Gun writer teaches hunting etiquette

By Margo Whitmire
John Haviland’s kids smile proudly from the framed pictures in his work room, holding up hunting trophies of duck, deer, elk and red fox for the camera. Nicknamed “The Bunker” by his wife, Gail, this room of his house in Missoula, Mont., is where Haviland keeps all things hunting.
“No girls allowed,” he joked.
An MEC 600 Jr. Mark V shotshell reloader commands the room, with shelves of bullets, shell casings, gunpowder and reloading manuals lining the walls. Heading down the stairs to this room in the basement, Haviland pointed to the mountain lion hide mounted spread-eagle across the wall.
“That’s the lion that tried to bite me,” he said.
A University of Montana journalism graduate, Haviland, 56, makes a living writing about the thing he loves most – hunting. In the last two years, he has tracked moose in Sweden, roe deer in Germany, wild pigs in Texas, quail in Florida and pronghorn antelope in Wyoming.
Adventure aside, as a full-time freelance firearm writer, he is always working. “You go outside, you have your camera—which is like an albatross around your neck—and you’re always thinking of an angle,” he said.
After graduating in 1977, Haviland picked up odd jobs in mining and ranching, and worked as a tree thinner before settling in at the plywood mill in Bonner, Mont. In his spare time, he continued to hunt and read hunting magazines.
“Every month you’re going somewhere,” said Haviland of his favorites like Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. “Idaho with Ted Trueblood, tiger hunting with Jack O’Connor, rabbit hunting down South.”
A few years into his job at the mill, Haviland decided to try writing about his own hunting adventures. In 1986, Outdoor Life accepted the first pitch Haviland wrote and paid him $1,500. He thought, “This is easy. They’ll just call me and I’ll write stories.” When nobody called after a few months, Haviland went to the library and got a few books and learned how to write a query. During swing shifts at the mill, he wrote queries in the morning. It took a few years, but eventually Haviland was getting enough bites to quit the mill to work as a full-time freelance writer.
Besides giving it “everything you got,” Haviland said the keys to his success as a full-time writer are his relationships with good editors like John Anderson at South Dakota’s Varmint Hunter. “To have to enter a new market every time, get to know the editor, and what they like is hard,” Haviland said. “Here’s the editors, here’s this grand canyon, and here’s the writers over here. To bridge that gap is huge.”
Haviland’s assignments range from first-person hunting narratives to news items and product reviews for magazines like Varmint Hunter, Rifle, Handloader, Successful Hunter and Buckmaster’s Gun Hunter. Specializing in big game rifles and hand loading, Haviland has made a name for himself as a discerning product reviewer.
“I’m critical,” he said. While testing rifles, scopes, binoculars or a pair of boots, Haviland thinks about the reader who works at a mill, making $15 dollars an hour. “Is this $1,200 pair of binoculars worth it? He wants to know. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”
“Some magazines in the shooting industry these days are more interested in pleasing advertisers than publishing any sort of fault with any of the products,” said former OWAA member John Barsness and longtime hunting buddy of Haviland. The two met at a 1987 OWAA conference in Kalispell, Mont. “I think that’s limited his market a bit because he’s so honest, but there are still some magazines that publish honest reviews, and John is in high demand in those areas.”
Haviland also volunteers as a hunter education instructor for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “When you kill something, it’s not pretty,” Haviland said. “Taking care of it from the field to the table makes you a hunter. Putting a hole in something doesn’t make you a hunter.”
A lot of his students are young teenagers who are eager to get out and shoot something. Haviland is afraid these kids get the wrong idea from TV hunting programs today, and emphasizes respect for animals during his course.
“You see these guys bragging about killing, giving high-fives and jumping around to acid rock music,” he said, “And they have no respect for the animal. They’ll slow-mo an animal struggling with a bow in it or something, and you don’t glorify that sort of thing.”
Haviland’s favorite hunting partners are his wife and sons. He and his wife go grouse hunting every year for their wedding anniversary. They met in Haviland’s hometown of Deer Lodge, Mont., in 1973 and were married at 21 years old. “Only smart thing I ever did,” Haviland said. ◊
Margo Whitmire grew up in California, where she spent most of her life until moving to Missoula in 2008 for a graduate degree in environmental studies at the University of Montana. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from California State University, Sacramento, and worked as a music editor for Billboard Magazine.  Her intern duties include crafting Character Sketch articles, compiling Supporting Group News Tips, News Briefs, Bookshelf items and Outdoor Market listings. Contact Margo at

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