Forging knives and building a fire with primitive tools were among the skills available to more than 150 women last weekend at the 18th annual Women in the Outdoors at the Baptist Assembly Campgrounds in Cookson.
Workshops were offered before and after lunch, training participants on using musketloaders, canning, gun cleaning, fly-fishing, archery, and cooking wild game. On a Saturday morning group hunt, one woman shot a deer. This event gives women ages 14 and older the ability to learn skills they may never happen upon again, according to Dee Page, firearms training and recoil arms instructor and one of the coordinators.
"I want to see more ladies outdoors hunting, camping, shooting, just having fun and getting their children outside with them," said Page.
"No Child Left Indoors" is more than a sign in the office of Leann Bunn, naturalist at Tenkiller State Park and event coordinator. It's a philosophy she lives by.
"Women need to be empowered to do things that may be out of their comfort zone, and then take their children outdoors and teach them to do those activities," said Bunn.
Bunn appreciates the camaraderie, along with the encouragement women give one another.
"Lots of ladies will take a gun safety class, concealed carry or hunting class and become more involved," said Bunn, whose mother taught her an appreciation of the outdoors. "I hope these ladies will get their children and grandchildren outside and not glued to the TV."
For more than a decade, Gina Kelly, of Cushing, has been attending this event - always the first weekend in November - both to learn and to get away from a high-stress job. She values the friendships she's made. She went last weekend to learn canning, finger weaving, and primitive skills. One year, she learned to work with Clydesdales and to drive a cart, and has turned that into a hobby of re-enacting.
"I now own a Norwegian fjord and a small draft horse, and a cart and buggy and do 1840 re-enactments," said Kelly.
WITO volunteers who teach and donate their time are extremely important, as the events could not happen without them, according to Don Chitwood, regional director of the Eastern Oklahoma National Wild Turkey Federation. He's also an instructor and event sponsor.
Oklahoma Women in the Outdoors State Coordinator Pattie Bing, of Sapulpa, is another instructor.
"It's an opportunity for women to learn anything about the outdoors in a non-intimidating environment with other women. When women compete with men, it's more competitive; women are more supportive and encouraging, and really take care of one another, and it's a peaceful and calming way to learn," Bing said.
Knife-forging instructors Billy Helton, of Claremore, and Paul Happy, of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, have been on the Forged in Fire TV show, and each taught women to hammer hot metal.
"Move the material to you not the hammer to it," Helton advised Kimberly Church, of Muskogee.
Church thought it would be a fun experience to forge a knife and add to her knife collection.
"I wanted to see if I could make one myself," Church said, and she did. "It actually turned out to be usable. I love it!"
Instructions began indoors, before putting into practice building a friction fire outside. Mike Ishmael told attendees the key to building a fire is don't start it and run off.
"A fire bow or fire drill is used," said Ishmael, who showed different found items from stones to a wood knot. "Native Americans had rocks; they used flint to sharpen, or wear down or to make a hole."
One prized item Ishmael had made was a fire bow from two buffalo ribs he'd found, and deer hide.
"Scavenging can take all day," he said.
Sustainable beekeeping instructor Marlo Johnston, of Tahlequah, was in the primitive workshop.
"When you talk to men about these classes, they're jealous about the variety and content. There's blacksmithing, rappelling, primitive skills, and later, I'll be taking natural edibles," said Johnston.