Mac Minard: 'People Want to Hunt, Safely'

Leader backs New Deal-Era works program for outfitters
May 5, 2020
Mac Minard Mac Minard

Mac Minard is the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association. This group has taken a leading role in rallying many Western outfitter and guide associations to focus on national and state legislatures and regulatory agencies to get assistance for members. Also, Minard has been a supporter of assisting all outfitters and guides regardless of whether they’re members of the group or not. Although there’s concern all around keeping businesses viable, he also sees confidence in hunters who want to visit Montana and want to stay safe while hunting here. Minard pointed to strong license applications and sales. In fact, Montana set a one-day record when the state recorded 16,000 transactions in one day. We interviewed Minard in April 2020.
—John Geiger, The Guidefitter Journal editor.

GUIDEFITTER JOURNAL: What is the foremost concern of your members as of right now?

MAC MINARD: Their foremost concern is whether they will be viable a year from now. Is my business going to still be standing? When we looked back to early March, many members were looking ahead to one of their best seasons on record. They were running strong businesses, and in just a few weeks, there is uncertainty and fear as a consequence of the pandemic and the steps taken to control it.

GFJ: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

MM: Yes, for the outfitting industry in our state and many other states, the travel restrictions and quarantines are the things that are the biggest problem to our members’ businesses. We don’t purport to be subject-matter experts in the areas of infectious diseases, we listen to the health experts and our elected officials, but the sooner those restrictions are lifted the better in terms of our businesses. And the public has confidence. For example, non-resident big-game license sales were lagging by 43% in March. But on March 30, the department documented 16,000 transactions in one day. That’s a record, and there were more applicants than licenses to give out. That shows our outfitted public has confidence in the future. Now, spring and early summer businesses, like rafting nationwide, will be one of the hardest hit. Hunting outfitters might have it easier because of the distance, the time, from today until when people will actually be arriving for their hunts. We are not seeing a lot of cancellations in the hunting segment, but we are seeing confidence. People want to come here, they want to do it correctly, safely, and they definitely want to hunt.

GFJ: What can an association do that individuals cannot during a time like this pandemic?

  • We created a comprehensive suite of tools, a toolbox of relevant items outfitters and guides needed at that time. There were templates for letters to clients, conversations with their banker, a checklist of 50 areas to trim expenses to reduce cashflow. A very comprehensive set of tools that were tapered to the outfitting industry.
  • We sent out comprehensive training materials and a review of all PPP and EIDL details. We’re proud to say we had that information into the hands of our outfitters at the very start. We also hired an industry expert to be on call to any outfitter and guide regarding getting apps filled out and getting questions answered. We made that available to all other Montana outfitters and guides regardless of their affiliation with MOGA.
  • We also wrote a disaster declaration that allowed the three members of our Executive Committee to make decisions on behalf of the board so we could be much more timely and effective.
  • We’ve also been influencing policy by working with federal, state and local agencies. We’re proud to say we’ve just opened outfitting business in Montana after working with the governor and putting in place best practices so that all customers, outfitters, guides and their communities will be safe and able to operate businesses. We were also able to change the regulation that black bear and turkey seasons were closed. We’re very pleased about that. And there has been other policy-related activities focused on the outfitting industry as a whole. I don’t just represent hunting and fishing, but also rafting, backcountry hiking and horse outfitting industries.
  • Right now, we’re working on a Trail and Noxious Weed Control Stimulus Package, a national act that would provide $300 million in federal money to licensed outfitters who are permitted on Forest Service lands. They would have the option of working to improve the federal lands and be paid for their work. It’s modeled on the Depression-era WPA projects, and we’re taking the lead on this national initiative. We want to help outfitters and guides get off of unemployment and into a paying job that help all Americans. Montana may be the second-most significantly hit state after Hawaii regarding unemployment because outfitter tourism is such a big part of our economy.

Those are a few of the things we’ve done, but there is no shortage of projects to do. We’ve had to tighten our belts at MOGA, reduce staff to bare minimum, cut back on pay, and let go of contractors to reduce costs and be as lean as possible. We need to be ready for the upcoming legislative session in September.

GFJ: We’ve noticed more people enjoying the outdoors, and more people fishing and spring turkey hunting where we live (while distancing). Will we see a renewed interest in the outdoors when this is all over?

MM: I hope so. The self-quarantine has offered a lot of healthier lifestyle choices for families, and many, like mine, are making traditional choices, like doing projects together, puzzles, reading and getting outdoors. Hunting and fishing are great way to get out and enjoy nature as a family.

GFJ: Are your members finding success applying for federal and state assistance loans and grants? Which programs are most effective for your members?

MM: The PPP and EIDL programs are the lion’s share of the help they are getting. Probably better than any other association, we gave them exactly the service they needed at the get-go. But it’s still frustrating for them and us. PPP is a form of unemployment, a substitute for an unemployment check, but it does nothing to fuel the engine of business. It doesn’t give anything to benefit the businesses and industry itself. That’s why the Trail Stimulus package is so important.

GFJ: Any thoughts about other long-term effects of this pandemic on the outdoor world in general or outfitters in particular?

MM: This too shall pass. So much will depend on what we learn in the next six months about COVID-19. There was so much we did not know. Long term impacts won’t be different than other pandemics that we experienced and most Americans didn’t even know we were having. The economic impact is paramount, and I don’t want to sound callous, but I am concerned for Montanans and fellow citizens. But I think about the hundreds of thousands we have sent into battle to save our nation in the past. It’s not appropriate to put those sacrifices aside and drive the country into depression that we cannot recover from. We need to find ways to get our industry back to work and serving other Americans.


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