By Matt Miller
It’s inevitable: Every time a record whitetail is killed in Iowa, some sporting scribe declares a new area “Iowa’s sleeper county for wallhangers” or the “next big buck hotspot.”
This, in turn, has an equally inevitable effect: Areas where locals and their kids once knocked on neighbors’ doors for permission suddenly require hunting lease fees comparable to the cost for new vehicles.
Having hunted in Iowa for the past 12 years, I’ve seen this story play out too many times.
The “where to” article thus earns an unpleasant reputation. Many believe such articles divulge secret spots or price local sportsmen out of fishing and hunting opportunities. If, as outdoor communicators, we’re serious about wanting to recruit new hunters and retain existing hunters, these are not laudable results.
However, “where to go” stories are easy to write and easy to sell. They can be an important part of an outdoor writer’s revenue.
Fortunately, it is possible to write “where to” pieces that sell while also benefiting our sporting heritage. I enjoy writing these pieces, and I think that instead of crowding out local hunters, I can educate them on new opportunities close to home.
Here are some suggestions for new angles on the old “where to” story.
The National Wildlife Refuge System actively promotes hunting and fishing as integral uses of the refuges. But animal rights organizations often focus on refuges—despite being funded by duck stamps—as “logical” places to abolish hunting. Thus, encouraging hunting and fishing is important in keeping these activities legal on the refuges.
There are more than 500 refuges around the country. While some refuge hunts are popular, hunting is actually under-utilized on many refuges. Many hunters incorrectly believe that refuges are closed to all hunting. Check out refuges.fws.gov and work some refuge sporting opportunities into your next outdoor story.
As difficult as it may be to imagine, in some areas there are not enough hunters—particularly when it comes to white-tailed deer management. Most hunters know that state wildlife management areas and national forests are open to hunting. They often don’t realize that other lands may be open to the public for special deer management hunts.
In “where to” deer hunting stories for Game & Fish and other publications, I’ve focused on opportunities at state parks, university research forests, forest products company lands and other places where deer damage is intense but hunting pressure is low.
These lands often don’t harbor trophy bucks, but they’re a great place to fill the freezer or introduce a young hunter to the sport.
Many conservation organizations have a goal of building a constituency for places they want to protect. A trout stream with a lot of committed trout anglers is more difficult to despoil than one with no trout anglers.
Such conservation organizations often welcome stories promoting hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation in these conservation priority areas. In my job at The Nature Conservancy, I have taken many OWAA members fishing, hunting, birding and canoeing at the Conservancy’s preserves and projects.
The resulting articles counter the strange myth that the Conservancy is against hunting and fishing. They also help build a conservation constituency for our projects. Silver Creek, located in south central Idaho, is one of the most well-protected spring creeks in the country. In part, this can be attributed to the fact that outdoor writers routinely report on the excellent trout fishing found on this creek.
Finally, many “where to” stories concentrate only on the most popular fish and game species. The number of people who hunt squirrels, rabbits and other small game has declined dramatically. With the state of the economy, and many sportsmen looking for adventures close to home, I suspect this will change.
As such, there will be an increased demand for stories that tell new sportsmen where to go to pursue these species. Think creatively. An area crowded for deer and turkey hunting may receive almost no pressure for hunting squirrels, raccoons, woodchucks or even grouse. Many specialized magazines buy such articles. I’ve even sold a story on where to hunt kangaroos, a decidedly offbeat pursuit.
“Where to” pieces are the easiest pieces I write. One bird hunting publication even provides a defined formula it asks its contributors to follow. Such markets add to your freelance income without adding a lot of extra time.
But as you write these stories, think about benefiting the future of hunting and fishing.
No one enjoys being priced out of their favorite hunting ground due to a magazine article. But hunters love finding a new place to hunt or an overlooked place close to home where they can take the kids out for an enjoyable morning afield. Your articles can help them find those new opportunities and often contribute to conservation and wildlife management at the same time.
OWAA member Matt Miller is director of communications for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho. His freelance articles have appeared in Sports Afield, Game & Fish, The Bird Hunting Report and many other magazines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.