Question: How does someone go about becoming a professional bowhunter? -- Sean Evenson, Benson, Minn.
Answer: This is the number one question I get so I end up answering it every few years. I could answer it every month, but I think folks would get sick of the same answer all the time!
I think it is a great question, one that I certainly asked when I was in my 20s. However, the answer I received was far different from the one I am going to give you. I was told it couldn't be done! I was just too stubborn to listen to them and my own financial situation virtually forced me down this road. What a way to get started huh?
Here is why I am going to encourage you. The most important thing in your work is to enjoy it. The best way to never work a day in your life is to love your work. My wife asks me about retirement sometimes and I say, "What would I do if I were to retire, chase my dreams? Write for a hunting magazine? Hunt more? I am already doing those things."
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 will occasionally feel like work. Every job has its difficulties and its own form of pressure. The hunting industry is no different, but at the end of the day, you are still doing something you love, so that definitely makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning!
I don't think it is possible to find a job that is perfect. If you have to work, it can never be perfect. Only a good day in a treestand or a Christmas morning with your kids can ever be perfect -- not work. But, our goal is to get as close to perfect as we possibly can. That is why the hunting industry is so alluring.
There is not nearly the money in the hunting industry as there is in other industries. You probably won't get rich here. Most of the people in the hunting industry are involved because they love it. It is a lifestyle choice as much as a business choice. That aside, here are a few suggestions that will help you get started.
FULL TIME IN THE HUNTING INDUSTRY
I know what you are thinking, this is all well and good, but you want to hunt for a living. You don't to work for a living. You are not sure exactly how this all comes together, but you are sure the job is out there. You probably think that is what I am doing.
Rest assured, that job is not out there! Believe me, if it were possible, I'd be doing it. I know maybe a half-dozen people who are making an actual 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 deer classics, sports shows, dealer events -- maybe as often as 12 to five events per year. That takes time and to be sure, 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.
Those that are on paid pro staffs didn't get there by applying for the job. If you have to tell someone you are valuable, then you are not valuable. If you are truly valuable, the companies will be quick to notice. So in other words, forget about some fuzzy dream of putting your resume out there and then hunting for a living the rest of your life -- it's not going to happen.
To make a life in the hunting industry you have to learn as much as you can and work hard and then look for the best opportunities. In other words, it is like any other job out there. It may take you 10 years to reach your dream.
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, treestands, boots, etc. There are many such companies and you can find a list of these by asking to look at the Archery Trade Show directory or the SHOT Show directory by contacting these organizations at www.archerytrade.org and www.nssf.org respectively. If they will not send you these directories, they will certainly send them to your local dealer if he or she is a member.
Of course, there are other ways to find information about companies in the hunting industry, but these directories are the most comprehensive guides available.
Companies in the hunting industry are like any other company; they need good, hard working employees. 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. Try other companies.
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.
I went to work for High Country Archery as a mechanical engineer for several months back in early 1991. My wife and I were looking around the country to see what was out there when we met Spencer Land, owner of High Country, while he was in Lewiston, Idaho, elk hunting. It was a chance meeting that occurred only because I took the initiative. I knew that High Country started in that area and visited Spencer's archery shop in Lewiston asking if High Country needed any workers. Spencer just happened to be in town (he had since moved the company to Tennessee) and we talked. He offered me a short-term stint in their product development department.
I jumped at the opportunity and while in Tennessee I met Greg Tinsley who was working as the company's PR manager. Coincidentally, Greg now works at Mossy Oak! Prior to the job at High Country, Greg had been the associate editor at Petersen's Bowhunting Magazine. We became friends immediately. About the same time my stint was up, the magazine called Greg back to be its editor.
Greg gave me my first break as a writer, buying an article from me that summer. I will always be in his debt for that act. We needed the money. Now between jobs and still trying figure out what to do with our lives, we were dirt poor -- broke. Little by little, Greg fed me more work and eventually I was able to get some assignments from Gordon Whittington at North American Whitetail, as well. We were not living large, but we were eating and I was in the hunting industry.
Pam 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 yet.
I was painfully shy and not a self-promoter so it took a long time for me to make the needed contacts. Each year my income increased along with my workload and my confidence. 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 with my writing.
But through it all, God truly watched over us. During moments of doubt, I tried to open doors that led toward other fields, but they stayed shut. Only one door stayed open. I was well out of my comfort zone as I went through this door fearfully, but God blessed this simple act of faith.
The moral of my story is that you need to be looking and you need to be flexible. You also need to realize that few interesting things happen within your comfort zone. Your comfort will be the first casualty of this process. It also doesn't hurt if you can live on a modest income. 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 paid off. That is the rule rather than the exception. There are few overnight success stories in the hunting industry.
Changing subjects slightly, I also get many questions about the best college degree to pursue for a future in the hunting industry. Ideally, you should do what you are good at and what you enjoy -- that is where you will excel. You can likely find an outlet for that talent and energy in the hunting industry. But if I had to pin it down to just a few courses of study, I would suggest mechanical engineering, graphic design and general business administration (which will open up a variety of sales-related jobs).
PART TIME IN THE HUNTING INDUSTRY
The second way to get a job in this industry is to work it part-time. You do this as you 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 and legal advice, etc.
Another area where you can make part-time money in the industry is through graphic design, publishing and web development. All hunting companies need brochures, catalogs and websites. 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.
Another way to break in during your free time is to begin a small product company. Ask impartial friends for honest feedback so you will be sure your idea is solid. A small accessory company can get you in the door and you can generally run it 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 and working hard for their dream to take wing before they cut the cord with their full-time employer. I would say that this is a great way to get into the industry. Most of these small companies will continue to struggle for years before they either make it or the owner runs out of energy or money. Yes, many of these 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 this industry.
Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done. It won't be easy, but it is possible! Dream Big!