By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneSeptember 27, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 27, 2019) -- There's not a trace of doubt in Tenille Russell's voice when she declares she has the best job on Fort Sill.
She was born to live in the outdoors. And as Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area program manager, she gets to do just that.
In the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky where she grew up, one hill in particular stands out in her memory. It was in back of her parents' home. And oh, how she longed to climb it.
"I can remember being about 7 years old, and we had this steep hill behind my house. And I kept wanting to climb the hill, and my parents kept yelling at me, 'You're going to fall. You're going to get hurt.' So my dad tied a rope to the base of a tree and ran it down the hill. So anytime I wanted, I just had to strap onto the rope, and I could climb up and down the little hill behind the house.
"I can just remember wanting to climb mountains, and hiking and camping my whole life. I'm just very fortunate to get to work in the field and be able to share that with other people and encourage other people to do so," Russell said.
She grew up hunting and fishing as well. She's been elk hunting six times. She hunts with a compound bow to "level the playing field." (Ask her to tell you about the time a 5-foot rattlesnake got its fangs stuck in her snake boots while she was hunting on Fort Sill's J-1 area.) She's also gone elk hunting in Colorado and Kentucky. Of the six times she's been out, she was successful once.
That was in Kentucky. She brought down a cow elk in the late afternoon, and then had the daunting task of field dressing and quartering the carcass, then hauling each of the quarters out of the field back to her truck. She did it all herself, using headlamps after nightfall.
"It's not an easy process. I don't think people realize how massive these animals are," Russell said. "Everybody around me profits from it because they get jerky and sausage and all the yummy stuff. Even if you're generous, elk will last a good year."
Now she wants to introduce other women to the same pursuits she loves, at a "Women in the Outdoors" workshop happening at LETRA Sept. 28 and 29. This is the first time LETRA has offered such a course.
Participants who meet at LETRA Lodge at 9 a.m. either or both days will be exposed to all kinds of outdoor activities. Almost every session will start with a briefing, and safety will be paramount.
What to expect
"We're going to go over backpacking. And that's going to include how to set your tent up, what to pack, how to pack your backpack. We're going to go over fishing. We're going to give an hour-and-a-half class on how to tie a knot properly, how to put on your lures, what to use, what species of fish are in the area. Things like that.
"We're going to go over hiking. How to read a map, how much water you should drink, weather conditions, how to dress, things of that nature. We're going to go over rock climbing, so we're going to give them a little introduction into climbing.
"We're going to go over survival skills -- if you are caught out in a storm, or if you do get lost, what to do.
"We're going to go over outdoor photography. A lot of people don't realize that outdoor activities don't have to be extreme or require a huge amount of energy. You can also do photography. You can paint. And just sitting outside is considered outdoor recreation," Russell said.
One of the outside speakers coming to talk will be Katja Hunsecker on the subject of outdoor photography.
Archery should be a very rewarding session, as Russell is a Level 2 USA archery instructor who puts on archery classes and camps for kids each summer. She'll go over how to operate a bow and what types of bows are available -- simple, compound, and recurve.
"We have Genesis bows here that are really easy to pull back, so everyone will be able to operate them. And then I'll bring in my compound bow and show them the difference, and we also have some recurves. So everyone will be able to operate and shoot the bows and kind of get a feel for it," she said.
She'll go over options such as sport shooting and hunting. LETRA has its own archery range where shoots are conducted. (And where else on post can you hunt velociraptors targets?) "We're going to take them to (the Fort Sill Rod and Gun Club), give them a quick introduction on weaponry and hunting as well. There's not a lot of women who hunt in the area, which is kind of surprising.
"There'll be an example of different firearms there: a handgun, a rifle, a black powder gun. Just so they can get a feel, and if they want to shoot the rifles then they will have the opportunity to do so. If they don't then that's fine, too. It's just more about information and getting them familiar with what's available."
There will be lessons on identifying snakes and what to do if you encounter one.
Then there's outdoor cooking. Saturday's attendees will lunch on what they grill. They'll learn how to start a barbecue grill and a camp grill that day. Sunday they'll learn how to heat up foods using backpacking stoves and how to cook over fire.
Cost of the workshop is $20 per day per person, which includes transportation to different locations and lunch. Sessions will end around 4 p.m. each day, but may run a little over depending on
logistics and how many come. The number to call for more information is 580-442-5858.
Ten women had pre-registered by Sept. 18, but Russell said there's no limit: "If 200 show up, we'll divide them into groups and go from there."
Russell said she's trying to get more women involved in the outdoors.
"There's a low percentage of women who participate in outdoor activities in this area specifically.
And I don't know why that is. I think maybe intimidation is a big problem with women coming into the outdoors and wanting to experience it. I think generally women want to experience outdoor life; however, they are intimidated to do so. They may not be involved or in a community where that's an option for them, or they're scared of rattlesnakes (or) spiders. We've got some perception that we have large populations of rattlesnakes in this area," she said.
"So what this is offering is an introduction into the outdoors and give them more knowledge."
When asked for her favorite thing to do outside, her response was, "Oh, my goodness. I have to choose one."
Having just returned from a weekend of backpacking in the Ouachita National Forest in southwest Arkansas, she settled on hiking.
"Just getting away from civilization and I'm saying away. You know, five or six miles away from the nearest car is great. And just listening to the outdoors and being quiet. And no cell service is another bonus. No temptation to pick the phone up. It doesn't work," she said.