Words aplenty for outdoors writer

Today is my 19th anniversary as outdoors editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

It does not seem that long. I often think of columns I wrote three or four years ago. When I go to the archive, I learn that I wrote it 10-13 years ago.

I don't believe that's a symptom of age, but a result of volume.

Since Feb. 15, 2005, I have written about 1,950 columns totaling about 1.5 million words and 1,200 feature stories totaling 1.32 million words. That doesn't included the uncounted fishing tournament game stories and advance stories, Game and Fish Commission meeting summaries, Arkansas Big Buck Classic features, Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza gamers and other reporting that includes 25 1A news stories, as many 1B news stories and even a couple of spreads for our Travel section.

Before I came home to Little Rock, I held a very nice position at the Missouri Department of Conservation. I was not looking to leave, but I was intrigued by two invitations that came from the blue at the same time. One was to join Sid Evans as his assistant editor at Field & Stream in New York. The other was from Wally Hall to be, as he said it, "The last outdoors writer I will ever hire."

I had small children at that time. New York wasn't a good fit.

My roots, my family, and my heart were here.

Shortly after, Evans left Field & Stream to help establish a new magazine called Garden & Gun. I've long lost count of how many editors have come and gone at Field and Stream. It went from 12 issues a year to 10 to four to none. It eliminated its print product several years ago and went to digital only. F&S recently announced their intent to resurrect a print product in the form of special issues.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is still going strong.

Technology changes. Social media platforms rise and fall. We do what they can't do. We tell the stories of Arkansas people, Arkansas places and Arkansas issues with full color and context.

With that objective, my stated goal in my first column when I began this journey on Feb. 15, 2005, was to make the Democrat-Gazette's outdoors section the journal of record for the state's outdoors culture and the meeting place for the state's outdoors community. I wanted it to be the place where readers come to share their experiences, the place to come for the latest information on gear, tactics and trends, the source for news about the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the place to go for real, reliable news about wildlife and fisheries conservation in this state.

During the pandemic, it became even more than that. For a long time Outdoors was the only live "beat" to cover. People off work and out of school went outdoors. Hungry for information, they came to us to learn how to do things, for tips on what to buy and how to use it, for tips on where to go and what to do when they got there. People went hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and paddling to escape the darkness. We helped them to cope.

One of my favorite "features" is the hundreds of photos we publish (mostly) of children and teenagers with game they've taken and fish they've caught. Some of those kids practically grew up on these pages. Now, they send us photos of THEIR kids!

Sometimes these "Sportsman of the Week" photos turn into full feature stories. One such feature was about Emily Franks, a young teenager who caught a marlin in Mexico while fishing with her father, Dr. Hayden Franks. That story inspired Emily to write about her own hunting and fishing adventures for magazines. She even helped edit an early draft of my book, "St. Tom's Cathedral, A Turkey Hunter's Quest for His Best."

I have so much gratitude for the publisher and management of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for valuing outdoors coverage and for giving me the tools and the freedom to do it right. Every major newspaper in America once had a full-time outdoor writer. I am one of the last. There is not another publication in America like this one, and our community is better for it.

I consult that first column periodically as kind of a compass. I've kept my word, all 3 million of them. Lots more are coming.

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