January 24, 2024
In a way, outdoor industry trade shows are usually about looking ahead and not behind.
There are a myriad of new products, there are new business relationships, and there's a new year at hand in the case of the January appearances of the Archery Trade Association's ATA Show, and a week later, the SHOT Show.
But last week, as the 26th edition of the ATA Show unfolded at America's Center convention plaza in downtown St. Louis for the first time ever, it was really hard for two men with a lot of ATA Show visits on their career resumes to avoid a look back, as well as a look ahead.
As the week has unfolded on the show floor only a few blocks from St. Louis' famed Gateway Arch along the banks of the Mississippi River, it was something of a changing of the guard moment for longtime Bowhunter editor Curt Wells who now follows the path of his mentor, the late Dwight Schuh, and moves into an Editor-at-Large roll as well as the continued face of "Bowhunter TV" on Outdoor Channel and My Outdoor TV (MOTV).
It has also been a changing of the guard moment for new Bowhunter Editor-in-Chief Christian Berg, who is making the move from the same position at Petersen's Bowhunting as Outdoor Sportsman Group consolidates the two magazine brands into a single powerhouse bowhunting platform for the years ahead.
As an interested bystander for this moment of change, it was easy to see each of the two men adjusting to their new roles as they attended presentations, stood in exhibitor's booths to get the inside info on new products, and figured out the new landscape they find themselves in as 2024 begins to unfold.
For Wells, who attended his first ATA Show in 2000 and has now been to 24 of them, he still enjoys the show's hectic pace of discovery, but also knows that the event has changed along with the venue.
When he first started attending the show, Wells and most others saw the show as something of a launching pad for what's new, what's innovative, and what's surprising in twists that few saw coming.
Are those days gone now?
"I think so," said Wells. "With the advent of social media and the overarching desire to “be first,” I think few companies are relying on the show to debut products. They still want to showcase those products to attendees, but social media pretty much eliminates surprises."
That trend can be seen in magazine production as in the past, a world record caliber or record book-shattering big game animal might have been able to be kept under wraps until it was the cover shot and story for a magazine edition a couple of months down the road. Now, news of such earth-moving whitetails and big game critters has often gone viral hours, if not minutes, after the bow shot is released.
But change is often inevitable, and something to be embraced as new challenges come, and not something to be feared. And that's the tact that new Bowhunter editor Christian Berg is taking as he moved about the show floor and filmed product introduction videos and contemplated the first few editions that he will be tasked with putting together for subscribers, newsstand readers, and industry reps.
And as he usually is when there's a big story or a big hunt lying ahead, Berg is anticipating the exciting opportunity that is his as he joins Wells, Schuh, and Bowhunter Magazine founder M.R. James as the only four editors the bowhunting world's leading magazine has had in its five plus decades of existence.
"It's definitely a great opportunity and an honor," said Berg. "And, I'm really looking forward to taking some of the best that we did at Petersen's Bowhunting and sprinkling that in to what is already a really fantastic package at Bowhunter Magazine."
For faithful readers of Bowhunter, Berg says there might be a tweak or two, but no wholesale changes coming to a brand that has worked and worked and worked for years.
“If you’re looking for major changes, you’re not going to see it,” he said. “I don’t want to blow up a brand that’s been around for over 50 years and has a really storied heritage. Bowhunter has always done a great job of capturing the spirit of the hunt and sharing incredible adventures from around the world from bowhunters, a lot of whom aren’t professional writers or professional hunters, but just regular bowhunters who share the same passion that we do here. And we’re not going to change that.”
There will be tweaks here and there, of course, as the two brands combine into one going forward, and that will very possibly include more gear and technical stories and columns moving ahead.
“Petersen’s has always been a little more gear focused and maybe a little more tactically focused and strategically focused, so we’re going to bring a little of that over to Bowhunter. But I don’t want to water down the essence of what Bowhunter has done because it’s a great heritage and I want to honor everything that’s been done in the past. Hopefully we can deliver a really compelling and robust package of content that’s going to serve the bowhunting community as a whole.”
Berg knows that he’s joining a select group with the names of Wells, Schuh and James carving out an editorial path before him. And he doesn’t take lightly the task that he’s been given.
“Honestly, it’s humbling,” he said. “Every single one of those other folks is an icon in this industry. And I feel like that’s something that will motivate me to every day be worthy of that (legacy) and live up to that (standard), and work not just for myself, but on behalf of fellow bowhunters (and readers), to uphold that standard that has been set.”
While Berg will now occupy the command seat on the deck of the Bowhunter version of the USS Enterprise, like the legendary figure of Captain Kirk, he won’t have to go it alone because he’ll have the former Capt. Of the Bowhunter starship helping him out.
In other words, don’t expect to see Wells hit the retirement sidelines anytime soon. In addition to the TV duties that he’ll continue to have going forward, his role as the magazine’s Editor-at-Large will keep him close at hand with his thumb on the pulse of the bowhunting world.
“I will still be involved with the magazine, helping steer it into the future,” said Wells, “But I won’t be handling the day-to-day work and meeting deadlines like I have for the past 14 years. The good news is I get to keep doing the fun part of the job as host of Bowhunter TV. That means I can concentrate on arranging more “business trips” to wild places. Seems like a pretty good arrangement to me!”
Even so, Wells knows that there are challenges ahead there too to keep pushing the highly successful "Bowhunter TV" show forward too. And after a rough fall, he feels like something good is bound to happen soon because he’s apparently used up all of his misfortune for a good while.
Or at least he hopes so.
“My fall was very strange,” he said. “I enjoyed some great hunting experiences and locations, and hunted as hard as ever, but was never rewarded with a single opportunity. I never even hooked my release to the D-Loop in preparation for a shot. I can only hope I was involuntarily saving my good fortune for something special in the future.”
That something special might involve some bowhunting luck going forward for Wells, and Berg too, who hopes to be out in the field and in front of the camera a few times himself in the coming year.
But they both know that it will include their dual roles at the most iconic bowhunting publication of all time, one that is now even bigger and better as the magic of Petersen’s Bowhunting gets sprinkled in too.
Best of all, it’s the readers who will get the best chance to experience some Bowhunter magic moving forward, each time a new issue hits the newsstand and/or their mailboxes.
After a half-century of Bowhunter excellence, there’s still plenty more to come. And that sure seemed apparent last week a few blocks from the Mississippi River as yet another ATA Show rolled on by.