Northern Scottsdale resident Hilary Hirsch-Ascani and Tucson resident Kathy Greene spent decades traveling the United States together as competitive archers, and now have taken their love for the sport to the twice-yearly Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW).
Greene got her first taste of the three-day workshop camp for women, sponsored by the Arizona Wildlife Federation, 22 years ago.
“I went as a participant because I just loved the outdoors and anything to do with the outdoors,” she said.
Over the weekend, Greene recalled overhearing women leaving the archery class professing they’d never take archery again. This prompted Greene, who was a youth archery instructor at the time, to introduce herself to the then-camp coordinator.
“I said, ‘Hi, my name’s Kathy Greene. I’m a level-three archery instructor. How can I help?’” Green said. “And [the coordinator] goes, ‘You’ve been hired to do archery.’”
The BOW program introduces women to outdoor skills with expert instructors.
The program offers over 30 workshops, ranging from fly fishing, horsemanship, kayaking and canoeing to archery, shotgun and rifle shooting, rappelling and photography.
Greene said the most popular classes are repelling, fly fishing and learning how to cook with a Dutch oven.
New classes this year include “Backpacking Chef,” during which attendees learn about the dehydration and how to make meals with items they can pick up at local markets; and Horsemanship 102, where attendees further develop the horse riding skills they learned from Horsemanship 101.
“The whole purpose of BOW is to get [women] outside [of their] element and introduce them to a fun and friendly environment,” Greene said. “It gives women confidence, whether it’s indoors or outdoors; It gets them involved in something.”
This year’s spring camp takes place from April 12 through 14 at Friendly Pines Camp outside of Prescott. The second camp takes place in September 6 through 8, also in Prescott.
The $275 registration fee includes all class materials, food and lodging. So, women don’t have to bring anything with them, save for her personal belongings and a willingness to learn, of course.
“This is a really great place for [women] to start because they don’t have to buy any equipment,” said Greene, who took on the role of spring coordinator for the BOW program six years ago. “They get to test it and see what they like, test the waters without having to spend a whole lot of money.”
Full-time photographer and northern Scottsdale resident Lisa Langell has been the photography instructor since 2012.
The program coordinator at the time contacted Langell when their photographer instructor canceled last minute.
“They were scrambling to find another photographer on short notice, and it ended up being that I was available,” Langell said. “I initially got in as a pinch-hitter and then it just stuck after that. I’ve been teaching there ever since.”
Langell, who is a volunteer instructor for 15 different organizations and Arizona state parks, including Boyce Thompson Arboretum, is a wildlife and nature photographer. She also shoots what she describes as environmental portraiture.
“I call it people in their natural habitat,” she said. “I work with cowboys and native Alaskans – different people from different cultures around our country.”
During her class, Langell teaches attendees the basics, including composition, light and framing.
“I also give people creative ideas for shooting things, like abstracts or textures or other things that they can do that they might not think about with their photography,” she said, adding that she also teaches how to shoot portraits and gives basic posing tips.
Langell describes BOW as “Girl Scouts for adults.”
“You go away to camp, you learn all these outdoor things, you have a blast, [and] you meet all these great women,” she said. “It’s just a lot of fun and nobody knows about it.”
Langell calls it “the best kept secret for something for women to do in Arizona.”
“They have chapters nationally and it’s been going on for a long time, but everyone I talked to has never heard about it,” she adds.
The first BOW clinic was conducted in Wisconsin in September 1991. Since, BOW has expanded to 38 states, including Arizona, and six Canadian provinces.
The first Arizona BOW program took place in 1995, with this year marking its 24th year.
In her time as coordinator, Greene has seen an increasing number of younger women in their 30s and 40s, as well as families, attending the program.
“We’re not getting that 40- to 60-year-old woman anymore,” she said. “I think they’re starting to really see that they grew up in this indoor environment and they want to be outdoors.”
Greene said empty-nesters attend the camp, too.
“We hear that the kids have left the nest and … another one is, ‘My kids are getting old enough and I can start doing stuff with them outdoors and I want to know how to do it so I can teach them,’” she said.
A third of the BOW program’s attendees are returning campers, and two-thirds attend for the first time.
“It seems to be that way for every single camp; We’ve never had more than half that are returnees, so it’s been a really good ratio for us,” Greene said.
This year is Hirsch-Ascani’s fourth year attending BOW. She’s the assistant to the current archery instructor, Greene’s husband, Don.
Hirsch-Ascani has been an archer since 1989 and was once a national coach.
She said many women take the archery class at BOW out of sheer curiosity, while others are interested in learning a different way of hunting.
“A fair number of them have shot pistols and rifles and they’re interested in another way of aiming and shooting,” she said.
What Hirsch-Ascani enjoys about the camp and the archery workshop is watching the women’s reactions when they hit the target.
“When the light bulb goes off and there’s this huge, ginormous smile and a sense of confidence that comes over them, it’s just amazing,” she said.
Greene adds, “The look on the women’s faces, especially when they come off of the rope challenge and they’re scared of heights and that look of pride, I see that so much throughout the camp and that’s what brings me joy.”
The camaraderie among the attendees is what keeps Greene, Hirsch-Ascani and Langell returning year after year.
“They want to help each other, and they don’t care what level of experience you have,” Greene said. “It’s really amazing; If someone is struggling and having a problem, another woman will step in and help that person.”
Tickets are still available for the BOW camp.
“It’s something I really think people need to take a closer look at, especially for women who just want to get away for the weekend and enjoy the outdoors,” Langell stressed. “It’s safe, it’s low stress, no judgement, come as you are and just have a really good time. I think we need more of that. All of us need more than that.”
If you go
Becoming an Outdoors Woman
When: April 12-14
Where: Friendly Pines Camp, 933 E. Friendly Pines Road, Prescott