McKean Minute: When Digital Goes Outdoors

I was describing Powderhook to a friend the other day in one of the simplest ways I could. “It’s using technology to connect people who want to know more about hunting and fishing with those who want to share their experience and knowledge.”

I could tell I wasn’t getting through, so I tried again. “It’s a digital mentor in your pocket,” I said, patting my phone for emphasis.

That got him.

“I thought the whole idea of introducing people to the outdoors was to get them out to put down their phones and disconnect from technology.”

His statement hit home for me, because for years that’s precisely how I’ve imagined we would recruit a new generation of outdoorsfolks. We’d convince them that the wild world beyond their smartphones was somehow more real, tangible, authentic, and worth their attention than anything projected by the pixels of an aluminosilicate screen.

For the record, I still believe that with every fiber in my sunburned body, that the real world—made of mud, sunsets, poison ivy, October frosts, venison backstraps, and honking geese—is what connects us to our ancestors and to our neighborhoods, and by extension, to our neighbors. Figuring out the natural world over eons and generations is what evolved us into hunter-foragers, then farmers, and ultimately into Snapchatters.

The future of conservation as we know it depends on the goodwill of the individual sportsmen. No other approach can yield the kind of numbers we need.

As technology has come to dominate almost every aspect of our lives, it’s a natural impulse to think that it’s disconnected us from nature. In many ways, it has. We all have examples of people who mistook an Instagram sunset for the real thing.

But just as we’re not likely to replace our cars with carriages or our microwaves with hearth-fires, we’re unlikely to put our phones aside as we stalk a deer or hike a trail. Instead, the smartest hunter-gatherers among us have figured out ways to use technology to be more proficient outdoorsmen and women. They’re using digital maps to find their way in the woods and to fetch weather forecasts that will shape their day. They’re making campground reservations online. They’re using digital apps to identify the mushrooms that will make their day and the ones that will make them sick. And they’re using their phones to record their experiences to share with people who couldn’t join them.

For the record, I’m not a digital native. My best days in the field did not have an on/off switch, and I’m happiest with the wind in my face, not a phone in my hand.

But if we’re serious about introducing more people to the outdoors and the profoundly human experience of hunting, then we have to use whatever tools we can to build connections. For modern humans, that means harnessing the power of technology to bring people together. That’s what Powderhook intends to do, by connecting people who want to know with those who do. And when I tell my buddy that it’s a “mentor in his pocket,” what I mean is that if we’re smart about how we use technology, it can help us achieve something that humans have been doing for thousands of years: when we share our experiences, we make the world both bigger and smaller at the very same time.

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McKean Minute: Get Outside This Interdependence Day

You read both parts of that sentence correctly. The first part is easy to understand. Get outside. Go fish. Go camp. Have a picnic. Lay on a blanket and look up at the clouds.

The second part takes a little ‘splaining.

It’s Independence Day, America’s 242nd birthday. The Fourth of July. A celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a statement to our British overlords that the American colonies would stand alone as 13 sovereign states.

But I’d argue that as much as the declaration asserts independence, it also makes a strong case for interdependence. Those 13 colonies had to stand together, to rely on each other and to present a unified front in the fight against the world’s reigning superpower that culminated in the creation of America.

I mention this because I think outdoor recreation—the kind that’s come to define how many of us Americans celebrate our national holiday—is equal parts independence and interdependence. As humans, we crave the freedom we get from the outdoors, the ability to explore, seek, and traverse a world unbound by walls or wifi. But think about the best days you’ve had outdoors. They were probably made even better by the company of someone – your kids, your buddy, your spouse, or your parents.

A buddy’s first time ever seeing an elk on a camping trip in Yellowstone.

Now think of how you got juiced about the outdoors in the first place. It was because someone, maybe your father or a sibling or a good friend, introduced you to the wide, wild world. That’s interdependence. Even those of us who find solace in the solitude of the outdoors started with a dependency, being shown places and skills by someone who knew more than we did.

When this interdependency works, it’s self-perpetuating—just as national independence is. The Americans who came before you have given you these great self-evident truths: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

If your pursuit of happiness is being outdoors, then perpetuate that great American tradition by showing someone else how to fish, camp, picnic, and lay under the clouds.

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POWDERHOOK RECEIVES INNOVATION IN TECHNOLOGY AWARD FROM HUNTER EDUCATORS

ANCHORAGE, AK – The International Hunter Education Association USA (IHEA-USA) has awarded its 2018 Innovations in Technology Award to Powderhook. The award was announced last week at the annual international hunter educators conference held in Anchorage, Alaska.

Powderhook is at the lead of a national effort to recruit, retain, and reactivate new hunters and recreational shooters. The company’s digital technology, including a mentoring app and website, are designed to leverage technology to connect new hunters and shooters seeking knowledge with experienced sportsmen and women who have it.


The IHEA’s award recognizes “any individual, group or member of industry that exhibited outstanding support of the IHEA-USA and its mission by developing better ways of delivery of the hunter education program through technological advances,” according to the association.

Megan Wisecup, IHEA-USA Awards Committee Member, noted that while her agency is the portal that educates beginning hunters, offers them certification, and moves them into the ranks of the hunting community, efforts of Powderhook are critical to give beginning hunters the resources and information so that they can be successful, which is a leading barometer of continued activity in the outdoors.

“Hunter education is a crucial step in becoming a hunter, and Powderhook is focusing on creating opportunities for next steps that aren’t currently in place,” says Wisecup. “If we cannot keep people engaged at their peak interest in hunting, then we are failing to be the support system these students need.”

Hunter education courses train and certify more than 670,000 students annually. The programs utilize 57,000 instructors, many of whom are volunteers, who teach hunting and shooting safety and responsibilities throughout the United States.


Eric Dinger, CEO of Powderhook, said that receiving the award from the hunter education community is confirmation of the power of mentoring, but also evidence of the strength of maintaining consistent messages and support at every stage of the development of a hunter.

“It’s crucial for us to have a strong partnership with IHEA-USA because it’s in their certification courses where many people discover their hunting passion,” says Dinger. “Receiving this award from such a prominent group in the outdoor space and being recognized for all the work our small staff has been able to accomplish is truly an honor.”

About IHEA-USA:
IHEA-USA is the professional hunter education association affiliated with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the 50 state hunter education programs. Since 1949, almost 40 million students have completed hunter education courses that cover firearm safety, bowhunting, wildlife identification and management, field care of game, responsible hunting, and landowner relations. More information is available at ihea.com.

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McKean Minute: The Evolution of the American Sportsman

Earlier this summer, I had the great honor to deliver remarks at the Jack O’Connor Dinner in Lewiston, Idaho. It’s an annual homage to the Outdoor Life writer and shooting editor who defined for a generation what it meant to be an American sportsman. In the years after World War II, O’Connor hunted wild sheep on distant mountains, worked with manufacturers to perfect their products and introduce them to eager consumers, and maintained a cool, almost academic, distance from most of his audience.

My presentation featured Outdoor Life covers from the magazine’s founding in 1898 up through O’Connor’s tenure into the 1970s. Those classic cover images are a pretty good reflection of the evolution of the American sportsman over the last century, starting with romantic paintings of what was, in the years before America’s conservation movement, a vanishing world—sad-eyed Native Americans hunting and gathering and big-game animals posed in nostalgic landscapes. In the 1920s, Outdoor Life covers depicted a brand-new vocation: the outdoor professional, usually a manly Western big-game guide wresting a living from a wild world.

During the Depression era up through the early 1950s, cover images featured workaday hunters, relatable characters actually having fun outdoors pursuing the fish and wildlife that conservationists of a generation earlier had gifted them. The classic Outdoor Life covers of O’Connor’s era featured conflict: snarling bears charging unprepared hunters, wilderness pack trains threading through intimidating landscapes, and sportsmen on the brink of some sort of tragedy.

As I built my presentation, I was reminded not only how American sportsmen have changed with the times, but also how we portray ourselves.

This identity is still evolving. Think back to just a decade ago, and all the hero photos you’ve seen (and probably taken yourself)—the grinning hunter holding a buck’s rack, or the angler holding his catch out as far as he can toward the camera to make the fish look even bigger. Those photos feature the animal, sure, but they’re really about the person, as if to say, “Look at me! I’m a bad-ass sportsman, getting it done!”

Those photos are not about the place where the action happened, or about the experience that culminated in success, or even about the critter. They’re ultimately about ego, and a demonstration of our own capabilities. If this sounds like I’m throwing shade on my fellow sportsmen, you should know that I have entire albums full of photos of me in this very pose, showing off my prowess and my bounty.

If you’re reading this, then you have undoubtedly heard the trends. America is losing hunters at an alarming pace. As a population, we are aging, male, and homogeneously white. More than 2 million hunters have faded away in the past 7 years. In Michigan alone, 20,000 hunters stop hunting every single year, and they’re not being replaced.

This is more than the loss of an American architype, the sort that’s featured on magazine covers. The attrition of hunters means reduced citizen funding for wildlife conservation, public-land management, and participation in wholesome, sustainable outdoor recreation.

Many of us are rising to the challenge to not only slow the decline of hunters but to build our ranks with a new and energetic population of American sportsmen and women. We are committed to introducing new people to our field sports, to the rich American traditions of hunting, managing our public’s wildlife resources, gathering our own wild food, and building character-defining relationships with wild places.

In the past few years, as I’ve awakened to this challenge, I’ve noticed the photos in my album have changed, too. They’re less about the trophy—the big rack and giant fish—and more about the people I’m with, the place where we’ve had success, and the animals that enrich our experiences and fill our freezers.

This is a hunting pic.

I want you to think back to a century of Outdoor Life covers. Our predecessors have gone through eras of depletion, restoration, conquest over nature, and me-first consumption. Now we have entered the give-back era of the American sportsman. Take someone new hunting. Introduce your passion and love of the outdoors to a neighbor. Lead a group to improve a local marsh. Share your gear and your wild bounty.

Picture yourself on a magazine cover, posing with someone who doesn’t look like you, happily sharing a memorable day outdoors. That’s the necessary next stage in the evolution of our collective identity. The perpetuation of an American icon—the citizen sportsman—depends entirely on you.

(About the author: Andrew McKean is the former editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life. A longtime outdoor communicator, he is now an independent journalist and director of Powderhook. He lives in eastern Montana.)

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Why I Joined Powderhook

By Andrew McKean

Since I joined the Powderhook team a week ago, lots of friends and colleagues have asked me the same question: Why? What is an ink-stained wretch of an outdoor writer doing with a bunch of computer geeks half my age? And how can a high-tech start-up ever have the grit and blood to speak passionately to people who define themselves in terms of grit and blood?

The answer is both easy – the Powderhook team is small, scrappy, and composed entirely of avid hunters, anglers, and outdoors folks like me who are committed to welcoming more people to each of those activities – and it’s hard. Hard because media – communicating ideas and information that has defined my career – is so fractured and noisy these days that trying to build an audience and deliver information has never been more challenging.

This is the competitive edge of Powderhook: It’s not your typical media company, or content-delivery device.

It’s mainly an app – a digital community that you can engage with on your phone. If you do one thing today, download the Powderhook app and plug in to the community. The element of Powderhook that I’m most excited about is our digital mentoring program, which connects people who want to learn more about the outdoors with people who have a lifetime of knowledge to share. Want to know where to catch crappie this weekend? Ask the app. Someone (probably a local) will have an inside tip. Want to help someone trying to figure out whether to hunt deer with a 6.5 Creedmoor or a .338 Win. Mag.? Then communicate your perspective through the app. Want to find a place to camp next month? Ask the app.

Eric Dinger, Powderhook’s co-founder, created the brand out of his belief that everyone in the country should be able to enjoy a good day outdoors. All the tools in Powderhook’s kit exist to enable that goal, to inspire, educate, prepare, and celebrate current and future outdoorsmen. More specifically (and ambitiously), Powderhook aims to create 3 million hunters in the next 5 years; participants who buy guns and ammunition, purchase licenses, and fuel the economy that sustains the American system of citizen-sportsmen and public wildlife.

So far, so good. But where do I fit in?

The best way to answer that is to look back on my career. My first job out of college was editor of a little weekly newspaper in Wolf Point, Mont. I love newspapers for their ability to responsibly inform their communities, an obligation that I took seriously as a reporter and editor. As I climbed the ranks of journalism, I always considered my next post on the basis of nearby hunting and fishing opportunities. So it was probably natural that my next career was in magazines – specifically outdoors magazines.

For half a decade, I was the editor of Fishing & Hunting News, a mashup of newspaper and magazine. It was the hook-and-bullet bible for its subscribers. It came out every two weeks, told readers specifically where to fish and hunt anywhere and everywhere in the West. I’d probably still be its editor if it hadn’t gone out of business, a victim of the digital economy. Who needs a newsprint magazine when you can get that same information off the internet?

I moved on to a gig at Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, where part of my job was coordinating the hunter and bowhunter education program. I fell in love with the idea of minting new hunters through our classes, but I also surprised myself how much pride I took in being a public servant. Wearing FWP’s grizzly bear patch on my shoulder made me stand a little taller and has given me a lifetime of respect for the game wardens, wildlife biologists, and technicians who keep fish and wildlife in the field and available for our enjoyment.

Then it was back to magazines, this time at the only brand I ever wanted to work for: Outdoor Life. I started as Hunting Editor, but worked up to editor-in-chief, and in that gig oversaw a team of talented storytellers. That’s the magic of magazines, packaging cool stories in ways that transport readers – to the Pennsylvania whitetail woods, Colorado’s elk mountains, Montana’s trout streams, Africa’s lowveld. Great brands tell great stories across all sorts of campfires – the print of magazines, the screens of computers, the speaker of radios…

This is a long way of telling you that Powderhook is simply another way, a very modern way, to tell great and timeless stories. Some will be profiles of mentors who inspire. Some will be illustrated tutorials that show you how to do something cool and useful. Some will be come-along adventures that transport you outdoors, to the world of grit and blood.

Powderhook is a campfire. Come join us around it. Tell your story. Make a hunter.

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ANDREW MCKEAN JOINS POWDERHOOK, WILL LEAD HUNTER-ENGAGEMENT EFFORTS

Former Outdoor Life editor-in-chief and longtime outdoor communicator Andrew McKean has joined Powderhook as its brand director.

McKean will primarily be responsible for content across Powderhook’s multiple digital platforms, its website, and its hunter-recruitment app, available at Google Play and the App Store. The app is designed to serve as a digital mentoring tool, connecting experienced hunters and their knowledge with beginning hunters looking for guidance.

Powderhook is at the forefront of the movement to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters in America. The Lincoln-based company’s ambition, momentum, and potential to scale appeals to McKean, who has been a vocal advocate for lowering barriers to hunting participation.

“Connectivity is the key to creating and conserving hunters, which I’d argue is the most endangered population in America right now,” says McKean. “Powderhook’s ability to use technology to connect hunters with each other is a huge advantage in the effort to perpetuate the American tradition of citizen-hunters as the engine of wildlife management and conservation.

“I’m excited to take my background in creating and packaging content that speaks to a wide range of people, and use it to help ensure that hunters remain the best example of American values of self-reliance, respect for the land and its contents, sustainability, and community organizing. Look to Powderhook for a mix of stories of people who lead by example, but also informational and aspirational content to help beginning hunters, anglers, and people interested in the outdoors get on the right track.”

Powderhook exists to create and measure 3 million new hunters in the next 5 years by helping people, regardless of experience level, have a great day in the field. The company works with the nation’s leading hunting brands, organizations, and agencies to ensure that each can benefit from their role in increasing hunting participation.

“If a person alive today better personifies what Powderhook is about, I don’t know of them,” says Dinger. “Andrew’s clear-eyed storytelling talent has earned him a wide and trusting audience, but it’s his heart for our mission that truly sets him apart. Through our work together, we hope to welcome more people into the fight to ensure hunting thrives for generations to come.”

A Missouri native, McKean got his start in journalism as a newspaper reporter and editor across the West before freelancing for a number of national publications. He’s the former Rocky Mountain editor for Fishing & Hunting News and worked for Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks before joining Outdoor Life as its hunting editor. He served as Outdoor Life’s editor-in-chief for 6 years before leaving earlier this year; he continues to serve as the magazine’s editor-at-large. McKean is a longtime hunter and bowhunter education instructor, past president of the Montana chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, is a member of the Arachnid Sportsmen’s Society, and serves on the national board of the Mule Deer Foundation. He lives in eastern Montana with his spouse and three teenaged children.

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Deer Don’t Vote

I’ll say it again. Deer don’t vote.

Through pieces like the those linked below, Sierra Club is attempting to pit consumptive recreational users against non-consumptive users in what can only turn into a race to the bottom for conservation. Surely the author realizes the villain in her story, Vista Outdoor, is one of the largest funders of conservation in this country, right? Nearly $88 million last year, in fact. You could add up the entirety of the financial contributions to conservation made by ThuleDAKINE, and every other company listed by the author, plus throw in hero brands like Patagonia and CLIF Bar and you wouldn’t get close to Vista’s level of contribution. That’s not a knock on any one of those companies… it’s just a fact.

Let’s let REI and other conservation leaders know we prefer they not perpetuate a divide amongst people that love and care for wild places and animals. Rather, let’s continue to find ways to work toward getting more people out, more often. Some people hunt and some people don’t. Some people like guns and some people don’t. But, deer don’t vote. We’re stronger together.

Here are a couple of the articles to which I was referring:

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/don-t-want-your-outdoor-recreation-dollars-go-to-vista-outdoors-and-gun-manufacturers

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/are-your-outdoor-recreation-brands-supporting-nra-rei-mountain-equipment-co-op-boycott-vista-outdoors

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NWTF generates brand and product awareness with co-branded blind/chair giveaway

The National Wild Turkey Federation has ran several social media giveaways (Contests) over the last year, all with similar success. Their focus is to highlight co-branded product from their partners and generate awareness for NWTF and its sponsors. By running these contests throughout the year, they hope to engage with their audience as well as add potential members/customers to their email list and re-target the entrants for memberships and sales in the future.

The latest contest they ran was for a Thicket blind and Striker blind chair co-branded from ALPS Outdoorz. Total retail value for the package is around $250. The contest began on September 14 and ran until October 6.

Contest Analysis:

  • 436 organic entries from users
  • 1419 total entries
  • Extra entries from users following ALPS Outdoorz and NWTF on several social media channels
  • Total retail cost: $250
  • Cost per organic entry/email address: $0.57

To reach this number of users, the contest was shared through Powderhook’s weekly newsletter, Powderhook’s social media channels (including the Powderhook app), NWTF’s social media, as well as ALPS Outdoorz social media.

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Cabelas Hits the Timing Just Right with a Giveaway of their Getaway 4-Person Dome Tent

Cabelas does a fantastic job in engaging their audience with a Powderhook PRO Contest campaign that runs usually once a month.  Consistency is key in building an email list for a newsletter or re-targeting campaign to drive future sales. For this contest, they hoped to time their audience’s desire to go camping with a giveaway of their Getaway 4-person Dome Tent, as well as add potential members/customers to their email list and re-target the entrants for sales in the future. This contest also helped to raise product awareness for their entire line of camping gear. Cabelas excels at directing new email entrants to specific landing pages designed to draw potential customers farther into their funnel. All entrants to contests like this will quickly receive special offers and email links to landing pages that may fit their interests.

The retail value for the Cabelas Getaway 4-Person Dome Tent package was $149.99. The contest began on June 15, 2017 and ran until July 19 2017, right in the heart of camping season, which really speaks to the success of this contest.Contest Analysis:

  • 600 organic entries from users
  • 1283 total entries
  • Extra entries from users following Cabelas on Twitter, Liking Cabelas on Facebook, and visiting Cabelas’ custom camping landing page
  • Total retail cost: $149.99
  • Cost per organic entry/email address: $0.25 (at retail dollars)

To reach this number of users, the contest was shared through Powderhook’s weekly newsletter, Powderhook’s social media channels (including the Powderhook app), and Cabelas social media and current customer base.

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On Winning a SHIFT Award

On Friday night, Powderhook was awarded the 2017 SHIFT Award for Technology. It’s exciting to be recognized, and knowing what our team has gone through to deliver said technology, I think this award is something to be proud of.

SHIFT is a festival (conference) filled with conservation-minded thinkers and doers. While attending, I learned a lot, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to share some of the more prescient tidbits with you.

  1. The outdoor industry has what appears to be two completely separate “sides.” To put it bluntly, there seems to be the politically progressive version of conservation, led by brands like Patagonia and organizations like the Sierra Club, and the politically conservative version of conservation, led by brands like Bass Pro Shops and organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation. If my observation is true, I can’t even begin to describe to you how big of a waste this is. The SHIFT Festival was dominated by progressive-leaning people and organizations. That they chose Powderhook as an honoree tells me there is at least some appetite to work together more closely.

    The author participates in a panel discussing growing hunting among urban-dwelling participants.
  2. The two sides use almost the same language and want many of the same things. Common ground topics include our love of public land, our desire for healthy ecosystems, our need for clean air and water, and our enjoyment of and desire to conserve wild places for wild animals. Political hot-button topics such as climate change, global warming, herd management (population control), and guns rights divide us in avoidable ways. Can’t we stop focusing on these big political issues and start talking more about the stuff we can individually do something about? Conservation’s message is most compelling when it affects the places people recreate. Let’s start bridging the gap by focusing on local parks, green spaces, access programs, habitat projects, and experience-driven events.
  3. Progressive-leaning conservationists need to consider helping create an excise tax on the gear they use, like the conservative-leaning organizations helped create in the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. They need to find ways to fund local work without having to win ballot initiatives, and without relying on massive donors. And, they need to consider hunting and fishing access foundational to their view of a successful conservation project.
  4. Conservative-leaning conservation groups need to learn from progressive-leaning groups in how they include new people and ideas, value change, attract stakeholders in urban areas, and strategically diversify their constituencies. And, boy, could we learn how to tell our story from these groups. The new economy is about gaining and keeping people’s attention – to do that we need to connect with people on a more emotional, less “science-and-numbers-driven” story arc.
Former National Parks Director, Jon Jarvis, presenting his keynote “A Unified Vision for Conservation” at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, Wy.

The above slide was taken from a SHIFT keynote given by Jon Jarvis, former Director of the National Park Service. His presentation was entitled, “A Unified Vision for Conservation.” Mr. Jarvis has started an institute to teach his vision at the University of California at Berkeley. Do you notice what’s missing? I did, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Organizations and professionals from the fish and wildlife community, along with recreational users (hunters/anglers/hikers/climbers/campers, etc.) have a massive influence on conservation, yet they were nowhere to be found in this presentation. He called their absence, “an oversight.” Maybe that’s what it was, but this slide clearly says to me that conservative-leaning conservation organizations badly need to exit their echo chamber and get busy building bridges.

Photo credits: Powderhook

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Outdoor recruitment, retention, reactivation and access from the creators of Powderhook.com