Jeana Schuurman, Managing Director of the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society
Earlier this month I was working on a flyer for elected officials who would be attending our annual general meeting. It was a simple two-sided document, the first side sharing information about the outfitting industry and the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society (APOS), and the second side raising awareness about our key issues and government requests.
When I received the first draft of the flyer back from the designer, something about it did not sit right with me… it felt off. The text was fine, and the design was top-notch. I started imagining myself as a busy politician, running from event to event. The issue suddenly seemed so obvious: it was the pictures that were the problem.
The Alberta Professional Outfitters Society (APOS) has used exclusively live animal photos for our communications since before I started in 2018. It was an approach I had inherited, but also had not taken any time to think critically about. The lack of harvested animal photos kept our website peaceful and palatable to the average non-hunter stumbling upon our various communications, but also barred meaningful engagement with our audiences, including (regrettably) potential hunting clients to the province.
Looking at the flyer, I was immediately struck by the realization that we had been going about it all wrong. Nothing about the flyer gave an immediate sense of who we are and what we do as an outfitting industry. It almost seemed like we had overcorrected to avoid public criticism, and hidden ourselves away, using only live animals and cheesy staged hunters, leaving viewers to put two-and-two together.
As a hunting and conservation organization, we have a choice on where to position ourselves in relation to potential criticism. We can “go underground” to try to avoid upsetting people in the hopes that we will somehow grasp some elusive “social license”, or we can be real about what we do: we offer guided hunting services, and a harvested animal is often a part of that.
I do not think these recent years of “going underground” have served us in any way. As a leader in our field, we should be upfront about the realities of the industry, using quality, respectful photos in a way that points to a larger narrative. A hunt is not just about the animal – there is also the honing of skills, the dreams and anticipations, the physical challenges, the joys and disappointments, the camaraderie, the time in nature, and so on. The photos matter but they are only a part of the story. As a non-hunter myself, this concept resonates with me much more than our current approach.
Over the next 12 months, you will see our communications shift gears. Plans are currently underway right now at APOS to dip our toes into the realm of social media, starting with an Instagram account. We will keep some of the live animal photos currently in use but do a better job of celebrating the amazing experiences our clients have when they come here.
Through this approach, I hope we will relate to potential hunters and the broader public in a way that is authentic and transparent. Our communications should not leave non-hunters guessing about who we are. I can almost bet that we have gained zero social licenses by hiding the harvest part of hunting – if anything, we have voluntarily moved the goalposts on ourselves, suggesting that there are no harvest photos good enough for the eyes of a non-hunting public.
I plucked the worst and cheesiest photo offenders from our website back in 2018, but there is much work yet to be done. APOS members who are reading this article, you are welcome (and encouraged) to share your photos with our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. To rebuild our public narrative more accurately, I will be looking for the “full story” to be told in your photos, live animals and scenery are portions of that, but respectful, well-done photos of your hunters with their harvests are also important.
From the Summer 2022 issue of Guidefitter Journal.