Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Outdoorsy, Short And About What One Might Think For Montana Outdoors!

The Good: Good photography, Environmentally respectful, No advertisements!
The Bad: SHORT!, Nothing particularly essential, Information is fairly common.
The Basics: A good magazine for those who like the outdoors and like shooting the animals there, Montana Outdoors is respectful of the environment and informative!

For several years now, I’ve had a fascination with Montana. There’s something about the state that I’ve been attracted to for a long time and I think it was about the time I stopped wanting to pursue a career as a marine biologist that I decided Montana might be the state for me. It still might be. I’m a Northern liberal living in a rural part of Upstate New York and Montana is one of the more independent states in the Union and I can respect that. Montana is alluded to heavily in my second novel, Living In The Wakes, as the site of a nefarious scientific community and I’ve often vowed that the implicit sequel Midnight In Montana will come off the backburner if I ever have a chance to visit the state for about a month. The next best thing to being there, of course, is doing research on the state and part of my research came in picking up Montana Outdoors magazine.

Montana Outdoors is a somewhat obvious magazine and it seems either like it is happy to uphold the stereotypes one might have about the fine state of Montana or else it is targeted entirely to the niche audience who fits that stereotype to a t. The magazine explores the rugged side of Montana with a very manly outlook, including hunting, fishing and eating things you kill yourself in the wilds of Montana. It’s all very exciting and filled with pictures of men wearing flannel and is wonderfully devoid of advertisements!

Montana Outdoors is published every two months and is a glossy, full-color magazine with only forty-two pages. The closest to advertisements the magazine has is a book review section (not like advertisements at all) and a list of back issues with their contents. As a result, the $2.50 cover price is actually a fairly good value and readers are likely to feel like they are getting the most out of the magazine as a result. The photography is mostly centered around wild animals – wolves, bison, bears and the like – caught in the outdoors of Montana. Most readers will find the pictures to be astonishingly vivid and the layout is very professional and the magazine looks good.

Like most magazines, Montana Outdoors is split between regular departments and features. The departments in this State-sponsored magazine include a typical Letters column, an editorial, a monthly factoid and update on the outdoorsperson lifestyle in Montana, three different photographs, a recommended reading section and an index of Montana Outdoors back issues. The latter two departments are exactly what they sound like: lists of magazines and books with very short “blurbs” on each magazine or book that is likely to appeal to the readers of Montana Outdoors magazine. The photographs are featured pictures by staff members or sent in by readers that feature either the natural wonder of the state of Montana or the wildlife there. The pictures are big, vivid and will appeal to people who love the outdoors. Honestly, though, some look like they could be stock images the way they capture the archetypal bear or flyfisherman in the stream!

The other columns are hit or miss. In the November-December 2009 issue, the Editorial was an interesting argument that hunting the wolves to keep the populations at bay and migrating away from residential areas represents good conservation. While I’m not sure how I feel about the issue, the editorial was presented in a straightforward, seemingly factual way with a decent respect for the rules of debate, so I appreciated that. The current events update – each issues’s “Outdoors Report” is a far less worthwhile column as it either continues letters to the editor (like a reader’s input on what to do with tough venison which was brought up in a prior issue), presents self-congratulatory notes (i.e. announces what awards the magazine is currently winning) and celebrating contest winners in Montana that readers might appreciate (I was indifferent). Considering it is only two pages of “wasted” space, this is not the death knell of the magazine.

The features, though, are where Montana Outdoors truly earns its coverprice. Articles are primarily about hunting in Montana and here I was surprised by how respectful the publication is to environmental needs and conditions, as well as fostering a positive relationship with governments. Remember how in the 1990s, all the “freedom-loving” militias were waiting out in Montana to spring upon the government if it ever became overbearing? Well, they’ve come a long way as one feature points out how hunters interacting with phone banks from the government Fish & Wildlife Management Office work together to help establish and respect the limits for yearly game animal “harvests.” The magazine illustrates how hunters and government agencies may work together to better preserve the environment and the animal populations.

Other articles include features on the impact of hunting in Montana as well as cultural values pertaining to it. So, for example, an article on bison hunting explores the differences in attitudes between 1980 reactions to bison hunting with reactions now. Similarly, the magazine fearlessly explores a game processing meat locker and readers are likely to be interested in just what happens when they contract out for their processing of game kills. As a citydweller, it pretty much freaked me out (I like the food after it’s cooked and in a sauce!). Articles tend to be on exactly what one would expect: the animal populations in Montana and how hunters interact with them. There’s no strange code to understanding this very short magazine, it is very direct.

Unfortunately, it’s also not something that seems in any way indispensible. The issues contain a lot of information that it seems like a good wildlife website, like the Montana Fish & Wildlife Management website might actually be able to post without killing trees for. The result is a magazine that is mildly informative with great photography, which seems somewhat unnecessary, but is not unenjoyable. Anyone who wants to peek into the world of flannel, guns and dead animals without feeling like they are betraying their environmentalist tendencies (or like they might be shot for not wearing a bright orange vest) will find “Montana Outdoors” to be a surprisingly informative and respectful way to go about such enlightenment!

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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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