Wednesday, October 20, 2010

F&S and Outdoor Life: Here's your sign

Am I the only one who's utterly bored with the sameness of magazine covers? Is it not bad enough that whitetails account for 75 percent of all the hunting magazine covers? Must we have almost exactly the same layout and teasers?

I shouldn't mock them too much - I've worked for newspapers in two-newspaper towns and woken up to see front pages that seemed nearly identical, despite a total absence of collaboration or collusion.

And I know I need to acknowledge that deer hunting is the most popular form of hunting in America, and that whitetails are what the rest of the country hunts, and that most deer hunters get to hunt the rut (yes, California seasons are generally timed to end before the rut).

But honestly, I would love for one of my magazines to surprise me. I'd like to see a big fat hairy boar on the cover. Or a rabbit. Or a coot, even! When I get behind on my reading - which I do often, with no less than a dozen hunting mags coming to my home - I'd like to be able to use the covers to distinguish between issues (and between magazines).

OK, end of rant. I have grading to do.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Hil said...

Just like scantily-clad women and the word SEX will appear on nearly every cover Cosmo ever prints, so giant antlers and the words BUCK, RUT, TROPHY and TACTICS will appear on nearly every cover of nearly every hunting magazine. This is because that is what sells. Giant antlers — and I mean massive, record-book, unattainable-in-real-life antlers — sell covers on the newsstand like wildfire. I buy a lot of these magazine cover photos and trust me, I am bored to tears with the selection. But I buy what sells. Almost no one, with few exceptions, would buy a hunting magazine with a cute little cuddly bunny on the cover. Hogs and bobcats do not do that well either. Coyotes and wolves are by far the most successful covers of our predator magazine.

I am even bored with the waterfowling magazines I read. Delta and DU both put out great mags, but the cover is so generic as to be completely forgettable. Oooh, a pretty mallard in flight! Oooh, a pretty canvasback in flight! Oooh, a pretty Canada on the water! Zzzzzzz

Remember that you, Holly, an intellectual female hunter from California, are not exactly the target demographic for most hunting magazines. :) And I mean that as a compliment.

Tom said...

Not excusing them, but I believe OL and F&S are now owned by the same company. Not sure on that, but fairly certain (how's that for a ride the fence statement?) and I'm too lazy to look it up right now. Might explain some of this likeness?

Hil said...

Yes they are sister publications. But the big reason for the "likeness" is because they are using a proven formula that works. Sorta like how US Weekly and People look pretty much identical next to each other, as do Glamour and Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan and Vogue and heck even Good Housekeeping these days.

The same-old, same-old formula is boring, but it continues to work!

Anonymous said...

Scantily clad women and the word sex on the cover. Hmmmmm.

Ryan Sabalow said...

Holly, I couldn't agree more.

I'm really tired of national outdoor mags.

All they want to do is tell you the 31 secrets to tree stand for trophy whitetails.

I'm clearly not their target demographic.

Holly Heyser said...

Hil: I figured as much. And I KNEW there was a reason I'm not getting rich off of this blog: no racks, no rut, no babes. Clearly, I am the moron.

As for bunny covers, though, I disagree a little. Head over to James Marchington's blog, scroll down and check out the magazine cover you'll see there! Its AWESOME.

As for the duck mags, I think you're generally right, though Delta's Fred Greenslade consistently has the best waterfowl photos EVER. Loved one of his recent shots so much I bought it and framed it - click here to see it - worth the click. And I'm not one for putting duck pics on my wall, so the fact that I did that with this one says a lot.

Tom: Yep, they're both Bonnier. But they haven't merged yet...

David: Please don't give them any ideas! I don't need a repeat of the Great Booth Babe Fiasco. (And you know I would not be able to keep my mouth shut about that, since I apparently can't keep my mouth shut about anything.)

Ryan: I wouldn't say I'm tired of all the magazine content. If Phil Bourjaily and David Petzal chose to express themselves in graffiti, I'd still go out of my way to read their work.

But yeah, I could do without the ceaseless formulas. And yeah, I'm not the target demographic either, so my opinion here is utterly irrelevant.

SimplyOutdoors said...

After my recent hunting excursions, I'm happy to have magazine covers like these......they help me to remember what a deer actually looks like.

They are all pretty similar this time of year, though, aren't they? I think it's because of all those crazy Midwestern deer hunters :)

Holly Heyser said...

Awww, dang, still no deer? I tell ya, you need to NOT CARE. Then they'll be jumping in your lap :-).

Phillip said...

Yupp. It's October. The RUT starts next month in the prime whitetail states, I guess. Of course, the central coast blacktails have been at it for a while and are about done.

I used to subscribe to Outdoor Life as well as Field and Stream, and stayed loyal for years. Finally, it occurred to me that I was reading the same articles every year, and decided to cut my subscriptions down to one. I now only read Field and Stream at my chiropractor's office or online ( and I am also a big fan of the Gun Nut blog, and a regular reader on Field Notes).

I keep waiting, by the way, for the off-season (late winter) to turn into hog season with the mags. As more and more states are having hog hunts, it can't be long.

hodgeman said...

I've always wondered why I could go to the store and see a dozen covers featuring whitetail deer and the store isn't within a thousand miles of one.

I mostly gave up on hunting mags a few years ago because they featured:
1. Animals I don't hunt.
2. Guns I can't afford.

I used to read Sporting Classics because of the quality of the writers but I can only look at so many $40,000 shotguns....

Holly Heyser said...

Yeah, I'm going to have to start thinning down my herd of magazines at some point.

But nearly half of them are membership mags, so they'll keep coming. And sometimes they have a lot to offer. NRA's mag American Hunter is dripping with classic NRA hyperbole, which is irritating, but one recent issue had a really helpful article on shotgun shooting that really changed my understanding of what's going on when I shoot.

And I really enjoy Delta Waterfowl because it tends to emphasize story-telling, which is one of the things I enjoy most in a hunting mag - wish F&S had more of it.

But Shooting Sportsman? Lord, all those cliche photos and stories dripping with snobbery, not to mention the $40,000 guns? That may be first on the chopping block.

The sad truth is, though, that I spend more time on and get more pleasure from reading hunting blogs than hunting mags. The stories are real, not pie-in-the-sky, and the ability to converse with the authors is invaluable.

Ingrid said...

Maybe it just depends on which animal is posing that day at the game farm. :)

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

I, too, get the feeling I'm seeing the same covers and articles again and again. Which is part of why I hardly ever pick up the magazines.

My uncle, who reads them, is kind enough to clip out things of interest and send them on occasion. With that familial filter in place, I can count on reading something that is actually (1) useful, (2) interesting, or (3) funny.

Barbara Baird said...

Are we on the same magazine cover, or what? I just posted a blog yesterday at Women's Outdoor News that complained about F&S not putting a child or woman on its cover when it does decide to highlight a human. That post stemmed from seeing an adolescent girl on the cover of Physics Today.

I wonder ... are outdoor magazines stuck in a "rut" of their own? ;) Or what?

Holly Heyser said...

Ingrid, that may well be the case!

Tovar, I guess I'm just eternally hopeful.

Babbs, you also had a "here's your sign" headline! LOL. Did you hear about the kerfluffle over Shooting Sportsman a couple years ago when they had a woman hunter on the cover? They got all kinds of critical letters, most in the vein that a hunter couldn't be that pretty. She was a model, and her cheeks were flushed because of the chill, and people gave her crap for wearing make-up too.

I'm afraid, though, that we don't fit the model Hil writes about, unless we're scantily clad hotties.

Hil said...

It's too dang cold around here to be scantily clad in the woods. I guess I will just give up my dreams of being a cover girl! :)

And yes, Ingrid and Holly, a whole lot of these covers are shot on game farms on in National Parks where the animals have less fear of humans. They have to be. Do you think it's easy for a photographer to just stroll through the woods and happen upon a massive, record-book whitetail standing perfectly still and posing for the camera under ideal lighting conditions? If that were possible somebody would have shot him already! And not with a camera. :) I don't really get the "unethical" angle of it, though. Whether that deer on the F&S cover was discovered in the wild or whether he lives out his days breeding does and running around on a deer farm (and believe me, those big bucks are treated VERY WELL on the deer farms), what difference does it make in my enjoyment of the photo? I guess I just don't see the big deal.

And Holly I agree with you that Fred Greenslade takes absolutely beautiful waterfowl photos. I have a list of other guys that are in his league, but it's a very short list.

Holly Heyser said...

I'm not troubled about the game-farm photos - mostly amused. I am much more concerned about hunting TV filmed under similar circumstances, because it presents an unrealistic image of what should be attainable for hunters. Much like the highly-retouched cover photos of women's magazines present unrealistic body images.

Hil said...

Totally agree. Taking pretty pictures of captive (high-fence, game farm, whatever you want to call it) animals is one thing. Killing them is ENTIRELY another.

hodgeman said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment about reading hunting/outdoors blogs vs. reading hunting magazines.

The magazine industry won't like it but I see they have significant competition from bloggers in the storytelling department. In fact I read several blogs (this one included) that I find every bit as enjoyable (if not more so) than anything in print.

Lack of substantial profit motive gives blogs an air of intellectual honesty that print media lost years ago. Contact with the author is just icing on the cake!

Phillip said...

Pretty much everything in this conversation should serve as notice to the print publications that rumors of their demise are not, entirely, exaggerated (sorry Mr. Clemens).

I totally get the traditional nature of the mags, and I can't imagine not having one or two on my reading table at any given time. The memories they invoke from a lifetime of reading them run deep. And once in a while, a cover really works and sends me off to that place in my mind...

But honestly, as so many others have pointed out, there's better story-telling, more timely news, and MUCH better discussion on the blogs than the mags can offer. It's hard to compete with that when you're looking at lead-times of a year or more, and a limited range of "acceptable" subject matter. Can't upset the status quo, tackle tough political controversy, or piss off the advertisers... The blogs can do all of this and more.

Josh said...

They lost me forever when they cut Pat McManus.

I can't stand that every store I go into in California has Bowhunting Whitetails or some such thing. Really, how many do they sell here?

Holly Heyser said...

Damn shame bloggers can't leverage this to make the same kind of money that I hear F&S and OL bloggers make (more in a month than I make in a year off my blog).

But you're right, Hodgeman - the lack of substantial profit does liberate us to say just about anything.

Blessed said...

Here here! Let's get some variety... although I too have spent way too much time laying out the cover of a newspaper to think that it actually will happen - must stick with what sells - just like what Hil says.

Oh... and I'm not the target demographic for these magazines either - guess that's why I'd prefer to read blogs instead.

I just go to the local bookstore and buy a magazine on the occasion that we want one to read - rather than subscribing anymore. I barely have time to read blogs these days... much less magazines!

I've been reading here Holly even though I haven't been commenting much - I appreciate your writing!

Holly Heyser said...

Heh heh heh ... I've just gotten a sneak peak at an upcoming magazine cover that some folks here are gonna LOVE!

Hil said...

I too prefer blogs to magazines or TV, because as you've said, bloggers (those who aren't tied to a publication) are free to say anything. I know all too well how the industry works and I tell my husband "just because Field & Stream says it's a great product does NOT MEAN it's a great product!"

There's only one proven way to make money in outdoor media, and if bloggers started making it too, none of them will be worth reading, either.

sportingdays said...

Good discussion. I still subscribe to about a dozen hunting magazines and always enjoy it when they show up in my mailbox.

I hadn't subscribed to Field & Stream or Outdoor Life since I was a kid. That all changed when Sid Evans became editor of Field & Stream a few years ago and injected some great writing and real freshness in the magazine.

But Sid Evans left and went to Garden & Gun magazine, which has now become one of my favorite hunting mags even though I don't live in the South and the magazine is more of a Southern lifestyle magazine. Some of the best outdoors writing and hunting stories are now published in Garden & Gun in my opinion.

The duck mags bore me and I read them now more out of obligation than enjoyment. Pheasants Forever magazine does a slightly better job, I think, with a nice digital presence -- lots of creative blogs, Facebook activity, etc.

I do like Shooting Sportsman, even though I'm just a working-class hunter for the most part. I enjoy the travel articles, the emphasis on hunting dogs and some of the shotgun and shooting articles, though I will never much be able to afford those guns or those trips. Still nice to dream.

gary said...

I was glad in your blog Holly that you admitted to subscribing to several hunting magazines or it sounds like I would be the Lone Ranger. This time of year my end table stack has grown to about 10" deep because of this little thing called hunting taking most of the time. I'll be honest it takes an exceptional cover to even get me to glance at it as you are right if you've seen one, you've more then likely seen 95% of them. Unfortunately there is no one mag. that covers everything that interests me and some of them only have one or two features that attract me so I end up with the whole load.

At my age I have to be careful reading blogs to long because if I nod off I get an imprint of the key board in my forhead, but if I'm kicked back reading a magazine, all I get is the magazine in the face when they slip from the fingers.

Maybe there is a 'magazine anonymous' around somewhere I can join?? I think I'm one step towards recovery as I have now admitted it on NorCal's blog.

Ingrid said...

Hil said: "I don't really get the 'unethical' angle of it, though. Whether that deer on the F&S cover was discovered in the wild or whether he lives out his days breeding does and running around on a deer farm (and believe me, those big bucks are treated VERY WELL on the deer farms), what difference does it make in my enjoyment of the photo? I guess I just don't see the big deal."

This is OT, I realize (wildlife photography as opposed to hunting magazine covers). But since I do photograph wildlife (I'm not a hunter), there is a strict code among the photographers I respect. I wrote a bit about it in my blog.

Those of us who care to represent wilderness and wildlife with any semblance of ethics will clearly label a captive animal. It's photographic and journalistic integrity. Despite your experience with game farms, there is documented abuse in terms of "getting the shot" for these types of magazines. Not all game farms are up to snuff in terms of how they treat their animals.

So, part of the ethos is to avoid any practice -- in the wild or in captivity -- that contributes to the harm of the animal -- or encourages others to go for the unethical shot. Some frowned-upon photographic practices, sadly, fall into the category of murky ethics (from my standpoint). But the wildlife photographers I know hold the wild animal's well-being above any photograph.

Josh said...

Regarding the ethics of the shot, I side with Ingrid on this. Also, there is certainly an aesthetic difference between the two, akin to the provenance of an antique. I mean, imagine the photographer getting so deep into the wilds of an open, public place, and finding this big ol' mossy beast that the hunters couldn't get to, vs. a picture of an animal that comes bounding up at the sound of a game feeder, even if he's outwitted the hunters and probably only does it at night now. The latter may be a tough shot, but the former brings with it the essence of hunting and a respect for the photographer.

Holly Heyser said...

Hil: That's a damn shame, because I'd love to have it both ways.

Sportingdays: I keep wanting to try Garden & Gun, but I can barely keep up with what I get now. As for Shooting Sportsman, the last issue I read had a story that started out about a man who knew how to keep his two brown-haired girls happy: taking his dog hunting, and taking his wife foraging out on her hands and knees foraging for berries. I know he meant well, but the tone was way off. I'm glad you get something out of it, but so far the benefit vs. irritation has been skewed the wrong way for me.

Gary: Glad I'm not alone!

Ingrid: I knew you'd jump in on that! I know you've written quite a bit about the care you take with wild animals in the field, and I totally respect it.

Josh: Now, if you can just get people thinking that way about Cosmo - only magazine covers of real, un-surgically-altered women in their natural environment - I'll vote for you for president.

Albert A Rasch said...

I was reading the articles, honest!

I spend my hard earned money on Double Gun Journal, Rifle, and Handloader. I just lost all interest in OL, F&S, and the rest.

I prefer to read NorCal Cazadora, SBW, Hodgeman, and all the rest of you guys! Seriously. Much better writing.

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: Snot Nose Lives!