Women in the Outdoors
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
North Powder is a little smaller than Tokyo.
But Saturday on a ranch in Union County, both cities were represented by women out to hone their outdoor skills.
After spending all day on the North Slope Ranch outside North Powder enjoying a program called "Women in the Outdoors," both Jandy Buckles and Kaori Ito said they were glad for the chance to shoot, fish, fling arrows and learn the basics of the Global Positioning System with 11 other women.
"It's pretty cool, and a lot of fun," Buckles said after twice knocking over a target using a muzzle-loading rifle she'd loaded herself. "This could get kind of entertaining."
"I've never shot a gun and never gone fishing," said Ito, who's teaching Japanese and Japanese culture to high school students in Idaho for a year. "Everything is new and interesting for me. It's fun having women only."
That's the idea behind the program, which is replicated around the country by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Saturday's day-long event was the first ever offered in the area, said the NWTF's Sandy Smallwood of Nyssa. The event was hosted by the Baker County Longbeards and Four Rivers chapters of the NWTF.
"It gives gals a great opportunity," she said. "These are skills that would be hard to learn from your spouse even if he is a great guy. Plus, it's fun to meet new people who have the same interests you have."
Six classes were offered, and each student had time to take four 90-minute classes. In addition to muzzleloading and trap shooting, women could learn the basics of handgun safety. Other electives included GPS, archery and fly-fishing.
Most of the instructors were men, but students said they didn't mind the men being there.
"We don't choose instructors based on their gender," said Theresa Luna of Orofino, Idaho, one of the event organizers. "We choose them because they know a lot about the outdoors."
Like riding a bicycle
Nancy Read of Baker City hadn't picked up her bow in at least 18 years. With a little practice, she was soon managing that satisfying "thud" of an arrow piercing a target turkey, skunk even a bear.
"The first couple of times today, it wasn't comfortable at all," she said. "Then it all started coming back to me: Oh yeah! That's my peep site. And it's been pretty easy ever since."
Christy Witham of Baker City proved herself a bit of a William Tell as well.
"It's something I never tried before," she said. "I only hit the pig (the largest target) once. But then I hit the (much smaller) skunk on the third try, and it started falling into place."
Jeff Johnson is the NWTF's regional director in Eugene Monday through Friday, but Saturday he offered classes on fly-tying and muzzleloading.
Johnson regaled the fly-tying class with a description of the trunk of his car, which includes a "roadkill" kit for the tails of critters colorful enough for fly-tying material.
"My dad always told me to look out for deer tail when I was out walking," said Teresa Wheeler of Weiser, Idaho, who has come with her 23-year-old daughter, Jodi. "I guess now we'll all have to be on the lookout for roadkill."
There's a practical reason for attending with her daughter, Teresa Wheeler said: this year, she's drawn a moose tag in a wilderness area in Idaho.
"It's just great to be out together," she said, smiling at her daughter. "It's something we'll keep with us for a long time."
As Johnson constructs his elaborate fly, dyed feathers and fur are added to produce a colorful lure that appears sure to work.
"Under water, a little sparkle can make the difference between catching a fish and going home empty-handed," he tells his students.
The students testify to the motto of the program: Tell me, and I'll remember for a day. Show me, and I'll remember for a week. Involve me, and I'll remember forever.
"You just get so much more information at one of these events than you could looking it up yourself," said Bonnie Rux of Baker City. "I've seen people tie flies before, but I've never tried it myself. It's fun and maybe it's something that will work for me."
Steve Culley shows the women a fly he's made that features an orange pompon he found at a craft store.
"To a fish," he said, "it looks just like an egg."
Part of our lexicon
Once he's done tying flies, Johnson turns his attention to the muzzleloaders, which replaced flintlocks on the frontier in about 1840.
"You've got to do it the same way every time, and be very methodical about it," he advises the women.
As he demonstrates, he and Culley note that references to frontier rifles have found their way into our everyday conversation.
"Don't go off half-cocked," Culley says, noting that firing one of the beautiful rifles is a two-step approach.
"And don't forget the parts of the rifle lock, stock and barrel, the whole thing," Johnson says.
Next to the muzzleloading station, the Wheelers are trying their hand at trap-shooting. Not many of the clay pigeons are being vaporized, but Teresa Wheeler doesn't mind.
"Now I know what I'm going to ask for for Christmas," she says, eyeing Witham's handsome shotgun.
Chris Heffernan, who owns the property where the event was staged, said he will happily do it again.
"We've been fortunate to develop this property, and it's nice to share it with people who have a passion for the outdoors," he said. "You've got women pushing 70 and others in their teens. It's nice to see people get out and learn new things."