The best weather of the year greeted some 40 professional outdoor writers, photojournalists and their spouses at the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau on April 26-29.
Award-winning author, outdoor writer and magazine editor Chris Batin from Talkeetna, Alaska, was the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association annual conference host for NOWA members who spent time outdoors along the Front and in the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum. At the Inn they learned about the Front’s grizzly bears and listened to refresher lectures on the computer programs that make it easy to edit photographs and to design logos as well as tips on writing award-winning sentences, among other things.
Batin said that “outdoors communicators” have expanded their profit-making activities. They host radio programs and write for hunting and fishing magazines and some host shows on cable television and write blogs. Some write cookbooks tailored to hunters and anglers or design and market lures and other products. Others are hunting and fishing guides when they are not writing, and still others have “stock” portfolios of wildlife and landscape photos that they sell to publishers and advertisers.
Batin moved to Alaska 44 years ago and became a travel writer.
He said he enjoyed staying in the Choteau area, especially his conversation with Bynum paleontologist David Trexler during a wine social at the Center on April 26. Freelance writer and outdoor photographer Jack McNeel of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said he enjoyed the field trip with Choteau elder Al Wiseman who introduced nine NOWA members to the Metis history on the Front. McNeel recalled meeting Wiseman on a similar tour 10 years ago.
“They enjoyed the trip and the weather was great,” Wiseman said at the Friday evening community night dinner he attended with his wife, Elaine. “This was a promotional event for the town and the community.”
Retired forest ranger David Shea of Choteau, who has studied the history of the Old North Trail, was a co-host with Wiseman. Although too much snow was on the ground to visit Clary Coulee and the Metis Cemetery, the guides introduced the NOWA members to the cultural lore of the Teton River’s north and south fork canyons west of Choteau.
Author Gary Lewis of Bend, Oregon, is the TV host of the “Frontier Unlimited” program on the Pursuit Channel. He rode with A Lazy H outfitter Joe Haas and six other NOWA members on a horseback ride along the Front. He also fished in Eureka Reservoir on Saturday afternoon, just as the surface ice broke up.
“It was a gorgeous day,” Haas said. “We had a lot of fun. We rode through jackpine meadows and talked about glaciers and tipi rings.” He said he obliged when the photographers in the bunch wanted to take a panoramic picture. He found a spot for them west of the Blackleaf Road.
Lewis said he got a kick out of his stop at Rex’s Market where the magazine section had three magazines with four of his published articles, “Outdoor Life,” “Successful Hunter” and a fish and game magazine.
Stage Stop Inn General Manager Beth Barlow said she was grateful to the community members who agreed to host the field trips, and to Gayle Fisher of the Central Montana Tourism organization who worked with her to bring the NOWA to Choteau.
“Everybody enjoyed themselves. We could not have had better weather,” Barlow said.
“This is our chance to give our pitch,” Fisher told the NOWA members on Friday night. She noted the other activities arranged to showcase the Choteau area and she thanked three NOWA members who spoke about outdoor writing and photojournalism to a Choteau High School class on Friday afternoon.
Eleven Highwood Public School sixth and seventh graders attended the Saturday afternoon lectures and each one was assigned a NOWA member to follow up on writing an essay about their trip to Choteau and Bynum. Lewis told Ellie Aron, the student he will mentor, “Only write what you will get paid for,” how to do “mind-mapping, a technique for diagraming story ideas, to know the rules of grammar and when to break them, and to learn to “kill adverbs and words that end in “ly” and to never use words that end in “ing” in a story.
Lewis added that often it is “who you know” that gets one published, but he said it was now easier than ever for a woman to break into the male-dominated outdoor writing genre. “Write what you want to know,” he said.
Batin told the students: “Don’t take no for an answer. Believe in yourself.”
Batin gave out “legacy” awards on Friday night to several long-time NOWA members who mentioned how they got into the “business” of outdoor writing and photography. NOWA Executive Director and legacy award recipient Adela Jackson of Fairbanks, Alaska, published the “Best Recipes” of Alaska’s hunting lodges. Hunting and fishing YouTube celebrity and drone operator John Beath of Sequim, Washington, said the out-of-print book was the “gold standard” for that genre.
Jackson went on to write eight books on hunting and fishing.
Earlier in the day Beath drove up the Teton Canyon Road to take photographs to enter in the NOWA conference photo contest. “I was in my car and in an hour’s time I saw deer, a moose and a small herd of pronghorns. I took a photo of horses with the Rocky Mountains in the background. I saw hawks, kestrels, bluebirds, ducks and geese. It was a challenge what to pick. And there was hardly any traffic. I can’t believe it,” he said.
Beath told the students, “Find your niche and get good at your craft,” but most of all “Photography pays. Learn how to sell.”
Award-winning outdoor photographer Jim Foster of Salmon, Idaho, said, “The Air Force taught me the secrets of photography. The corporate world was not for me. It was wildlife photography.” Over his long career, he said, the “commissions kept coming,” and his advice to the younger NOWA members was to “work as hard as you can.”
Great Falls native and illustrator Sandy Jamieson spoke about how he went to Alaska after high school, and how learning German at C.M. Russell High School was an entre into a career as a guide for European hunters and fishermen. His humorous illustrations of “wolves in a plane” was a national sensation at a time of increased scrutiny of federal wildlife officials.
Jamieson repeated a saying attributed to Russell: “Anyone who can make a living doing what he loves to do, is pretty damn lucky. Anytime I cash in now, I win.”