NEW TRIPOLI When it comes to the outdoors, one of the obstacles that can often keep women from enjoying sports such as hunting, archery and fishing is that they don't have a family member or mentor to help get them started. The fact of the matter is, it's always easier to learn a new pursuit when you have a caring, experienced teacher to guide you.
The opportunity for ladies to receive a personalized, hands-on introduction to the outdoors is one of the reasons the National Wild Turkey Federation's Women in the Outdoors initiative has become such a popular program over the past decade.
Each year, thousands of women ages 14 and older have the chance to explore a variety of recreational activities through the fun, educational program that's geared towards increasing participation in the outdoor sports, teaching the importance of wildlife management and helping pass on the hunting tradition.
On June 12, this region's annual WITO event makes its return with a full day of activities at Ontelaunee Rod & Gun Club in New Tripoli. The event, which attracts more than 100 participants annually, will feature 18 different classes designed to put ladies in touch with their outdoorsy side.
Katrina Skrapits of Danielsville, who has been the event's coordinator for the past six years, says the two NWTF chapters that present the event, the Jerry Zimmerman Memorial and Walking Purchase Chapters, do so as a way to educate women about the importance of conservation, hunting and respecting the outdoor resources.
One of the primary objectives of the day is to provide a relaxing, noncompetitive environment in which women can learn. Participants are taught by knowledgeable, friendly instructors who stress learning proper techniques, safety and, especially, having fun.
"Most of the ladies who sign up for the event and try these classes out, a lot of them are people who don't have anybody to teach them, or their families aren't as involved in hunting or shooting, and they just want to learn," Skrapits said.
Among the many activities planned for this year are introductions to fly fishing, archery, rifle and handgun shooting, outdoor cooking and trapshooting.
There are also hunting-related classes focused on turkeys and deer. Eight of the courses being offered are new, including opportunities for participants to learn how to make soap, identify wild edibles and tie fishing and sailing knots.
Skrapits said some of the classes that aren't directly related to the outdoor sports are offered in an effort to attract a variety of participants.
"There are a lot of ladies who are not interested in hunting or shooting and we want to keep it open for all the ladies," she said.
"Soap making doesn't really have much to do with the outdoors, but it is a natural soap making (class), you use natural ingredients and we're going to do it outside. Just being outside is the key."
Since its inception, WITO has had a positive impact on female participation in the outdoor sports. According to a 2005 study done by Responsive Management of Virginia, a nationally-recognized research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues, ladies who attend a WITO event are much more likely to try their hand at hunting and fishing than women in general. For example, more than 80 percent of WITO participants surveyed said that they had purchased a fishing license, as opposed to 48 percent of the women in the general population.
"There are so many success stories. One of the girls took archery (and) she loved it," Skrapits said. "She then brought her son to the (local NWTF's youth) JAKES event to learn archery and they went out and got their hunting permits and went hunting for deer."
In addition to a day of personalized outdoors instruction, all Ontelaunee WITO participants will receive lunch, a one-year NWTF membership and a year's subscription to the NWTF's Turkey Country and PA Turkey Talk magazines. There will also be a raffle, featuring a semi-guided hunt for Merriam's turkey in Wyoming and other prizes, with proceeds going to support the WITO program.
Women in the Outdoors will take place June 12, 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m., at Ontelaunee Rod & Gun Club. The registration fee is $53; to register or learn more, contact Katrina Skrapits at 610-760-1689 or firstname.lastname@example.org.