This was actually a blog entry from way back last winter, but since we have a new crop of visitors now, I decided to bring it back up to the front of the list where people will see it. If you read it already and came looking for new stuff, I apologize. I'll have something new for you tomorrow. But for all the people that still ask how to get started in the hunting industry, here is a reprint of that entry.
I get asked this question more than any other. I have a Facebook account and I bet every week at least two people ask for advice on this subject. People want to know how they can get a job writing for magazines or how they can get started working for a hunting company. I think they are great questions because the most important thing in your work is to enjoy it. But be forewarned. No matter what you do for a living, if you do it long enough and have to do it to support your family it starts to feel like work some days. Every job has its ups and downs and it pressures. In this blog I will tackle the question with a pretty long answer. I appreciate your patience. There are no shortcuts, but if you do this you will succeed.
It sure is nice to do something for a living that you enjoy. After 17 years of writing for magazines full time, I still jump out of bed every morning and head to my office looking forward to the day. I know that many people can’t say that, so I feel truly blessed.
In other words, I don’t think it is possible to find a job that is perfect. If you have to do it, by definition it can never be perfect. Only a good day in a tree stand or a Christmas morning with your kids can ever be perfect – not work. But this comes close.
FULL TIME IN THE HUNTING INDUSTRY
A lot of you may think you would like to hunt for a living. You are not sure exactly how that might work, but you are sure the job is out there. Rest assured that it is not out there. Believe me, if it were possible, I’d be doing it. I know maybe a few dozen people who are making a living through the money they make from being on various pro staffs. But even these guys and gals have to work. They must make many PR stops for their sponsors at shows and events. For example, if you were on the paid pro staff for a company you would do well to make $5,000 per year but they are going to expect you to represent them well in the public, to attend a few deer classics and sports shows – maybe as often as ten events per year. That takes time and to be sure, and it is work. To do any good financially, you would need to be on several pro staffs. That produces a continual juggling of your time.
There is no such thing as a person that gets paid to just hunt and do nothing else. And those that are on paid pro staffs didn’t get there by applying for the job. The people that try the hardest to gain recognition are usually flashes in the pan. They are here for a few years making a big splash, or at least appearing to, and then they are gone. If you have to tell someone you are famous, then you are not famous. So in other words, forget about some fuzzy dream of hunting for a living – it’s not going to happen. To make a lifetime in the hunting industry you have to learn and work hard and then look for the best opportunities. In other words, you have to get a normal job and then pay your dues, just like people do in any other industry. It will probably take you ten years to find the work you really want to do. That is the price we all pay.
To get started you can work part-time in a service related segment of the industry or you can try to get a full time job working for a company that makes bows, guns, clothing, tree stands, duck boats, etc. There are many such companies and you can find a directory of these by asking to look at the Archery Trade Show directory or the SHOT Show directory at any local sporting goods store. If they don’t have it, you can inquire at www.archerytrade.org.
The SHOT Show directory has the contact information for all the companies in the firearms and general hunting industry. Again, a local hunting shop might have a copy on hand, or you can inquire by contacting the National Shooting Sports Foundation at www.shotshow.org.
There is always a need for good, quality, hard working employees in any trade and the outdoors is no different. If you are willing to work hard, are responsible and motivated and have a trade or degree, you will find a job in the hunting industry if you keep looking. Finding a job in this industry isn’t much different from finding one in any other industry. You have to be persistent and able to accept rejection. Realize that it is nothing personal against you or your skills when someone turns you down. It is a normal part of the job search process. They just don’t need anyone with your capabilities at the present time. Keep trying.
If your real goal is to work in the hunting industry, don’t set your sights narrowly on a certain job. Be flexible. Be willing to take any kind of job that has potential for advancement. Once you get your foot in the door, you will be able to learn the ropes, meet people and see other opportunities.
This is how I got started. I went to work for High Country Archery as an engineer for several months back in early 1991 while my wife and I were looking around to see what was out there. I met Greg Tinsley while working at High Country and soon he went back to Petersen’s Publishing to be the Editor of Petersen’s Bowhunting. (He now works for Mossy Oak.) Greg gave me my first break as a writer and I will always be in his debt for that act of kindness.
My wife and I were able to live cheaply enough to get by on what an aspiring outdoor writer makes. The first year of doing this full time (1992) I only made $8,000. I made additional money working for farmers patching fence and putting up hay so we could eat. We didn’t have any children at that time.
I was shy and not much of a self-promoter so it took time for me to make contacts, but each year my income increased along with my workload. I worked hard. Soon I had to turn down farm jobs so that I could focus all my efforts on writing and photography. It took four years before I really felt like I could support the two of us as an outdoor writer.
The moral of my story is that you need to be looking and you need to be flexible, and it doesn’t hurt if you can also live on a modest income too. Most hunting companies are not large and they don’t pay big salaries. You need to get your foot in the door first and you may have to take a pay cut to do that.
I love what I do. I wouldn’t want to do anything else, but I had to hang in there for a long time and do some serious soul searching before this eventually paid off. That is the rule rather than the exception. There are a few overnight success stories in the hunting industry, but not very many.
If I were going to recommend a college degree to open doors in the hunting industry, I would suggest mechanical engineering, graphic design and business. But more importantly, do what you enjoy and what matches your natural God-given gifts. That is what you will be best at and what you will enjoy the most. You can then look for ways to turn that into a profession in outdoors later.
PART TIME IN THE HUNTING INDUSTRY
The second way to get a job in this industry is to work at it part-time. You have to learn a skill that you can use to get your foot in the door. Obvious examples include photography, running a video camera and writing. But, there are many others. For example, if you are accomplished in a technical field you can use that expertise to consult for outdoor companies as you learn the ropes. Companies always need software written, design work done, legal advice, web design, etc. Another area where you can make part-time money in the industry is through graphic design and publishing. All hunting companies need brochures and catalogs. Many of them outsource this kind of work. During your spare time, you can make an effort to market your skills to the outdoor industry. You will get a few leads, will meet people and eventually get your start. That is how it works.
Another way to break in during your free time is to begin a small product company. Make sure your idea is solid and that you have enough financial backing to see the project through before starting out, but a small accessory company can get you in the door and can generally be run easily enough out of your garage during your free time. People with regular day jobs own many of the small companies you see advertising in the pages of hunting magazines. In most cases, these people are waiting until their dream takes wing before cutting the cord with their full-time employer. I would say that this is a great way to get into the industry. Many small companies fail each year - but then what is life without risk?
Finding a job in the outdoor industry is no more difficult than finding a job in any other industry, but you do need to give careful thought to the key question: what do I have to offer? Until you have something tangible to offer – a skill, trade, experience, etc., my advice is to keep putting in your time elsewhere while developing the skills needed to find a job in the hunting industry.