Women able to explore outdoor activities through program

Marianne Gillespie
Sunny Carr holds an item with her scent on it with bloodhound Oakley in the mantrailing class. Timber Creek Bloodhounds provided the instruction for the class.

It seems to start out simple enough:?women just want to learn how to do a particular something.

Maybe their husbands or boyfriends have tried to instruct them, but either their method of teaching is not clicking or frustration sets in.

For Mary Stear of Chillicothe, her objective for first attending Women in the Outdoors in 1999 was simple:?“I needed to learn how to back up a trailer.”

A story for the event at Banner Marsh appeared in the daily newspaper, and Stear said she knew she needed to attend after it listed what she needed to know: how to back up a trailer for boat launching.

She had practiced before in a parking lot, but it just was not working.

She called her friend, Lori Hall, who now lives in Texas, and told her she needed to come, too. Hall’s skill to learn was taking a fish off a hook, Stear said.

Since 1998, the National Wild Turkey Federation has sponsored WITO for any woman who wants to give something different a try. The NWTF promotes conservation and the preservation of hunting.

With six locations in Illinois, Chillicothe’s event Aug. 25 is the only one in the central Illinois area.

A?group of Chillicothe women, including Stear, Hall and others, put on their first WITO event in 2000 at Jubilee State Park.

The next year the event moved to the Chillicothe Sportsman’s Club, with its indoor and outdoor gun facilities, lots of acreage and a pond for the women to use.

The women can choose two or four sessions to explore, ranging from shooting, archery, kayaking/canoeing, self defense, tree identification, fishing, outdoor cooking and more. The shooting sessions are either all morning or all afternoon. Otherwise, the classes are about an-hour-and-a-half each. Lunch breaks up the day and a silent auction is offered.

“I do it for the fun,” said Maria Geiger, now the WITO coordinator. “Trish Connor got me involved in it. She wanted me to teach outdoor photography.”

While Geiger captures beautiful photographs, she was not confident about her teaching ability. Instead, she participated in the class, and then for the last six years has been the coordinator. Geiger found she enjoyed the gun classes.

“The opportunity I?had the first time I?took it was I?could shoot three different guns,” said Geiger.

That activity spurred an interest for Geiger.

“I tried the handguns. Consequently, I?got my FOID?card. For my 50th birthday, my husband bought me a pistol,” said Geiger.

Another woman Geiger met at the event became so interested in guns she went on an African safari.

“That’s all it takes is a little seed,” said Geiger.

The beauty of the event is that women are able to try the activities without investing in the supplies needed for the activity.

For the $50 registration fee (or $60 after Aug. 15), the ladies have the use of most equipment, and are supplied with a light breakfast, lunch and a day-end snack and a one-year subscription to Turkey Country.

Through the years, some ladies have traveled from Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as ladies from Chicago who wanted to horseback ride.

“Pretty much they come because of the courses offered,” said Geiger.

With a myriad of classes, the day is for camaraderie, Stear added.

“There’s no pressure to be able to learn,” said Stear.

It may help that the instructors give more one-on-one instruction to the ladies with small classes.

“This might be a way to come back to your significant other and say, ‘Hey, guess what? I learned how to do this today.’”

The ladies are able to laugh at themselves as they try the activities without embarrassment.

For some, they learn not only a skill, but begin an affection for an activity.

Stear said another activity she has come to love is kayaking, which rates just under her first love of fishing.

“I felt like I was a duck to water right there in the pond,” Stear said.

After the WITO instruction and delving deeper into the activity, she bought herself a kayak, and ended up participating in the HLC?Canoe/Kayak Jaunt on the Illinois River, which begins in Henry and ends in Chillicothe with a stop in Lacon.

She said she had previously thought it looked dangerous to kayak in the river, but with the proper instruction, she completed the jaunt.

With the instructors and proper instruction, Stear said other women may find an activity to keep doing, just like she did.

From offering eight classes in 2000 to 24 this year, Stear said women have a lot of choices.

“We’re offering more than we ever have in years past,” said Stear.

The wide array of choices allow participants like Mame Nowlin of Chillicothe an opportunity to either try different things or keep attending the same classes year after year.

Nowlin has participated in the event for the last two years, sparked by her niece telling her about the program.

She found she did pretty well in both the skeet shooting and the tomahawk throwing. The outdoor photography session continues to be one of her favorites, as well as kayaking.

She said last year’s instructor, Justin Dwyer, taught the photography class to look for something interesting among things that may not be interesting.

The self-defense class is one that no one hopes to have to use, but should she need it, Nowlin has had the training.

“You never know when you’ll be in a situation. I knew someone who was attacked at the mall,” said Nowlin.

This year Nowlin plans to take the gourd shard art, and is still debating on what other classes sound good.

While the classes are what she enjoys, the company makes the day even better.

“It’s just really fun being with the people you know, and the people you don’t know,” said Nowlin.

The hardest part of the day, she said, is choosing the sessions.

With varying backgrounds, the instructors are ones the WITO committee members know can teach about specific activities.

“We’re basically having them share their expertise for free in exchange for a little meal and our undying gratitude,” said Geiger.

The Chillicothe Sportsman’s Club also is integral to the event, Geiger said about the club which is nestled between Illinois Route 29 near Yankee Lane and the Illinois River.

“They’re really wonderful to us. They’re so helpful to us,” said Geiger.

Not only is the club’s location provided, but the members provide the instruction for the gun sessions of the day.

With a limit on the class size of those sessions, the women usually have one member that assists each one of them to check their safety and stance, especially with the handgun session.

“It’s an excellent program and an excellent way for you to learn about something you have an interest in but don’t know where to start,” said Stear.