice that provides a wonderful view into the fish world.

Through that “window,” participants deploy a fish decoy under the water to lure a predator within spearing range. It is very easy to tell when a fish swims into view as you will hear squeals of joy and cheering as they quickly unzip the door of the house and try to get the fish out onto the ice before it gets away. You may hear even more squeals if a wayward, curious muskrat suddenly appears in the ice hole, sending surprised women scrambling out of the fish house. The experience offers so many fun memories for the women to take home and share with their families.

The 2013 Winter Program is February 22-24 for the winter weekend program at Lake Metigoshe State Park. Darkhouse spearfishing was held January 26.

BOW also offers a multitude of summer and fall programs for women to get outdoors. We hold an annual weekend workshop the second weekend in August each year. This event holds many opportunities to introduce women to outdoor activities. Throughout the weekend the ladies take four sessions of classes of their choice, meet other women that enjoy similar activities, and make lasting friendships. Options are endless at this workshop as there are at least 24 different classes including: basic firearms, beginning archery, basic fishing, intro to fly-fishing, kayaking, navigation, plant identification, tracking and trapping, basic boating skills, backpacking, butterflies and dragonflies, the list goes on. In the evenings, women can choose to hike, take advantage of the equipment used during the day or just relax by a campfire.

The one or two-day events vary from year to year and are an in-depth experience of one outdoor activity. Some of the events we’ve tackled in the past include waterfowl hunting, fishing for catfish on the Red River, hiking and camping on the Maah Daah Hey Trail, and archery hunting.
All BOW events and registration information can be found on our website. This website is updated with current programs. Winter programs usually appear mid-December and summer and fall programs are posted around mid- April.

We invite you to join us as we learn how to build a snow shelter, start a fire, or snowshoe through the woods. Come make lasting memories and have a few laughs with us this winter or summer!

Nancy Boldt and Brittany Fish are assistant coordinators of the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Program through the ND Game and Fish Department