Cook County’s history with the Becoming An Outdoors Woman Program
Minnesota has a strong history of hunting and fishing traditions. The state ranks 14th in the nation for resident hunters, following states such as Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, Tennessee, and many others.
While Minnesota’s hunting traditions have deep roots, historically, the percentage of male vs. female hunters has been unbalanced. A 2016 USFWS study showed that female hunters only account for 10% of total U.S. hunters.
Hunting and fishing are not the only activities that factor in the reduced number of women in the outdoors. When looking at outdoor participation as a whole, in 2021, the female participation rate was 46% compared to 54% of males, according to a study conducted by Outdoor Industry Association.
A young professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, Dr. Christine Thomas recognized this developing trend in the early 1990s.
After extensive research, Thomas identified 21 barriers hindering women’s outdoor participation. Barriers included traditional roles, clothing, equipment, expectations of women, and lack of a supportive environment.
With her research and a personal passion, and experience in hunting and fishing, she created a program called Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) to help bridge the gap.
In 1995, Thomas and a small steering committee held the first BOW workshop here in Cook County at the nearby Gunflint Lodge. “They helped steer the direction of the program. They came together. Bruce Kerfoot was part of that,” said Linda Bylander, BOW coordinator.
Shortly after, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) adopted the program. And 30 years later, the program is still thriving.
Throughout the 30 years since the BOW program was established, it has offered various classes and workshops to women, such as big game hunting, turkey hunting, fly fishing, ice fishing, firearm safety, and many others. In addition, Bylander explained that the program has expanded to include workshops called ‘Beyond The BOW’ that offer outdoor activities beyond hunting and fishing.
And one of those outdoor activities common to Northern Minnesota is dogsledding. A resident of our Cook County community, Linda Newman is an instructor for the program and offers a winter dogsledding workshop at her home.
“What we love about Linda Newman is she loves and cares for her dogs and for the heritage of the dogs,” Bylander said. She also shared that Newman’s winter dogsledding workshop is among the most popular DNR ‘Beyond the BOW’ classes.
WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins reached out to Linda Newman to learn more about her dogsledding workshop and what led her to get involved in the BOW program in 2005.
Newman said she was online looking for opportunities to share her dogs with other women when she stumbled upon the DNR Becoming An Outdoor Woman program. “I was just in awe. I thought it was a wonderful thing, and I started to participate. I realized it was just such a valuable opportunity for women,” said Newman.
Newman has been an instructor for the BOW program ever since. “It’s an opportunity to continue learning in a women-only supportive community. I really appreciate that about it because it’s very different,” she said.
The opportunity to share her dogs and her passion for dogsledding is what drives her to continue offering workshops each winter. Newman will be hosting her annual dogsledding workshop this February.
Simply put, “Empowered women empower women,” Newman said. She hopes the skills, knowledge, and confidence gained in the workshops will cascade and continue to pass down to the next generation. “We can do just about anything if we set our minds to it and if we have a desire to do it,” she said.
WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Linda Bylander, BOW coordinator, and Linda Newman, an instructor for the BOW program and owner of Points Unknown. Audio from the WTIP’s Outdoor News Podcast episode is below.