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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Secret Life of Outdoor Writers

Outdoor Writers are, by nature, colorful folks and knowledgeable about all things hunting and fishing.  

Outdoor Writers at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers
Association Meeting in Seven Springs, PA this past weekend.

These days, they need to be clever as well. Gone forever are the days when every teenager anxiously awaits the monthly arrival of their favorite outdoor magazine. Sure, there are still kids who long for a Christmas gift subscription to Outdoor Life but more likely, these kids will spend 7 hours a day in front of a screen of some type - computer, iPhone, TV or Video Game. Kids have a roving range of a small postage stamp backyard these days. Odds are when you grew up, your parents let you roam wherever as long as you were home for dinner before dark. The problem that Outdoor Writers face is that writing jobs are hard to come by and the jobs don't pay like they used to pay. It is a digital age and just like our national news cycles, information is everywhere and it moves fast. Somewhere right now, there is a "wanna be writer" in his pajamas writing internet articles and blogs and even taking gigs for free. At Kodabow, we love the men and women who carry on and practice their craft of spreading intelligent information on the outdoors -- they build turkey calls, they know the best trout streams and they take immense pride in their writing craft but after spending a weekend with these professionals, we see that the job at hand is as challenging as one would ever find.
Here are just a few things we learned over the weekend:

1 - COMBAT THE "LEAVE NATURE ALONE" SYNDROME. Most people in your town or city don't understand the "outdoors". They may be predisposed to just let nature be.... and hence, hunting stories can be controversial ie. why do people need to shoot these animals?  But these men and women readers (who may be never have fished or hunted) are smart and a good outdoor writer knows it and knows that an article may be read by both hunters and non-hunters especially in a local city paper. Today, our outdoor world has the handiwork of humans all over it and after decades of logging, development and other human activities. We now have a serious responsibility for STEWARDSHIP over this domain.  Nothing is the same as when settlers arrived in this land 600 years ago. Since readers are smart, explaining Wildlife Management as a starting point goes much further than immediately pushing a hunting perspective in the news print. One of the best things we can do is take someone who has never been hunting, shooting or fishing along with us on an expedition.

2 - COMMON GROUND. Aligning and finding the areas of commonality among birders, mountain bikers, hunters, fisherman and naturists is more important than focusing on the areas of disagreement. In comparison to hunters and fishers, these other groups do very little monetarily to positively impact the outdoors.
Seven Springs, PA in Western PA near Pittsburgh has ski slopes, nearby hunting and fishing, and sporting clay ranges. This is a view from the top of ski slope after a 5:30 AM walk to the top early one morning.
The highest point in PA, Mount Davis, is nearby. We are up about 3,000 feet here.

3 - WRITERS ARE FRUGAL. A writer comes up to me and says, "Chuck - do you know why no Outdoor Writers wear red shoes?"
I can't come up with an answer.
He says, "Because no manufacturers give away red shoes."
His point was that many writers are always on the prowl for outdoor gear at no cost. It is understandable. Some weekly articles might only generate $75 or $100 in pay and it is a constant struggle to obtain paid assignments. Many writers are older and the younger ones almost always have a "real job". There were a lot of teachers and former teachers in the room. A well written article can take hours of work and research and some publishers might say - "we would love to have you do a monthly column but we can't pay you."

A Kodabow friend, Kodabow owner, and long time PA hunter Ted Saddic stands on the balcony overlooking the Sporting Clays range at Seven Springs, PA. Ted helped Kodabow at the breakout session when writers talked with us.

4 - SOME READERS WILL GO NUTS. If a writer identifies  "Laurel Hills State Park" in an article but the REAL NAME of the Park, is "Laurel Hill State Park" ......standby for incoming rounds and take cover. In today's internet world, an obscure event or misunderstanding can sometimes blossom into a full fledged controversy that can undermine all the good intentions of the writer. We have seen that type of thing ourselves as a manufacturer where a small issue or mistake is driven to huge proportions over the internet. The best professional writers have a sensitivity to being accurate and careful. Some are artful in presenting both sides of an issue and will let the facts speak for themselves. And if you believe you are on the correct and on the right side of an issue, it will be more credible to present  both viewpoints --- and a smart reader will be drawn to the right answer by the factual perspective. 


5 - REAL SERIOUS TYPES MIX WITH EDGY CHARACTER TYPES. It probably pays to have a "look." Jim Shockey, for example --- always wears that cowboy hat. At a POWA meeting, an attendee will come across other attendees who are millionaires from selling small non-descript outdoor products to gents who have killed 248 turkeys ...yep, a gent that keeps track by number down to the individual turkey. The new PA Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources, Cindy Adams Dunn, spoke at the meeting about current issues facing the State.  How about a writer that is nearly 100% focused on ... Beagle Dogs?  ..... Beagling ....Beagle Hunting ...... maybe a circulation of 10,000 readers --- now there is a little niche.  How about gaining insight into the logic behind Pennsylvania approving crossbow use from someone who was right there? The approval logic was "how could we stand in the way of an activity that would increase user participation and not hurt the resource?" As a Pennsylvania hunter myself, it appears that the crossbow benefits have far outweighed the perceived negatives. And as a traditional bowhunter, I hope I have the sensitivity to see both sides of the issue. The crossbow controversy was at a fevered pitch a few years ago. In some small circles, the controversy still reigns. One imaginative and clever POWA writer composed an archery article circa 2013 that included several quotes like, "this will be the end of archery hunting as we know it."  He was accurate and dead on .....but he waited till the end of the article to reveal to the reader that these quotes were not from the current crossbow brouhaha but from the early 1980's when vertical compound bows were vehemently opposed by some. Like we said, those Outdoor Writers are clever folks.
- Chuck Matasic at Kodabow; May 2015