The Nature Conservancy’s Matt Miller, is one of the most innovative writers around. His book Fishing Through the Apocolypse includes tales of fishing for minnows,. Here he says everything I wanted to say, and more :
“I have a similar feelings. My dad, almost 80, has been in disbelief and perhaps mourning. He has read both of these magazines (plus Sports Afield) for his entire life. He is at best a casual outdoorsman; he enjoys deer camping, plinking guns, a walk in the woods, but could hardly be considered serious. Still, he read every issue of the “big 3” cover to cover. My grandfathers, both very serious hunters, also read them. One worked in factories and one on the railroads. Both had houses with bookshelves and piles of magazines. One had an 8th grade education, he rarely if ever hunted outside his county, and yet those magazines were a great source of enjoyment.
“I think this hints to a perhaps a deeper change that is affecting magazines like Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. You will not find this now. I say this with no disrespect to factory workers, but if you go in a factory worker’s home today, you are very, very unlikely to find a stack of magazines or a bookshelf. It would be rare for me to go into a friend’s home in my youth and not see Outdoor Life. Today the opposite is true.
“I have many thoughts on this, most of them probably useless. Why did these 2 venerable magazines go away? Partly for predictable reasons. I see it as similar as to other news and magazine publishing. A combination of declining readership plus corporate management is deadly. Faced with declining readership, the corporate owners cut stories that ensure the readership declines even more rapidly. Short-term profit is valued over loyalty to readers or building a better publication. I could see this happening with Outdoor Life and F&S; the publications went to a quarterly schedule, there were fewer features, etc.
“A recent story I read about baseball made the point that the league “was abandoning a declining but loyal fan base in favor of a larger, younger but entirely theoretical fan base.” I think this applies to outdoor magazines as well.
“Overlooked in many analyses is a trend I see in outdoor sports: The shift from hunting and fishing as being a part of life to being a “brand lifestyle.” This may make sense only to me, I recognize. But it’s real. Thinking again to my grandparents, hunting and fishing were woven into the fabric of their rural lives. They were generalists. They hunted and fished a lot, and for a variety of reasons. But they weren’t “brand ambassadors.” They almost never even took photos of their times outside. They owned a good rifle, good boots and a Woolrich coat, but they didn’t buy much.
“Very central to the outdoor experience was the story. This cannot be overstated. Hunters like my grandfathers grew up valuing a good story. So, even though they may not go hunting in Alaska, they still loved a yarn spun by Russell Annabel.
“Certainly stories will always be central to hunting and fishing, but the telling has changed. Now a story is “curated” for social media, with matching $1,500 camouflage outfits, bloodless quarry, a perfect scenic backdrop. The story takes a backseat to merchandising. And not to sound like an old grumpy guy, but there is a degree of arrogance demanded by this format. Whereas I grew up idolizing outdoor writers, now it is most important to portray yourself as being the original trailblazer. I went to a lecture by a well-known personality who specializes in hunting for food, someone who has undoubtedly done good things in this regard. But I was struck by how he actually believed he INVENTED game cookery. He made statements about him popularizing squirrel! I grew up eating squirrel, as did nearly everyone I knew in central Pennsylvania (and other regions of the US).
“Related is specialization. I think general outdoor magazines were ultimately doomed in this environment where outdoor interests are very, very specialized. Again, my friends and neighbors growing up may have lived for deer season, but they would still read about African safaris and survival adventure stories. Now, whitetail hunting itself (which I love) has become almost unrecognizable, with food plots, endless trail cameras, stands, scoring systems, etc. So if you run a story on beagles, the whitetail nut is completely disinterested. If you try to cater to the whitetail guy, then there is very little for someone like me. In fact, Outdoor Life was going this way, a fact remarked on by my friends and relatives who are still readers.
“II would be impossible to overstate the influence these magazines had on me. Before I could read, I would spend endless hours with them. My family did not consist of travelers. It was these magazines who ignited that in me. I wanted to go to Africa, to the Amazon. In high school, I would read and reread everything Tom McIntyre wrote. I would study his stories on rat shooting and alligators and the unpleasant people you encounter on safaris. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. And while my life and career went in a slightly different direction, the influence is still there. I am likely the only employee of a non-hunting conservation organization with a taxidermied kangaroo that I shot (actually, not even many hunting writers can likely make this claim), but it works for me.”