Outdoors Unlimited Summer 2022 issue published by OWAA

Page 1


Behind the memoir: "Uphill and Into the Wind" | p. 10

Ask an expert: Michael Branch | p. 18


Landscape portfolio, shallow underwater photography tips, reporting on human-wildlife conflicts AND MORE.




















6 22 27
to reveal
MINIUK | The sun sets over the Colorado River in Utah
the dimly lit Dinosaur National Monument.

Spread the word

I talk with a lot of prospective members, as you might imagine. Whether a current member introduces us (as Tim Fowler did recently), I connect with them online (as often happens in the Basecamp Facebook group) or they find us via search, I love setting up calls with prospective members and giving them “the spiel.”

They’re often greatly appreciative and thank me for taking the time to talk with them. That always makes me chuckle because: 1. I love talking with prospective members about their career path(s), their work, our benefits, what we can possibly do for their career, etc. and 2. We’re an association of members. If our staff members aren’t talking to prospects, we’re not going to be around much longer.

It’s repetitive, but that's totally OK. I start with our founding in 1927, then talk a bit about our history and how we aim to amplify the career trajectories of our members. Then I dive into the list of benefits, alternating which I highlight based on their background, media or perceived interests. Then, after the call is over, I keep peeking at our database, hoping to see their membership application pop up into the queue so that I can approve them.

If (when?) we get much bigger, say 2,500 members and a staff of six, and I’m not still talking to prospective members, then something has gone terribly wrong. Sure, when that day comes, I’ll be able to delegate most of the membership outreach to another staffer. But I’ll make sure that I’m still talking to prospects myself. It will be key to our membership development strategies to hear what these outdoor media need, so that we can adjust our marketing (such as it is) or seek to add additional benefits (as we did with our health insurance program). Plus, if I am no longer excited at the prospect of adding another member to our community, well then that’s the time

that I start helping the board find a new E.D.

All this being said, I hope you are also excited to talk to other outdoor media about OWAA. Hopefully you’ve had a “win” result from something that we’ve done for you, something that you’re grateful for or even excited about that you want to share with friends and colleagues. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our community and, on some level, tapped into our collective knowledge base to help further your work. And that’s certainly worth sharing with like-minded individuals.

So, the next time you get a “win” from something that OWAA provided, please share this news with your outdoor media friends. Then maybe ask them if they want to learn more. You can chat with them yourself about your experience, send them to the website, or just loop me into the conversation to set up a call and talk with them personally. I won’t mind having that call at all. As a matter of fact, I’ll look forward to it.

— With more than 20 years’ experience in the outdoor and travel industries, Chesak is the 17th executive director of OWAA.

Our mission: improve the professional skills of our members, set the highest ethical and communications standards, encourage public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources, and mentor the next generation of professional outdoor communicators.


2814 Brooks St., Box 442

Missoula, MT 59801

406-728-7434, Fax: 406-728-7445 info@owaa.org, owaa.org


Executive Director: Chez Chesak

Membership Services Coordinator: Emma Mares

Publications Editor: Suzanne Downing

Copy Editor: Danielle Phillippi


Katie McKalip, Montana


1st Vice President: Ken Keffer, Indiana

2nd Vice President: Amy Kapp, Virginia

Secretary: Danielle Phillippi, Pennsylvania

Treasurer: Colleen Miniuk, Arizona


Bill Brassard, Connecticut

Steve Griffin, Michigan

Matt Miller, Idaho

Matthew Dickerson, Vermont

Amy Grisak, Montana

Kelsey Roseth, North Dakota

Robert Annis, Indiana

Ashley Peters, Minnesota

Drew YoungeDyke, Michigan


Attorney: William Jay Powell, Missouri

Medical: William W. Forgey, Indiana

Supporter Liaison: Dan Nelson, Washington

Copyright Summer 2022 by Outdoor Writers Association of America Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. The contents of Outdoors Unlimited do not necessarily represent the opinion or endorsement of OWAA, its staff, officers, directors or members. Outdoors Unlimited (ISSN 0030-7181) is published bimonthly by OWAA Inc., 2814 Brooks St., Box 442, Missoula, MT 59801. Nonprofit postage paid at Missoula, MT, and additional mailing offices.

Outdoor Writers Association of America

Worth the investment

OWAA President Katie McKalip is the communications director at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers based in Montana.


Anumber of years back, I wanted to expand the range of my writing to include a new focus on food and beverages. But, I also didn’t want to stray too far from my outdoor roots. I had developed a strong interest in linking fishing-related writing to this newfound interest in the culinary arts.

What to do?

I contemplated a number of possible concept combinations that would do justice to the subjects of my interests, and I finally settled on something that had not yet been done in my neck of the woods, or for the local and regional publications that I would pitch. It was a bit of a novel idea.

Fundamentally, what I ultimately wrote was an angler’s primer to pairing local fish and seafood with local craft beer.

At the time this article was written, 16 craft beer breweries were operational on Long Island. Popularity of artisanal beers was soaring (there are now 42 such breweries). And fresh seafood is typically at the forefront of most anglers’ cooking interests. So, seafood and beer pairings seemed to present the perfect marriage of topics.

As it turned out, a local publication was the first to run the piece, and it was very well received by the readership.

Then, a regional publication took an interest in the subject. I subsequently rewrote the piece to meet the needs of that magazine.

And lastly, the concept also appealed to a statewide outdoor newspaper, providing yet another outlet for a similar feature article.

A fringe benefit of this “stretch” writing was that two of the articles received recognition from a few professional outdoor writing organizations, and that exposure opened up new doors for my entry into the food and beverage writing arena, which may also lead to a cookbook.

By the way, visiting craft breweries represented the first time I needed a designated driver for writing-research purposes. Just kidding!

—Angelo Peluso is an accomplished, award-winning writer who has penned hundreds of feautre articles for numerous local, regional and national publications. He has authored seven books, including fishing/ fly-fishing titles, a children's book and a novel.

Tech tip: CPL filters

In photography, filters can sometimes be a controversial topic. However, some filters provide a true benefit that cannot be replicated through editing. One of those filters is the circular polarizing (CPL) filter.

CPL filters can help you reduce reflections and glare by filtering out polarization due to reflection. This correction can make a huge difference in the overall outcome of your images. If you’ve ever tried to photograph water without a CPL filter, you most likely noticed a lot of reflection on the surface of the water from the sky and surrounding objects.

Polarization will work best when the light is to the left or right of you. If you are shooting directly into the sun or if the sun is directly behind you, you will not be able to see much of the polarization effect.

You also want to avoid using a CPL filter when shooting with an ultra-wide-angled lens into plain blue skies perpendicular to the light. This results in a dark band in the sky, which is difficult to correct in post-processing.

If you are interested in any CPL filters, please send me an email at nbuchanan@huntsphoto.com. If you are in the market for any other photography

gear, please also reach out for a custom quote for all OWAA members.

"... what I ultimately wrote was an angler's primer to pairing local fish and seafood with local craft beer."
—Noah Buchanan is an outside sales developer with Hunt's Photo & Video.


For 40 years, photographer and writer Colleen Miniuk was terrified of swimming in water where she couldn’t see her feet. In 2015, she fell in the Colorado River while stand-up paddleboarding in whitewater rapids for the first time — and for the first time, she didn’t hyperventilate. She fell in love with the river.

The Colorado River once flowed unimpeded for 1,450 miles from the Continental Divide in Colorado, through Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California to the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1922, when the Colorado River Compact was signed, humans have controlled and allocated every drop of water within the 246,000-square-mile watershed. Today, the river runs through dams, reservoirs, pumping plants, canals, lifts and tunnels to provide drinking water to more than 40 million people, irrigate more than 5 million acres of agricultural lands, generate hydroelectric power, control floods, sustain ecosystems, provide recreational opportunities and offer a livelihood for thousands.

Ongoing drought limits, supply and population growth increase demand. The Colorado River has not reached the ocean naturally in more than 20 years. Its health — and our own — depends upon our ability to come together to define more balanced, enduring solutions.

To learn more about Colleen’s work with the Colorado River, visit thecurrentflows.com.


Colleen Miniuk, OWAA’s current treasurer, hails from Chandler, Arizona, but spends much of her time roaming the West in her Alaskan camper named “Juno” and on her stand-up paddleboard named “Lir.”

Her recent “The Current Flows: Water in the Arid West” solo photography exhibit in Pueblo, Colorado, was curated by Jeanne Falk Adams, Ansel Adams’ daughter-in-law. To learn more about Colleen’s work, including how to order an exhibit catalogue and prints, join a photography workshop, or arrange a speaking engagement, visit colleenminiuk.com.



Behind the memoir "Uphill and Into the Wind"

Sometimes a story lands in your lap. Sometimes you have to dig for it. I pedaled into mine. When setting off to ride my bicycle across the United States with two friends in 1974, I had no idea what an adventure it would become, let alone that I’d write a book about it one day. The story became my debut memoir, “Uphill and Into the Wind.”

I took my cue from watching artist friends labor over their work, sanding and polishing carvings with increasingly fine-gritted paper, transforming clay into delicate ceramics or planishing silver until it glows. Why would finishing a written piece be any different?

I read the entire manuscript to my writing group for critique over a four-year period and worked with three editors before I sent my final draft to the publisher.


copyrights. They were highly responsive and provided initial publicity, marketing checklists, where to submit for awards, reviews, and other helpful guidance.

Sure, I still have to promote the book myself. Unless you’re an established author, like Cheryl Strayed or Bill Bryson, even a traditional publisher isn’t necessarily going to do a lot for you. But doing outreach and promotions has been great fun, even during the confines of a pandemic.


In writing “Uphill and Into the Wind”, the most important thing I learned is the need to keep polishing a piece — like a sculptor — until it glistens. This, I believe, is the real craft of writing.

When I joined a writing community, an invaluable resource, I learned to write We rode, hiked and slept outside for five months, where the morning hour had gold in its mouth and the sunsets were sacramental.

Our journey was filled with astonishing encounters, the sudden and surprising glories of nature, and the ferocious grandeur of the American landscape. I realized the story was everywhere.


Writing my book started easily enough. I had taken photos and kept daily journals to document our experiences; transcribing the journals became the first draft. While the events happened decades prior, I wanted the reader to live those moments as I did, so I wrote in the present tense. Breathing real life into the story, for me, came about through rigorous editing.

I had always followed my own path; you might say I’m an individualist. I chose my publisher, not the other way around. After writing query letters, and attending writing conferences, I realized that the traditional blueprint — finding an agent who would market me to a publisher, then getting in line for the publishing process — would take longer than I cared to wait. I was told that only 3% of book queries are picked up by agents and only 3% of those make it into print. Agents and publishers wouldn’t want a one-hit wonder: I had only one book, and no publishing history.

So, I chose a hybrid press. The world of hybrid publishing, which combines aspects of traditional and self-publishing, has mushroomed in the last few years. Some advantages are that you get to keep the rights to your book, you keep artistic control and all the profits, and you’re not under the gun for a three-book deal — you set the pace on your own timeline.

In return for a fee, my publisher transformed my manuscript into a professionally produced book with a final copy edit and all the technical work of layout, bleeds, formatting for hardcover, paperback, and e-book, ISBN numbers and


about that which inspires me.

But I came to a far more transcendental realization as I pushed my pedals across the continent those many years ago. I’m reminded of it each morning when I step outside. It is a deep reverence for the unbridled beauty and sanctity of nature and the fragile balance that keeps our home world habitable.

The environmental issues we witnessed in the 1970s only grew, and now, a half-century later, they have mushroomed into global climate change, doubtless the most sweeping conservation crisis of our time. I came of age reading John Muir, Rachel Carson and Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Their words, and those of many other environmental writers, are a clarion call we all must heed, else we will likely suffer catastrophic consequences as a species.


I believe that by inspiring readers with our words and actions, we writers can increase awareness of the current plight and help to preserve our biosphere.

The story and the magic are every-

where, whether it’s the most remote part of the taiga or the middle of an urban park. The more we spend quality time outside, the more we become witness to miracles: the massive migrations of birds, butterflies or wildebeests; the spiritual, seasonal transformation of the forest; the dazzling detail of rime ice on a tiny twig; the dancing, colored curtains of the aurora; or the night sky of a million billion stars.

Just get out there, go Uphill and Into the Wind and keep writing!

— David Reed has spent a lifetime studying the natural world, from his youth in the woods, his university training, his travels on a bicycle and his career as an award-winning landscape architect. His debut memoir, “Uphill and Into the Wind,” quickly reached the bestseller list on Amazon’s Hot New Releases and has since garnered other acclaim. Reed believes that life is “out there,” in the forest, and on the land, not inside the box. He currently resides in San Diego with his wife and family.

"By inspiring readers with our words and actions, we writers can increase awareness of the current plight and help preserve our biosphere.


Istill don’t know what prompted me to turn on my headlamp. I was taking a latenight bathroom break in the western Cascade Mountains. Suddenly, everything felt different. I reached up and clicked on the light. A full-grown cougar watched me from 30 feet away. I stood up slowly and walked back to the truck where I was sleeping. I jumped inside, slammed the hatch and stayed there until dawn.

Two weeks later, I was reading at the same campsite when I saw two cubs-of-the-year playing tag in a tree. I sat there, laughing silently, until I realized the mom must be nearby. I once again moved to the safety of the truck.

Although slightly scary, I feel lucky to have experienced these cougar sightings. Where I live now, in Montana, the wildlife conflicts that generate the most press involve grizzly bears.

Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ (FWP) management summary for 2018 noted, “Most reported conflicts involved unsecured food attractants, such as garbage, chest freezers left outside, pet food left outside, bird feeders, chicken feed and fruit trees.” FWP and local nonprofits work with homeowners to install electric fences around attractants, but as more people move to the Rocky Mountain West and more wild spaces are developed, bear incidents are likely to increase.

When a human is attacked, the story tends to generate national, even international, press. As outdoor communicators, how we tell these stories matters. People share the narratives we provide about conflicts over and over, and it’s essential that they give clear context.

“Generally, conflicts between humans and wildlife are something that humans have a lot of control over,” said Tut Fuentevilla, a naturalist at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, a nonprofit wildlife park and educational facility in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Fuentevilla believes many incidents involving grizzlies could be avoided by “communities managing food attractants better or people being more aware in the backcountry and making better decisions.”

He emphasized that when journalists portray a human-wildlife conflict as an unfathomable incident, they are doing a disservice to humans and bears alike.

Fuentevilla cited a grizzly attack on a backcountry hunter a few years ago that many press outlets portrayed as unexpected behavior for a bear.

“It was during a time of year when bears are highly food motivated,” he said, explaining that in the fall, bears go through hyperphagia, a period of intensive eating to stock up on calories for winter. “The hunter was encountering a bear over an elk carcass.

Nothing about that encounter was highly unusual for the bear.”

He added that it’s important for journalists to put good information out there because no matter what someone wants to do — ranching, gardening, hunting, backcountry camping — it is safer for all when people are informed.

In a “defensive encounter,” a surprised bear may attack because it’s trying to preemptively defend against a perceived threat. In 2018, a 28-year-old bear researcher, Amber Kornak, was working alone in Montana’s Cabinet Mountains when she was attacked by a grizzly in a defensive encounter. Kornak made noise as she hiked to alert wildlife to her presence, but because of the loud, rushing water in a nearby creek, she spooked the bear from only 12 feet away. It attacked, biting her head and cracking open her skull. Kornak sprayed the bear with bear spray and it withdrew. She then walked two miles to the nearest road.

After the incident, Kornak was reluctant to talk to the media. However, she did interview with journalist John Blodgett, who was working at The Western News in Libby, Montana, near the site of the incident and rescue.

“I must have emailed her at least two or three times and had given up on her ever contacting me when she did,” Blodgett said. “The reason she said she decided to

Careful interviewing and awareness of context are essential

speak with me was to thank people [in Libby] for their support and well wishes.” Blodgett conducted the interview with care.

“I wanted to focus on her and her experience,” he said. In Blodgett’s article, Kornak describes in detail her attack and subsequent self-rescue. She also bucks the traditional survivor narrative by insisting that she has no regrets about being attacked. Blodgett’s advice to other journalists? “Let the person lead the way and see where they’re willing to go.”

Careful interviewing and awareness of the context are crucial to accurate and ethical reporting on human-wildlife conflicts. Montana’s 2020 U.S. Census count reported 1,084,225 residents — an increase of nearly 10% from the last census in 2010. Biologists also report that

Montana has the largest grizzly population in the lower 48, with the highest

Recommended resource: nwf.org

The numbers suggest opportunities for conflicts will rise, but journalists are in a unique position to give people the contextual understanding they need to keep themselves — and bears — safe.

— Phoebe Bright is a former OWAA intern and an upcoming student at the University of Montana's Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism program. She has written for Outdoors Unlimited, the Oak Spring Garden Foundation blog and Montana Public Radio's Field Notes program. Aside from journalism, her other writing love is fiction.

concentration in its Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which ranges from the greater Missoula area through the increasingly popular Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park.

Journalists are in a unique position to give people the contextual understanding they need to keep themselves — and the bears — safe.
"Education plays a vital role in connecting people with wildlife. Through programs, curriculum, scientific reports, and more, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is furthering knowledge about nature and wildlife, and inspiring future environmental stewards."


It was already an uncomfortable situation. Invited by some of her colleagues to go goose hunting, Susan Ebert woke up at the crack of dawn on a cold January morning. Her invitation wasn’t out of camaraderie so much as it was a test from some of her male peers. But Ebert was never one to back down from a challenge. Upon reaching their destination, one of her colleagues went to gather everyone’s gear and let out a snide giggle, seeing a little Beretta 20-gauge firearm among the rest of the 10-gauge guns the others had brought.

“Missy, you want me to carry your air gun out to the field for you?” one of them mocked.

Ebert replied, “No, thanks. I’ve got it,” keeping her composure.

As the group reached their spot, they positioned themselves on their backs, lying in the freezing, wet mud. Feigning consideration, the boys invited Ebert to be the first to shoot. Accepting, Ebert prepared her gun.

Ignoring the frosty bites of that morning, and those coming from her colleagues, Ebert took a deep breath and aimed up at the geese. One shot flew into the air, and with her breath held, two geese plummeted to the ground. The echo of her shot still reverberating, the group silenced, no chuckles or chortles to be heard. Just the thumps of two birds.

Though you wouldn’t have been able to tell by the look on her face, Ebert was shocked. It was her first time goose hunting, and she could only amount her success to some sort of cosmic interference.

“The goose-hunting gods must have wanted a laugh, and I was lucky enough they were on my side that day,” said Ebert.

And there was no doubt her colleagues’ faces after her impressive two-inone were comical indeed.


Ebert’s calling to the outdoors was undoubtedly influenced by her upbringing. Her grandfather, Dorsey Watkins — known to her as Papaw — taught Ebert how to hunt, fish and ride horses on his 100-acre farm outside Lexington, Kentucky.

Ebert rode alone on Papaw’s horse, Bill, as early as six years old to help bring cattle in. Though Bill already knew how to bring cattle in on his own, it was an important confidence builder for Ebert. Papaw made sure she knew the land well. Not only did Ebert enjoy early outdoor adventuring with her grandfather, she also grew up with deep knowledge and appreciation for growing food. Ebert's mother never realized her family was poor until high school.

“Everything they ate came from their farm, except for sugar, flour, salt, vanilla and a handful of other spices.”

For some people, Ebert’s upbringing may be familiar, yet in an increasingly

urbanizing world, her experiences hunting, fishing and foraging for meals may be quite foreign. For a locavore (a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food) like Ebert, healthy eating is about decreasing the distance between yourself and your food.

As a conservationist and advocate for regenerative agriculture, Ebert’s advice for city dwellers, or anyone who might be distanced from their food, is to start growing one edible plant at home. Buy some organic seeds, plant them in a pot, and place them near a sunny patch of your home. Watch your seeds sprout.

“Growing food changes you,” said Ebert.

In 2006, Ebert published “The Field to Table Cookbook: Gardening, Foraging, Fishing, & Hunting,” a cookbook centered around seasonal, local eating (which won OWAA’s 2017 Excellence in Craft competition for best outdoor book). With a quick Google search of her name, you’ll find dozens of mouth-watering recipes, like American Beauty Backstrap (dry-aged venison backstrap with American beautyberry Cumberland sauce) and Doves in Blackberry Molé, all of which reflect Ebert’s deep knowledge of seasonal foraging and hunting.

But Ebert never set out to write about food.

“It all happened organically,” Ebert explained.

A combination of Ebert’s love for the outdoors and conviction toward conservation efforts led Ebert to write about hunting, adventure travel, regenerative agriculture and more. Shortly after completing her master’s in communications, Ebert started working at Texas Monthly Press, serving as its art director.

After leaving Texas, she moved on to Rodale Press and worked as the marketing director for Organic Gardening magazine from 1988 to 1995. Ebert and her team

ABOVE: Susan Ebert forages for berries. Photo courtesy of Susan Ebert.

were ahead of their time, writing about rooftop gardens and honeybee hives in cities as ways to bring organic food to urban areas. It took several years for those ideas to be implemented in cities. Ebert is a prime example of how writers are important in propelling change.

After spending more than half a decade in the northeast, Ebert wanted to return to Texas. In 1998, she was recruited and hired as publisher and editor for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine and became the first woman in the magazine’s history to hold that title. Her mission was to attract broader engagement — incorporating topics like birding, mountain biking and other special interests that at the time were not included in a traditionally “hook-and-bullet” magazine.


In 2002, Ebert joined OWAA to search for a wider network of talent that fit her goals.

OWAA proved a great resource for Ebert, where she recruited media professionals interested in various outdoor and conservation subjects. After she left Texas Parks & Wildlife in 2004, OWAA continued to help her find media outlets for herself — growing her position and network.

“OWAA contributed to the success of my freelance business by allowing me to network one-on-one with editors of top national outdoor magazines,” said Ebert, which aided her in landing multi-year feature-writing gigs with other titles, including Kayak Angler, Turkey Country and Texas Sporting Journal.

And by networking with supporting member convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), Ebert placed multi-page travel features in one of the largest newspapers in the country.

OWAA annual conferences were a great way for her to meet new writers, find work for her own freelance endeavors, and connect with other storytellers, photographers and artists.

Ebert said at your next conference, find someone you’ve been meaning to connect with and try to carve out one-onone time with them.

Ebert recalled taking a ride with Pat Wray at the 2006 conference in Lake

Charles, Louisiana. The two had a long chat about their lives and careers on their drive. Sometime after, Wray passed her name to Chuck Weschler, editor of Sporting Classics magazine, who was then looking for his first female columnist.

After speaking with Weschler, Ebert became the first female writer on the masthead of Sporting Classics and ran her column in every issue for nearly a decade.

“It all began with OWAA and my friendship with Pat,” said Ebert.

OWAA was not only a professional resource for Ebert, but a personal one too. Ebert shared, “I’ll always cherish my association with OWAA,” as well as the many friendships and experiences she forged at the organization.

Ebert suffered a stroke in February 2020, affecting the entire right-hand side of her body. Despite her first neurologist

saying she would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, Ebert was able to walk again in three weeks.

“I don’t give up easily,” she said, half laughing. “I don’t think I give up at all.”

Though she will not be continuing her membership with OWAA due to physical limitations, Ebert continues to make strides. Much like her first goose hunt years prior, Ebert is not one to back down from a challenge. She continues to get creative — learning new skills that keep her engaged with the outdoors.

Ebert is exploring accessibility in the outdoors and is training one of her two border collies, Maisie, to become a service dog.

Being a writer is a dedication to being a lifelong learner. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons Ebert can share is to

ABOVE: Susan Ebert stands in a field with a duck call while hunting. Photo courtesy of Susan Ebert.
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keep a broad scope. She encourages people to never lose being a good generalist — a jack of all trades is a master of none but oftentimes is better than a master of one.

In setting precedents as the first woman to hold the publisher and editor

position at Texas Parks & Wildlife and the first female columnist at Sporting Classics, Ebert not only persevered but flourished.

Ebert continues as features editor for Cowgirl Magazine, still deriving great joy from helping steer the publication toward

things most dear to her heart — the empowerment of women, wild and organic food, wildlife conservation, and regenerative agriculture.

— Emma Mares is the membership services coordinator for OWAA. ABOVE: Susan Ebert displays a fish she caught while fly fishing. Photo courtesy of Susan Ebert. ABOVE: Susan Ebert waterfowl hunting. Photo courtesy of Susan Ebert.


Q&A with Michael Branch

Environmental writer Michael Branch lives in the western Great Basin Desert, a place he describes as the most unpopulated, alien and beautiful landscape in the world “that just looks like it wants to kill you all the time.”

He writes foremost about place — using his work to learn about the local landscape and cultivate similar habits of attention for his readers in their local environments with a grand scheme of nudging activism.

Frustrated with the typical Western narrative featuring hypermasculine explorers escaping their women and children to be in the wilderness, he writes of what it is like to retreat with his two young daughters and wife into the threatening sagebrush and pinyon pines of his remote, high-desert home.

Branch’s easygoing and award-winning humorous voice rounds out the often-emotional experience of environmental reading, making for a refreshing and compelling insight into his experience.

His upcoming book, “On the Trail of the Jackalope,” swaps his typical environmental essays to showcase (through extensive research) why he always answers “yes” when asked if jackalopes are real or mythological. Dive down this horned rabbit hole with Branch to discover the lore, history and cancer-curing legend of the jackalope, or explore the overlooked Nevadan landscape in his books such as “Rants from the Hill,” “How to Cuss in Western” and “Raising Wild.”

Your warm, humorous voice is particularly inspiring. Is humor something that shows up at the very beginning of your writing or is that something that appears later toward the final draft?

I don’t start out to write funny, but I do find that during the process of composition, there’s usually a moment where you start to realize if an essay wants to be humorous or not. This is very counterintuitive for most people who think of humor as just spontaneous. The humor is really cultivated through revision.

Humor writing is an art like any other kind of writing, and to make it work, you have to work really hard at it and you have to do lots of revision. It’s the equivalent of standup comics who go on the road with their material, and they’re trying stuff out and


some things are better, and they’re modifying it as they go. They do that for 10 months, then they do the original special because they worked it out on the road.

In humor work, there’s lots and lots of meticulous revision to make it work, and I find that funny and interesting because people really don’t believe that. They’re just like, “No, this guy just must be a really funny person.” If you want to believe that, that’s fine. It’s not worth arguing over. But this, this is an art like anything else that you have to work at if you want to make it succeed.

I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when people just believe I’m a funny person, which I’m not really. I’m just a hard-working writer who is trying to get something done.

Do you have any tips for writers who want to incorporate more humor in their writing?

I think that a good starting point for beginning humorists is to use themselves as their subject because humor always risks offense. It’s just part of the deal. There’s always somebody who might be hurt by what you’re doing, and the safest and often most comfortable form of humor — especially when you’re kind of learning the craft — is self-deprecating humor. If you’re making fun of yourself, it makes it a lot easier for your reader to laugh because they know you’re willing

to laugh at yourself. If you’re making fun of a third party, sometimes readers will feel kind of uncomfortable when they’re not sure if it’s OK to laugh at that or not. So, I think starting with self-deprecating humor is important.

Also, just remember that humor is a survival mechanism. We use it to respond to conditions that would otherwise crush our spirits. One thing I encourage people to do is don’t think about punchlines — think about how humor increases your

winning. It can really destroy your spirit. When I think about the fact that my audience is these often deeply caring, hardworking people who value the environment, I want to help affirm what they believe in but do it in a way that they can laugh a little bit. It makes it a little easier to get up tomorrow and fight more.

How do you know when your humor lands?

I sometimes joke that being a humor writer is sitting in a room all by yourself, cracking yourself up, and having no idea if anybody will ever find it funny. It’s really exciting and also terrifying to read humor work.

resilience and your ability to respond to difficult things. A lot of times, I challenge my student writers to choose things that seem very difficult or stressful for them and find the humor in that because that’s how you keep going.

My audience consists largely of people who love the outdoors and really care about the environment. But for people like us, we’re losing more than we’re

I do a lot of events and meetings every year, and I try to read a lot of my draft humor to live audiences. If I feel I have a sympathetic audience, I’ll say, “Hey, I haven’t had a chance to try this out on anybody. I really don’t know if it’s going to work. I hope you don’t mind.” Invariably, there will be a spot in a piece where people laugh and I don’t expect them to … and spots where I expect them to and they don’t, which is just a terrifying feeling. But it’s instructive because you go back, and you revise again.

It’s very hard to decide for yourself what’s funny. You follow your instincts, but until you field test this work, you just really don’t know.

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I sometimes joke that being a humor writer is sitting in a room all by yourself, cracking yourself up, and having no idea if anybody will ever find it funny.

There’s no tight feedback loop in writing. For example, when you’re teaching, the second-to-second basis with people shows if you’re connecting. With writing, it’s like putting a message in a bottle and just throwing it overboard in the middle of the ocean. No clue. That’s why I do a lot of readings.

I think writers (generally speaking), tend to push their work out too quickly. And sometimes that’s because they need to pay the bills. Sometimes it’s ambition. But I am a real believer that sometimes when you write stuff, it needs to just sit around for awhile until you get a new view of how it can work.

How would someone who is a new author, who doesn’t have the connections that you do, get in front of a crowd to do readings?

It can be your two best friends at the bar. It can be other members of a reading group. And by the way, reading groups exist in every community, and they also exist online. It doesn’t have to be a big audience — it’s amazing. You can read a piece to one person, and you can extrapolate how a whole audience will respond based on that.

I’m such a believer in the value of voice and editing that I read everything that I write aloud, whether I have anybody there or not. When I lived out in the desert, I would literally just walk around in the desert for hours with a giant script, reading it aloud and making notes because you can hear things that you can’t see.

We’re a culture that’s in love with a model of expertise. This idea that you need super-smart writers to read your work in order to get help — that’s a crazy idea. You just need anybody who cares enough to respond to your work, and you’ll learn from that, particularly with this emphasis on the voice for me.

If I get good feedback from taking my writing to a friend or someone who’s invested in me personally, I think to myself, “Well, that feedback is probably not right. I wish I had a Harvard professor for reviewing this instead.”

I think actually having sympathetic audiences is good. It can build your confidence to have caring readers. I think it’s much better to start small and work

on craft, build your voice, and figure out what works for you.

There’s a writer who I really admire, and this guy’s published 30 books. He’s been around forever. You think, he must be hanging out with really elite people. This guy is in a neighborhood writing group in his community. These people have been part of this group for 25 years, and he’s the only professional writer. He doesn’t think the opinions of his neighbors are worth any less because those people aren’t professional writers.

You’ve brought up that you think new authors tend to publish their work too early. What is too early and what advice would you give to them?

Too early is when it makes you cry. If you have enough confidence that you can send your work out, get rejected, and not have it slow you down, then it’s not too early. Rejection is absolutely part of being a writer. I can hardly think of another activity where you get rejected as much as you do as a writer.

I could tell you a million stories or books that were rejected 30 times and then became bestsellers [by]people who had six or seven unpublished books in their desk drawer before they ever landed anything. It’s a very, very common story. I think having sympathetic audiences is a good thing. It builds your confidence, and it keeps you strong. It keeps you feeling enthusiastic. And then after you’ve had a few successes, then you can get your ass kicked and you will remember those successes and you won’t lose heart.

I say this as a guy who not only has experienced that myself, but who also works with a lot of writers where I have to really kind of pick them up and dust them off and get them going again because they’ve lost faith in themselves because of some editor somewhere who doesn’t really care and isn’t really paying attention to them.

What are your top three tips for an author who’s just starting out?

I would say first to put a lot of focus on experimenting with voice. I think that beginning writers tend to think a lot about their topic, their approach, their structure. But, ultimately for me, what makes the writers whom I love distinctive

is that nobody else sounds like them. There are writing exercises that people do on this. Sometimes they’ll do things like rewrite pieces from a different point of view. For example, write this story and then rewrite it as if it’s being written by your sister. How does that change perspective or point of view?

But mainly, I see it less like a gimmick and more as, with anything else in life, you try it. You think about it. You measure the gap between what feels comfortable to you and what you’re actually doing. And then you just keep working to try to close that gap to make it smaller and smaller. You’ll never close that gap entirely.

Secondly, I don’t think you can really worry too much about whether what you want to write about is going to be interesting to other people if you’re not working on something that you are passionate about. To me, life is just too short to write about other people’s interests. The third piece of advice is to really think about the role of the body in writing. I think we tend to think of writing as being intellectual and abstract. But most of our experiences in life come through our bodies. When we’re writing, we need to work on keeping that physical sensory detail in our work so that readers can respond in ways that are physical and sensory. An obvious example is if you read something that’s powerfully written and sad and you cry, well, something is happening physically.

— Helena Guglielmino is a hiker, backpacker, explorer and former OWAA intern.


There is something to be said about taking the time to look back on your journey. It’s been almost 20 years since I began my writing career while in college working on a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. Writing wasn’t even on my radar, but that changed when I noticed an ad in the student newspaper looking for sports writers. I'm not sure what made me reach out, but the editor assigned me to cover the newly formed men’s lacrosse team. It was perfect; I knew most of the players and attended the games anyway, so why not? Little did I know this would be my creative spark, leading to plenty of on-the-job training, thus making up for my lack of writing and journalism classes except one technical writing class.

Answering that ad required taking a chance and stepping out of my comfort zone as I lacked any experience. It was just recently that I decided this was one of my biggest takeaways and something I have to reiterate to myself on a constant basis, even after all these years. We all need to stop being afraid every time we pitch an editor. Sure, it’s easy to feel vulnerable, but exhibiting confidence can help throughout all areas of life. Editors don’t just reach out to you, so if you have the desire to write a specific article, you’ll have to take the initiative. Even if your query is rejected, there are still multiple things you can learn to improve upon for the next opportunity.

When reaching out to editors, it’s important to follow the submission guidelines, which can usually be found on the publication’s website. Also, it can be a magnificent accomplishment to see your byline in a national magazine, but don’t forget about the smaller ones. Getting your work published anywhere is an accomplishment. Early on, I also wrote for publications that didn’t pay, thus allowing me to build a wider portfolio.

After your query is accepted, take a minute to congratulate yourself, but realize it is important that you adhere to the deadline that the editor has given you. I have found that if you’re going to be late, most editors appreciate you reaching out to let them know.

I wish I knew earlier that I should have been honing my photography skills as well as my writing ones along my journey. Being able to provide good photos along with supportive captions can give you a tremendous advantage in my opinion. When I was getting my start as a sports writer, I didn’t have to worry about combining the two skills as we had a separate staff photographer, but I wish I had.

Being humble enough to accept positive criticism is another key element that has helped my writing, especially as I got started.

I was fortunate enough to join a great writers’ group that was advantageous to my growth. Along with the grammar checks, it’s been beneficial for style and delivery. Members of the group are themselves accomplished writers; however, their forte isn’t in the outdoors, which allows me to work on being able to make the topic interesting enough so that a non-target audience would enjoy it.

It’s your choice in regard to feedback — you can use it or not. Along this same concept, I encourage everyone to join relevant writing associations. These are great resources for finding editors’ contact information. Most veteran members are willing to answer

questions if you ask them, in regard to all aspects of the business of writing.

Despite the years of experience and numerous articles I have had published in national and regional magazines, I still struggle with what other writers have labeled as imposter syndrome. It usually just requires a little bit of self-affirmation, but this too passes, and I don’t struggle to label myself as a writer. It probably would have been beneficial to know these tips and tactics at the start of my journey, but to be honest, it’s made it so exciting. Just imagine what I can learn in the next 20 years.

— Joel M. Herrling is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer in central New York. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his family.



Step out of your comfort zone.

Reach out to editors.

Learn from rejected queries.

Follow submission guidelines.

Pitch smaller publications.

Build a portfolio.

Hone your photography skills.

Accept positive criticism.

Join a writing association.

Even if your query is rejected, there are still multiple things you can learn to improve upon for the next opportunity.
Feather duster worm and star coral.



High-quality underwater photography can get costly, but we can get pretty darn good results with lower-end equipment. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far.


Location, Location, Location

The tropics are prime for shallow (15 feet or less) underwater (U/W) photography with clear waters and sandy bottoms. Photographers can discover potential locations via word of mouth, on Google Maps or from publications (look for the snorkel symbol).

Distance and Depth

Once I’ve found a promising location, I need to figure out how to get there. It’s easiest when it’s close to shore. Renting a kayak or dinghy can be an option for covering short distances. Otherwise, I might have to join a dive/snorkel outfit, in which case I’m dependent on someone else’s itinerary. Dive boats sometimes take snorkelers, but they generally go to deeper spots. A snorkel-only boat is best in that case.


My favorite underwater camera is the Olympus TG-6 for stills and the GoPro HERO9 for video. Both come with loads of additional gear, but I recommend at least a hand grip for the GoPro. Both cameras shoot stills and video, but I find the Olympus superior for stills and the GoPro much better at video. By concentrating on the top 15 to 20 feet of the water, one can skip much extraneous equipment, like housings and strobes.

Light and Weather

Light attenuates quickly in water. Red electrons scatter first, and images will favor blues and greens. There are ways to counter this: When doing macro photography, a flash can bring back most of the reds, oranges and yellows. Wide-angle scenes can be improved by changing the direction one shoots in and by changing tint in post-processing.

Camera Settings

The GoPro HERO9 has three primary modes: time-lapse, video and image. I use my GoPro primarily for video, and the options here are many. Choose your focal length, which ranges from narrow to ultra-wide, to match the subject matter. "Wide" is a good compromise at first. Also, the image stabilization should be turned on. It’s mighty powerful, so much so that when I try to shoot video of sailing in turbulent seas, the image stabilizer pretty much ruins the drama.

BELOW : A GoPro on a GorillaPod tripod sits independently recording video of an underwater reef scene. BELOW: Making images of an underwater elkhorn coral.
All photos by Carmen M. Alex



I have three ways to mount my GoPro. A short handle is versatile for holding and efficiently moving the camera. An extension pole is critical for keeping a safe and respectful distance. Finally, a small GorillaPod tripod with a makeshift weight bag helps keep the GoPro stationary when shooting reef-scene videos. Last summer, I added a dome for above-and-below shots.

Time of Day

The biggest challenge in U/W photography is the lack of (good) light. On the plus side, the best time to shoot is midday: The more sunlight from above — sun at zenith, rather than low — the less color loss and light attenuation. Shooting between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. is optimal, especially if it’s a cloudy day. Nothing creates color like a blue sky (clouds absorb light and darken the water) with the sun high up (reflections from a sandy bottom act as a second light source).

Composition: Angles

The most important thing to consider when making shallow U/W photographs is the angle from which to shoot. Pointing the camera down can make for boring shots. Pointing up toward the surface adds dynamic range. If the sun is not overhead, shooting with the sun on the side is best. This creates depth of field. Also, by shooting up, we can include water in our shot. Yes, water. U/W images can look like aquarium shots without a bit of blue or some hint of the sea surface.

One exception is the invasive orange cup coral. Its coloration ranges from yellow to bright orange, and the individual polyps are rather prominent. The orange cup is a night feeder but will start to emerge in the late afternoon. That’s the time to try and get some close-ups, near dark, which is also an excellent time to catch larger predators, like barracuda and tarpon, on the hunt.

Tiny shrimps and crabs hide in cracks and crevices. While they don’t move much, one needs to get quite close, which comes with a loss of depth of field. I always focus on the eyes or the head of any creature. I once stretched my hand out to shoo an arrow crab toward a more favorable spot. It hopped on and proceeded to manicure my pinky. Sweet.

Composition: Macros

I focus on one or two things when shooting macros, and the key is exclusion. Leaving unnecessary details out allows an object to become the subject. Since I’m constantly swaying, I go for a shorter exposure, resulting in sharper images. Using a (built-in) flash helps with that and with color recovery. Most U/W cameras have macro and other close-up settings. The Olympus has a microscope mode, for extreme close-ups, like corals and other sessile critters.

Coral colonies consist of lots of tiny animals. When the corals feed, the tentacles extrude. A word of caution here — even with the macro mode, it can be tricky to get a good shot without smashing into (and killing) them unless the sea is calm.

Composition: Scapes

Reefscapes and general U/W scenes look best with a wide-angle aperture. A good way to shoot reefs is by diving down and filling the frame with at least two-thirds reef and a bit of ocean above. The flash should be turned off, or the images will showcase marine snow instead of marine life.

Composition: Marine Life

Rays are generally patient with me as I approach from above. They don’t like an ambush, though, so I always approach from the front.

The opposite is true with turtles. They are easily spooked but lack peripheral vision, so the best approach is from behind and then slowly coming around. Once they notice me, I keep moving to minimize any disturbance. I almost always use a pole to add distance.

Most sharks that live in the shallow waters are small and shy. It isn’t easy to get a good image as they have excellent senses. No sneaking up here. I’ve tried to keep up when they swim away. No dice. On that note, it’s a good idea in general to avoid startling wildlife.

Eels are hard to spot and equally shy. Approach slowly, or they’ll retreat at once. Their necks bob in the water at the same rhythm as the octocorals and sea whips, which adds to their camouflage.

My favorite object of late has been the elusive octopus. They are active at night, so it’s harder to spot them during the day. The first indication is a small pile of clean shells. Then I dive

Top view. Side view.
Pillar coral with polyps protruding.
Reef squid line up in formation in shallow water.

Reef scene: Spotted trunkfish and juvenile angelfish.

Professional video editors include DaVinci Resolve (free), Final Cut Pro ($) and Adobe Premiere Pro ($).

I don’t create U/W time-lapse videos since I frequently need to slow the action down rather than speed it up, but the latest GoPros have a built-in time-lapse function, and there are probably some cool, creative projects just waiting to be conceived.


My main actions in post-processing are crop and adjust tint. I like to create fish collages, so I crop my fish images to the same size before pasting them together. Cropping is handy because it’s often tricky to shoot at the proper distance or angle. Regarding light and color, adjusting the image’s tint from green to pink is essential to get the colors right and retrieve some of the light on the red end of the spectrum. Other useful edits include straightening, adjusting tone (exposure, contrast, highlights, whites), vibrance, and dehazing. I suggest resisting the temptation to play with saturation. It’s the devil.


Most U/W images are already JPEGs; videos are MP4 files. I shoot in RAW, though, so I need specific software to convert to JPEG. Once processed, saving or exporting is next. For posting online, 72 DPI should be a sufficient resolution. For print, 300 DPI is the minimum.

down to look under ledges and into cracks. It takes a good eye to spot the first one, but it gets easier.


Concerning video, I find two things to be true. One, doing a “fly by” (filming while snorkeling along) will almost always create footage that moves too fast and can induce motion sickness when watched. It’s strange but real. So, the slower, the better, except I’ve never been able to move slowly enough when freediving. Scuba would be better. Two, using a tripod makes for more professional-looking footage. Fish and other marine life will create the action. Some curious ones get right up to the little blinking red light to investigate.



Photoshop and Lightroom are optimal for stills, but more basic programs like GIMP or Pixlr can be sufficient. I process my U/W shots less than my above-water shots, and there are loads of powerful free apps.

For beginning video editing, iMovie (free on Mac), MovieMaker (free for PC) and Lightworks (multi-platform) are great options.

For more in-depth information on these topics, you can visit theregoesgravity.net/photography.

— Carmen M. Alex is a conservation photographer, outdoor writer and environmental educator. Her lifelong interest in exploring remote locations has taken her around the globe — on land and at sea — to all seven continents. When she's not exploring tropical reefs with her sailboat or on a desert road trip, she can be found in the Florida Keys. View more of her images at www.carmenalex.com.

BELOW : Sea fan and star coral images before and after editing (crop, dehaze, whites).

Working with brands

Tips to make the most of your connections

To work successfully with brand representatives, you ’ll need to know what the people behind those brands want. Here are some tips from one person behind a number of outdoor brands.



The Skinny: Purple Orange is a digital communications agency founded in 2009 and based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Dickey and his team specialize in outdoor and active lifestyle brands.

“We see the media as true partners in a pipeline of content creation that starts with our client brands, moves to our agency and eventually finds a home with a journalist/media partner,” said Dickey.

“We also have to ask ourselves, what value is this pitch/article going to bring to the readers of your publication?”

Dickey said that they want their media partners to succeed financially, and affiliate marketing is becoming a very important piece of the puzzle for all parties involved in public relations (PR), and it provides a fair and performance-oriented platform to share revenue.

When working with media, Dickey said there is never any quid pro quo.

“Our only expectation is that they’ll give the product a fair shot. If we take the time to ship a product, we hope they’ll take it out of the box and give it an unbiased test,” said Dickey. “And if there are questions or any confusion, we hope that the reviewer will talk to us rather than abandoning the review or, even worse, writing something less than positive.”

However, Dickey said that this is earned media, and as such, writers are entitled to their own opinions, and he respects that. They’re also entitled not to write anything.

Dickey said Solo Stove is focused on winning both best-in-class media reviews and the resulting affiliate sales that come from those reviews.

“At this point in the brand’s evolution, rather than developing brand awareness, PR for Solo Stove is more about maintaining and growing brand saturation in the media while pulling strategic levers to drive product sales through those reviews.”

Dickey offered three tips for working with him and his team.

Work with PR professionals to understand the value proposition behind each product. “They’ll be your best resource to help succinctly communicate ‘why this product’ when you have limited copy to work with.”

Optimize for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). “Not all PR professionals are savvy with SEO, but most can help journalists pinpoint emerging consumer trends as they have insight as to what’s selling/moving from the client side.”

Use PR people to make your life easier! “We’re happy to fact-check [and] provide MSRPs, links, photos or anything else. Just ask and you shall receive! It’s easier and more factual than trying to find the information on the internet, which isn’t always reliable and can lead to inaccurate prices, etc.”


This year, my husband and I field-tested Solo Stove’s Ranger fire pit — a small portable smokeless fire pit that’s easy to

tote around and ideal for camping.

For us, burning wood as our fuel source here in Montana makes sense. The Ranger is easy to use, and it was easy to get a fire started inside. Although hardwoods burn more efficiently, we used what we had available locally — pine — and it worked just fine.

We were both suprised at how the vent system reduced the fire’s smoke output, which made it more pleasant to be around. The flame is mesmerizing and relaxing — noticeably different than a traditional on-the-ground fire pit.

It’s great to cook on, too. We used Solo Stove's cast-iron elevated cooking system. Since the heat mainly disperses up, it makes sense that cooking would be easy to do on the stove. Our chicken and veggie “campfire” shish kabobs turned out great! And I’ve always thought food tastes better outside cooked on an open flame.

The only downside to the stove was the way it dispersed heat — more upward than outward — so we had to sit closer to the stove to feel its warmth. Solo Stove just released a new heat deflector attachment that helps with dispersing heat outward.

Overall, we’re loving our Ranger Solo Stove. It’s easy to set up and gives us a beautiful fire to enjoy outdoors.

— Suzanne Downing is a freelance writer and publications editor for Outdoors Unlimited.

Solo Stove Ranger on display at the beach. Photo courtesy of Solo Stove.


Last year, OWAA leadership sent out a survey to all OWAA members to gain valuable information about our services and programs so we can continue to make positive, constructive, data-driven decisions. And the survey was a success. We thank each member who took the time to complete this survey.

The infographic on the subsequent page gives you some of the highlights of the survey and represents the current composition of our membership. We now have a better understanding of what you’re looking for by being a member, and our board, volunteers and staff will continue to deliver benefits that take into consideration all of the feedback we received.

The mission of Outdoor Writers Association of America is to improve the professional skills of our members, set the highest ethical and communications standards, encourage public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources, and be mentors for the next generation of professional outdoor communicators.

We aim to offer world-class resources, support and inspiration for our members as they inform the public about outdoor activities, issues and the responsible use of our natural resources. Through OWAA membership and adherence to its creed and code of ethics, members are commissioned to provide honest, thorough, informed, responsible and unbiased outdoor coverage.

Learn more about all of your member benefits on our website, owaa.org.


We now have a better understanding of what you're looking for by being a member.

An ode to the old ways

“God almighty, this is heavy.” Doing my best impression of Atlas and carrying what only could have amounted to the weight of the Earth in magnum L.L. Bean cork decoys on my back, I halfway followed, halfway fell toward Dad on another duck-hunting trip. Of course, the walk would have been easier if we had headlamps. Instead, we of course used our 25-pound handy Maglites — you know, just in case we got assaulted by a deer during our walk, we had some form of close-combat defense. This was my indoctrination into the sport (some may say addiction) of waterfowling.

As many of you fellow members of the club who spend too much money on decoys and turn your head at any body of water while driving, I’m sure you had some sort of mentor. Someone that taught you the ways of fowling.

My mentor was my dad.

We all know someone like him. Maybe it’s you; most likely it’s your old man or maybe a grandfather. The one who is stuck in the “good old days.” The one who has a tattered jacket he’s been hunting with for almost 40 years, longer than you’ve been alive. If memory serves me right, Dad bought that jacket in 1983, a Columbia wading jacket that’s frayed on every pocket, sleeve and button. Naturally, he bought this from a mail-order catalog. I will need to do more research to find out if Mom was aware of this purchase or not before it arrived on the doorstep. Knowing him, he most likely went to his old faithful tactic of “I don’t know where that came from, must’ve won it” technique.

The jacket is in what we call now “old-school” camo and pairs well with what can only be described as his mini howitzer that he shoots. Mom is definitely aware of this purchase, as she bought Dad a Spanish Eibar 10-gauge side-by-side for their anniversary one year. I suppose that it’s his own version of Nash Buckingham’s “Bo Whoop.” It’s worn down over the years, doesn’t break as easily as it used to, but still knocks them down.

I’ll never forget coming back from a hunt on a local wildlife management area and someone asking, “Man, who was shooting the cannon over there?” Obviously, to Dad’s ears, nothing sounds sweeter than the notes of a waterfowl’s voice being blown from a hand-turned wooden duck call or his Glynn Scobey goose call. In fact, I don’t think he even owns any polycarbonate or acrylic calls. Don’t even get him started on the MOJOs, swimmers or splasher motorized decoys — as far as he's concerned, nothing attracts ducks better than wooden or cork decoys.

There is something nostalgic about hunting with older gear, a nod to the duck hunters of the past that surely must have caused Dad to be stuck in his ways. I used to joke on Dad for his inability to join the 21st century and start wearing breathable waders, use headlamps, shoot a 12-gauge auto or even just get a new Stanley thermos instead of the rusted (adds to the flavor apparently), dented-up (so he knows it’s his), poorly insulated after time (makes you drink the coffee faster) one that he has used for more than 20 years.

As I, dare I say it, get older, I think I’ve started to realize why he hasn’t traded those things out. These aren’t just random pieces of gear or equipment. Each worn-out, abused and faded piece of gear he has also includes years of memories and hundreds of hunts attached to them.

Hunts with former Navy buddies, friends he made in the blind, and memories with past dogs. Stories and hunts that will come to mind when he puts his finger through a hole in a pocket of his coat. Of course, every true duck hunter knows that you should never really be warm, have hot coffee or be that comfortable — that would just make it too enjoyable.

I’ve noticed over the years that Dad has a slight preponderance for the mid-hunt siesta. But now I think that when things are slow in the blind, he just tucks his hands into those some-


what still warm worn-out pockets of his and dreams of days gone by.

As Gene Hill once wrote, “The thing we build that lasts longest is memory.”

After 40 years of chasing ducks, I am sure Dad has built up plenty of memories to get him through all our slow days. But isn’t it funny that while we enjoy those dream mornings with the sun and wind at our backs and getting limits by 8:30 a.m., the same stories we go back to are those miserable days where it all went wrong?

Those days where you know, you may or may not have happened to walk 5 miles through the woods with 800 pounds of cork decoys on your back carrying a 50-pound Maglite while getting “positively reinforced and motivated” to walk faster.

I know anytime I see those decoys I’ll immediately be 12 years young again following Dad to our spot and just happy

to be along for the ride. These old pieces of gear become a part of us; they become part of the experience and create a lifelong bond.

As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As a look at my own gear, I notice my favorite wader pants are about four different shades of color, none of them remotely the original color, my favorite hat is about two strands away from completely coming apart and my own Stanley thermos has started to build up its own specific flavor-adding patina.

I hope that one day, if I’m able to raise my own duck-hunting addict, they will say, “Geez, Dad, is that jacket from the 2000s or something?” Like an old baseball glove, Dad’s old jacket may not be the newest or the best, but it just fits, and I’m starting to notice how perfect mine is too.

— Christ Midgette is a lifelong hunter, traveling across the country with his Boykin spaniels chasing waterfowl, upland birds and the occasional story. Connoisseur of good bourbon and gas station pork rinds, and the worst duck caller east of the Mississippi.

As Gene Hill once wrote, "The thing we build that lasts longest is memory."

NEVADA: NEON TO NATURE Press trip recap

Last December, six journalists (five OWAA members) participated in a familiarization trip (FAM for short) working closely with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and joined the 2021 America Outdoors (AO) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The trip included activities like visiting a neon museum, kayaking, riding UTVs in the desert, hiking to the fire wave at Valley of Fire State Park, tasting food at an array of excellent restaurants and touring off-grid campers while enjoying an outdoors camp meal prepared by professionally trained wilderness chef "Chef Corso."

Yoy can find Nevada media coverage from Sherry Ott on her outdoor adventure and travel blog, “Ottsworld” (ottsworld.com), video coverage from Julianna Broste at julianabroste.com, coverage from Chez Chesak on Fodor’s Travel, coverage by Suzanne Downing for ActionHub on the geological wonders of Valley of Fire State Park and for Campendium on tips for overlanding, and a series of photo coverage and stories on Valerie Stimac’s Instagram page @valerievalise.

If you’re interested in attending an OWAA FAM trip or helping put together one to a specific destination in 2023, connect with Chez Chesak at chez@owaa.org.


America Outdoors Media Marketplace, which included pitch meetings with a variety of tour operators, lodges and destinations.

UTV riding with Oui Experience

Vegas Glass Kayaks river tour

Fireside Starlight Rail Explorers tour

Valley of Fire State Park hike

Review of XGRiD overland campers

Camp cooking lesson with Chef Corso

Late Night Trailhead hike

Visiting local attractions such as the Neon Museum, Mob Museum and the art experience AREA15.

Fabulous culinary experiences at Guy Fieri's El Burro Borracho, BRERA osteria, Best Friend and other restaurants.

OWAA is working on another press trip held in conjuction with AO's conference in central Florida in December 2022.



If you consider yourself a nature lover and conservationist, Big Sur is a place that cannot be passed on. In a place where so much love for the outdoors is given, and needed, this Central California coast hotspot along Highway 1 is at the center of so much that matters in the outdoors. So, come for the beauty, but stay to learn.

Big Sur used to be a quiet getaway destination where everyone felt carefree and safe, like summer camp. Today, you’ll find young travelers and social media influencers fighting for the perfect picture at the famous Bixby Bridge and other hot spots along Highway 1. Yet, Big Sur is a unique place and gives you the opportunity to visit an area with epic coastal and forest scenery. Known for its natural beauty and wildlife, Big Sur is also home to an unfavorable combination of overtourism, wildfires and landslides. You may have heard of the recent Colorado fire that burned more than 1,500 acres or the mudslide in Januray 2021 that took out a large chunk of Highway 1.

For as much danger as there is threatening this outdoors haven, its stunning coastline, thick green vegetation and redwoods, and wildlife galore make Big Sur is one of the gems of the West Coast. However, there are daily efforts being made to keep this place afloat. With a little more than 1,500 full-time residents, this little goldmine has stood resilient through adversity with the help of many long-tenured residents, collaborative organizations and community resources. Big Sur is an underdog story and sanctuary for the conservation minded.


Community Association of Big Sur (CABS) leaders are at the forefront of most major issues going on in the Big Sur community. CABS — through staff and volunteer efforts — provides aid and support in the community through advocacy, community problem-solving and disaster recovery. They also have the tall task of appeasing both residents and visitors of Big Sur. It was once a fantasy world where development and tourist crowds were unthinkable.

“It used to be a place for transient folk. Businesses were closed during the winter, but the difficulty is accommodating those

in the community and still giving people a sense of freedom in nature,” said Blaine VandenBerg, CABS board member.

Businesses are now year-round operations — attracting more tourists but also creating more jobs.

Created by community members in 1962, CABS was first named Coast Property Owners Association (CPOA). They went to Washington, D.C., to fight the federal government from essentially letting Big Sur turn into Malibu. And they won! Along with CPOA came Big Sur Land Use in 1981, the genesis of CABS, which created a historic viewshed along the community’s stretch of highway.

“The community also wanted to avoid the ‘national parkification’ of Big Sur. No more signs and no visitor center,” said Ryne Leuzinger, CABS board member.

CPOA became CABS so everyone in the community felt served, not just property owners, claimed Vandenberg.

Begrudging residents may never see the Big Sur they once fell in love with, but CABS plans to accommodate all parties. Working across multiple agencies to push initiatives is a daunting process in this small town as turnover is frequent and signoffs do not occur overnight.

One of the community’s biggest concerns is where the rubber meets the road on the highway. Roads throughout Big Sur, specifically Highway 1, have become nightmares for residents, visitors and emergency vehicles. It’s a fire hazard, and from winter to summer, commuting north often doubles in time. With great

persistence, CABS and their executive director, Butch Kronlund, were recently able to acquire a traffic counter.

The idea is to use data to tell visitors when it’s a bad time to come based on traffic and suggest other times to visit.

Nowadays, nearly 6 million people visit Big Sur every year. Many of those visitors appear to be less informed about the human impacts of outdoor recreation and the ethics of Leave No Trace — evident in excess scattered litter alone.

Amongst the crowds, fire mitigation is also a big concern. It’s a numbers game. More uninformed people means more harm. More harm means more rules. Long-tenured residents do not like rules. Illegal fires, on top of natural ones, keep the community up at night.

South Coast Ridge Road, a popular spot for camping, used to be a desirable and easygoing spot, but it now requires paid community members to report illegal camping and campfires.

On the flip side, Leuzinger seems to be pleased with CABS’ disaster-relief initiatives.

“In terms of disaster relief, we’ve been really good with raising money through grants and donations to give out for flood or fire damage while filling out gaps that county, state or the [federal] government cannot fill,” said Leuzinger. That said, it’s not ideal to have to spend resources on man-made fires.

Illegal campfires can easily become 10,000-acre fires. CABS is working on a potential self-registration program for


backcountry camping with boots on the ground monitoring near camping hot spots that are likely experiencing illegal camping. The price of nature is not free, and CABS is one example of what it takes to keep our favorite places from deterioration.


At the center of tree and wildlife conservation is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and its foundation. The foundation, founded in 1973, evolved from just talking about history to grabbing hold of education and advocacy — especially in regard to the ever-changing coastline.

Culverts along Highway 1 get a lot of attention from Point Lobos as they are the most prone areas to road failure.

“If we keep culverts clean and keep their material moving out, that will prevent backup leading to landslides,” said Kathleen Lee, the Point Lobos Foundation’s executive director.

“If there is a lot of new material coming from culvert backup, there are agreed-upon disposal sites that prevent invasive species from spreading.”

Originally populated by the indigenous Rumsen people, the reserve is rooted in history, and many conservation efforts have been made both on land and at sea. It is also a beautiful coastal park with numerous beaches, walking trails and wildlife sightings. It doesn’t take long for the sea lions to make their presence known.

While taking in this sanctuary-like park, visitors are often greeted by the mystical and unique Allan Memorial Grove. This is one of only two native cypress groves in America. Volunteers spend many hours working to protect native species and hand-pull invasive species to keep the grove healthy. Invasive-species management is one of the highest priorities in the reserve.

The Habitat Heroes project, which “supports priorities to enhance coastal preservation efforts and open spaces.” is a collaboration between Point Lobos and California State Parks. Through this project, a restoration ecologist is part of the reserve team as well as a helping hand in volunteer recruitment. The foundation is heavily run by volunteer crew members and docents. The reserve also relies on volunteers for fundraising and collaboration to spread awareness of community efforts and maintain the reserve.

Headland Cove (once a rather accessible cove) now provides a from-a-distance vantage point, which has allowed for a resurgence of harbor seals that make their home on rocks closer to the trails, Lee mentioned. Amongst the seals and otters also lie magnificent kelp beds. Those beds serve as nursery homes for wildlife and are a food source and shelter for wildlife. Sharing the ecosystem within the Monterey Bay vicinity are also great white sharks and orcas.

Along the rest of this coastal trail, you’ll come across Pinnacle Cove, a spectacular lookout point for whales. You may see

several spouts during your visit.

While the wildlife sightings are great, it’s important to remember that this is their place. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reserve was closed and cameras captured a resurgence in both mountain lion and bobcat activity.

“We have to educate folks about the different ethos of how to visit responsibly. It breaks my heart to see people out here smoking. What are behaviors we can learn from and take back to the places we are from?” added Lee.


When most people think of condors, they imagine vicious, ill-favored birds that serve as trash cans for animal carcasses. Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, thinks otherwise. Ventana started in the 1980s with a goal of reintroducing bald eagles. Since then, 70 bald eagles have been released into the wild. For the last 25 years, the focus has mostly been on captive breeding and reintroduction of condors. Today, there are four captive breeding grounds that produce 30 or so chicks annually, and they all collectively release them.

Sorenson said that these captive breeding grounds have singlehandedly saved the condors, which have been on the endangered species list since its first draft in 1967, from extinction. Protecting condors is critical for the health of the wildlife ecosystem they live in. They serve


as the cleanup crew and are responsible for ridding dead animals that harbor diseases.

“Condors could use their own PR team,” added Sorenson jokingly.

“If their image reflected that of a more peaceful, charming animal, more people would care to understand they are not just some useless, prehistoric relic.”

These birds are endangered in part beacuase of things like wildfires, but the main cause of death for these birds is lead poisoning. When hunters go out into the wilderness and use lead ammunition, whatever remains of animals left behind are then picked apart by scavengers like condors. This often leads to death from the scavenger ingesting the lead.

While many animal populations can tolerate lead poisoning, the surprisingly long-living condors reproduce at a remarkably slow rate and cannot sustain a high death rate.

Roughly 10 years ago, Ventana started a free, non-lead ammunition program to put an end to lead-related deaths of condors. So how did they get people to jump on board? The answer is grassroots and partnership efforts. Ventana and its partners like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Institute for Wildlife Studies and Hunting With Non-Lead are knocking on the doors of ranchers who provide land for hunters, offering this free ammunition.

The current stewards of the land — private property owners — are crucial in this effort because they own much of the best wildlife habitats, which hunters thrive on. Even with the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act and Assembly Bill 5728 passed through legislation, both of which call for hunters to use non-lead ammunition, there is still work to be done.

“There is a disconnection between the market and statute of the legislation, as the statute has yet to drive up demand for ammunition,” Sorenson said.

And on top of an ammunition shortages, not all stores are carrying lead-free ammunition, and stores will still choose to sell the lead ammunition remaining on their shelves.

Ventana’s dream is self-sustaining condors that they don’t need captive breeding. For now, these large-winged birds continue to be held in captivity and

tracked for data, which is used to determine where is best to distribute lead-free ammunition.

Disney didn’t help put these giant birds in a good light with classic cartoon characters, but Ventana and Sorenson continue their fight in changing the narrative of these maligned creatures.

With so much going on in the outdoors like wildfires and overpopulated parks, it’s important to recognize sacred places like Big Sur.

Big Sur, albeit a magical getaway destination, also serves as a reminder that the outdoors is a gift that can be taken away from us. It is possible to learn and still

enjoy, and just simply be aware if nothing else. Take the great individuals and organizations protecting Big Sur as an example. Let them teach us the importance of community, passion and conservation.

Mother Nature may be the original founder of this place we inhabit, but it is the people and communities of today who build upon our green Earth and determine what our experiences will be for years to come.

Ian Marcus is a freelance writer and former OWAA intern.


1. HAVE YOUR TOOLS PREPARED. Whatever the assignment may be, whoever you are speaking with and whatever media you’d like to provide, make a list and check it twice. A week before your trip, have all your tools at the ready. Using a camera? Make sure all accessories are on you, including extra chargers, mounts and sticks, and memory cards. (During a bike tour, my camera ran out of storage and I did not think to bring a backup memory card.) If you plan to record all your interviews with live sources, make sure you are comfortable with whatever recording app you are using. (I accidentally deleted a 15-minute conversation.) Think of everything you could use in a given activity, or even your whole day. Taking notes? The little things matter, like extra (working) pens, notebooks, etc. What goes in your pack for the day is what you have when you head out, so be aware of how much space you have and what you could need.

2. PRACTICE GOOD COMMUNICATION. Maintain good communication with your liaison. Give them your requirements ahead of time so they can effectively organize your reporting trip and contact whatever sources they need on time.

3. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. Make sure you know what to expect and who you are meeting, and know what you came for — long before you arrive. What’s your goal of the trip? What message do you want to give your audience? These are important questions to ask yourself. When you have these questions answered, it allows you to properly find what you want to know before arriving. What are the biggest topics or things to do at the destination? What things and places embody the destination? Be your own investigator of the area and your sources. Just because you are going there to learn doesn’t mean the learning shouldn’t begin beforehand. Even extra last-minute notetaking and research is good. Arrived at your destination and got some down time? Do more research! Becoming an expert on your destination can be key.

4. ASK QUESTIONS. Reporting while on a trip is a unique opportunity to learn! Asking questions will get you the most out of your experience. Come up with questions and allow questions to naturally come to you during your trip. Arriving at your destination with questions prepares you for the direction you want to go. It sets the expectation for your trip and your story. Naturally allowing questions to come to you during the trip expands your mind. Be open to learning more than you anticipated and questioning things out of curiosity after arriving.


Outdoor gear spotlight EDITOR PICKS

As an outdoor communicator, you probably spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying activities like hiking, fishing, hunting, camping and boating. You may also be inundated with gear ads and gear-focused content when you're online. We all know having high-end outdoor gear or helpful outdoor gadgets on assignments is a luxury, not a necessity. But sometimes, you may fall in love with a piece of outdoor equipment or a simple gadget that makes your outdoor adventures a little easier or helps make you more comfortable when you're in the field reporting. And you may want to cover that gear for publications — sharing your experience in the field with others.

The outdoor gear featured in this section is gear I've field-tested and come to love. I've also added PR contacts. The contacts listed are people I've had positive experiences working with. These gear representatives are looking to connect with more outdoor writers. So, if you're interested in field-testing any of the items in this article, or you have an assigment or gear round-up coming up that might be a good fit, send these reps a note. Reach out and start building relationships.


This propane-fueled portable fire pit is a luxury outdoor item with a built-in bluetooth speaker and a relaxing flame that you can set to dance to the beat of your music. Since it's fueled with propane, you can use this fire pit at camp even during some fire restrictions. The add-on cookstand and cast-iron grill are easy to set up and use. (MSRP $599, cooktop accessory MSRP $69)

PR Contact: Jenna Young jenna@ukiahco.com



This sleep system is ideal if you spend a lot of time in the field car camping or working out of a truck camper or van with your partner. The footbox gives you plenty of room to move, making it comfy for side sleepers. With the oversized hood, you can both bring your pillows from home. The quilt is filled with premium 800 fill-power HyperDRY™ down and the material is soft to the touch. This bed turns ordinary camping into "glamping." (MSRP $518, Zenbivy Flex™ mattress MSRP $139, quilted pillow MSRP $49)

PR Contact: Ingrid Niehaus ingridniehauspr@gmail.com


This high-back camping chair is easy to tote around when you're in the field reporting. It weighs less than three pounds and folds up into a carrying case a little larger than an oversized water bottle. Since it has an aluminum alloy frame, the chair can support up to 265 pounds, and it's quick to assemble. It also works well in sand and uneven terrain. (MSRP: $89)


This vehicle step is small but mighty. If you load things on top of your car like kayaks or you have an overhead storage system, this is a time saver when loading up your gear. (MSRP: $44.95)

Klymit and Rightline Gear PR

Contact: Sierra Krebsbach sierra.krebsbach@klymit.com



These hiking poles are a game-changer for photographers in the field. The built-in wrist straps attach to the poles with a small magnet. When you stop to use your camera, you can simply let the poles dangle — allowing your hands to be free. The poles collapse and store fairly compact and are made of a durable lightweight carbon fiber, weighing less than a pound.

(MSRP $139)


If you spend a lot of time on the water, these rose-colored polarized lenses protect your eyes and give you extreme clarity. I wear mine all year long and they even work well against the glare in the snow — especially while ice fishing. Bajio lenses are popular among saltwater fishing guides. Bajio is also a carbon-neutral company and each pair of sunglasses comes in a cactus-leather case. (MSRP $199)

PR Contact: Logan Waddell logan@obviouslee.com


It's a good feeling to support a company focused on sustainability. And it's even better when that company offers quality outdoor clothing. My go-to sweatshirt is the Recover Sustainable Apparel Co. soft dark gray crewneck sweatshirt. It's made with upcycled cotton and seems to get softer after each wash. (MSRP $50)

PR Contact: Becky Hendee becky@obviouslee.com


This blanket goes with me in the field and stays with me on the couch. It's warm and has a cape clip you can wear around your shoulders and corner loops to easily stake into the ground. For every unit purchased from the National Parks collection, Rumpl gives back to preserve those spaces for generations to come. (MSRP $129)

PR Contact: Maria Brickman maria.brickman@rygr.us


This is the lightest jacket I've ever owned and ideal for Montana weather nearly all year long in the mountains. If you cover hunting or cold-weather outdoor activitties, this jacket may be a good fit for you. It's also available in Kuiu's men's line of hunting gear. (MSRP $139)

TSL & KUIU PR Contact:

Andrew Piasecki



The Luci Pro Series inflatable light doubles as a phone charger when you're out in the field. If it's fully charged before you head out, you can use on low light for 50 hours and fully charge a phone. The outer strap makes it easy to connect to a shelter. MPOWERD is a new OWAA Supporting Group. (MSRP $44.95)

PR Contact: Rebekah Conti


— Suzanne Downing is a freelance writer and publications editor for Outdoors Unlimited.


NAME: Marinel de Jesus


2814 Brooks St., Box 442 Missoula, MT 59801

406-728-7434, Fax: 406-728-7445 info@owaa.org, owaa.org

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Contributors grant rights for OWAA to publish once in Outdoors Unlimited, both the print and online versions, including archives, and on the OWAA website.


Summer 2022

Vol. 81, No. 1

Meet a member


I utilize writing and filmmaking as my way of creating outdoor and travel content.


I discovered my love for mountain trekking over 17 years ago, which prompted me to go full-time as a global mountain trekker in 2017 and leave my legal career behind in Washington, D.C. In the process, I also discovered the importance of being an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors as the outdoor community has been historically male and white-dominated. With the rise of BIPOC outdoor enthusiasts in recent years, it’s important for me to create visibility and elevate the status of BIPOCs and women in the outdoor and travel spaces.

RESIDENCE: Washington, D.C.


Marinel M. de Jesus, Esq., is a former civil rights litigator from Washington, D.C., who turned her passion for hiking into a full-time endeavor as a founder of a mountain trekking enterprise, Equity Global Treks, and the media platform, Brown Gal Trekker, both of which aim to elevate the voices and status of women and indigenous communities in the outdoor and travel industries. Marinel is also a solutions-focused adventure travel writer and activist who utilizes the power of storytelling to create equity and inclusion in the media.


OWAA is a major entity in the outdoor content world, which provides the opportunity to network with like-minded content creators in the field. Being part of OWAA is a means to understanding the industry and crafting my own place in a vastly competitive and diverse industry.


I am a global mountain trekker and run a mountain trekking company, so I do mainly camping and hiking in all parts of the world.


I’m working on launching the first pilot program of our award-winning community-led tourism initiative, Khusvegi English & Nomadic Culture Camp, in western Mongolia with the eagle hunters, which gives tourists a chance to live with the nomads for 30 days while teaching English to young nomads. I also create content for my nonprofit human rights organization, The Porter Voice Collective, which aims to advocate for workforce equity tourism for porters in Peru, Nepal and Tanzania. Of course, I continue to write for various travel and outdoor publications as a solutions-focused journalist and advocate for DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) in the outdoor and travel industries as a consultant and public speaker.


I gained insight into the state of content creation in the outdoor industry, which helps me align my brand with the current needs of the market. Also, gaining resources and support from like-minded professionals has been helpful in opening doors to more opportunities in the industry.