Perks of being a Pennsylvania outdoors writer

As an outdoor writer, I am charged with not only living the experience, but also sharing that experience with thousands of readers on a weekly basis through various media outlets. It takes a great deal of time and commitment on top of my full-time job and family life.

In fact, there have been times when writing deadlines even deterred me from getting out and enjoying the very subject on which I concentrate.  That’s not exactly something one considers prior to breaking into the profession.

We writers deliberate for hours over certain topics, conducting interviews, fact checking, drafting, revising and rephrasing until we feel we’ve got the story just right. The goal is to choose our words wisely — to show the readers, not to tell them.

There’s often some kind of feedback too. Editor feedback, audience feedback — sometimes it’s positive; other times it’s constructive, or even destructive. Occasionally, there’s rejection or reader backlash, but more frequently, there’s support, recognition and thanks for sharing our love of the outdoors with the public.

If you ask me, the pros far outweigh the cons. There’s a euphoric rush the first time you see your name in print- even more so when one of your “pet projects” receives accolades for its quality among peers- a truly extraordinary experience.

Sometimes, outdoor writing opens up opportunities to try new products, visit interesting destinations and meet some really great people — all added bonuses.

While one can’t expect to get rich from writing, a little extra spending money is always nice to have on hand. Though I’m positive I spend more on the outdoors than I’ll ever make (in terms of financial gain), the experiential rewards alone have made me a wealthy man.

Take for instance the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association Spring Conference, recently held in Grantville, Pa., where dozens of professional outdoor communicators gathered to join in camaraderie and celebration of our craft. It was a weekend rife with opportunity, industry engagement and plenty of outdoor fun.

On Thursday evening, early attendees met for dinner with enthusiasm, catching up on the year’s progress, rekindling old friendships, and sharing wildly entertaining fish tales over nourishing food and drink.

Friday presented “story-builder” activities, such as local trout fishing along various Lebanon County streams, mixed species fishing by boat on the Juniata River and plying for channel catfish on the mighty Susquehanna.

There was also a trip to the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art, as well as other DIY options. However, I elected to take advantage of public land turkey hunting with a volunteer “guide.”

My match was NWTF Mid-Atlantic Region biologist Mitchell Blake, who, just a few months younger than me, decided to give us the “spritely man’s” tour of a nearby state game lands. We covered about nine miles by 1 p.m., and in doing so, worked the most obstinate gobbler in Pennsylvania for four hours straight without an in-range shot ever being presented.

It was incredible action though, as in our travels we saw deer, turkeys, a porcupine, a red-tailed hawk, a mating pair of indigo buntings and a blacksnake longer than my shotgun that decided to get cozy in the blow-down on which I sat.

Saturday morning, we had several craft improvement seminars to help us learn from one another. There was a photo editing session, tips for publishing one’s own book, a Game Commission update from PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans, plus an editors roundtable Q&A with three of the top outdoors publications in the state.

After lunch, we traveled to the Palmyra Sportsmen’s Association for a breakout session with our supporting member companies and organizations. This gave writers opportunities to make meaningful contacts with representatives for future stories, ask questions and see product demonstrations.

We then held a general membership meeting to make plans for the coming year, as well as appoint officers and a board of directors before heading back to the hotel to freshen up for the evening festivities.

The capstone of the weekend was Saturday night’s upscale awards banquet, where POWA life members were recognized, our new president officially took office, and 28 awards were presented to 16 individuals for their writing, photography and art in the field of outdoor media.

I was blessed to receive four of those awards, making the event one of the top highlights of my year. To be recognized among so many men and women whom I’ve admired for so many years means more than words can really express.

The banquet was followed by two jovial hours in a hospitality room filled with light-hearted conversation and a little competitive jesting, but most importantly — a mutual respect shared among colleagues who understand why we do what we do.

Being an outdoor communicator certainly has its challenges, but more than anything, it has its perks. I consider myself lucky to represent the outdoors through written text and color photos, because we all know there are so many stories worth sharing.

Giving the outdoors a voice is an important responsibility to shoulder. Someone has to do it, and I am honored to answer the call. It takes hard work, time and effort, but I am proud — no, grateful — to call myself a Pennsylvania outdoor writer. (We must choose our words wisely).

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