Two Important Topics

You teenagers who have followed the Youth Hunter Essay Contest (YHEC) over the years know that the grand prize winners have enjoyed some super black bear hunts in Saskatchewan. The good news is that you could be one of those winners. Of course, to qualify, you must write and submit an essay. The bad news is that only one of you can win that grand prize. But, wait, even better news is that you can still win great prizes even if you don't win the grand prize.

As one of the judges for the contest, I have read hundreds of essays submitted over the years. From this background, I have identified some of the qualities of strong essays -- and of weak. Here are some pointers for writing a winning essay:

1. Pick a strong theme. This year's question is, "What values have you learned from bowhunting?" Try to pick a specific angle for answering this question. Maybe bowhunting has taught you how to be more patient, how to persevere in the face of hardship, how to prepare ahead of time, or how to hunt safely under all conditions. Maybe it has taught you lessons related to ethics, relationships, or obeying laws -- lessons that apply to all of life, not just bowhunting. Before you start writing, try to identify your theme. To do that, ask yourself, "What's the point of my story?" If you can't answer that question, you don't have a theme. Another tip is to give your essay a title of two or three words. If you cannot summarize the theme in a short title, you need to keep honing the theme until you can.

2. Draw on personal experiences. To put it another way, write your essay in concrete terms, not abstract. For example, you could write: "Sitting all day on stand in the cold wind and snow really teaches a person the value of perseverance. When a deer finally comes within range, the bowhunter knows it was worth all the suffering." That may be true, but anyone could write that -- even if they've never suffered on a cold stand. Much stronger would be to write: "As the freezing wind ripped through my heavy coat and plastered snow against my face, I could hardly make myself stay on stand. But then I saw those antlers coming my way, and I forgot all about the bitter cold. My perseverance was paying off -- big time!"

3. Organize your thoughts. Lay out the points of your essay so they progress in a logical, fluid order. Rewrite and revise your essay until your thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next.

4. Check grammar and spelling. Every computer has spelling and grammar checkers. Use these functions to polish your essay. And ask a parent or school English teacher to proofread your essay. Yes, you must write the essay yourself, but no law says you can't seek input. In judging, we place more emphasis on point Nos. 1, 2, and 3, than we do on No. 4, but without question, misspelled words and poor grammar color our judgments -- negatively. This is the easiest part to get right, so make sure your spelling and grammar are flawless.

Our formal "Writer's Guidelines" contain information that anyone wanting to write for Bowhunter Magazine might find helpful. Contact our main office at 6385 Flank Drive, Suite 800, Harrisburg, PA 17112, or Editorial Assistant Sally Burkey will be happy to e-mail or mail you copies of our "Writer's Guidelines" and "Photographer's Guidelines."

We frequently receive letters from readers who have suffered injuries or health problems that threaten their ability to bowhunt. Here is a recent example:

"I have a friend who has been a quadriplegic for the last 12 years. He was an avid hunter before his accident, and I would like to find a way to get him hunting again. I need help in acquiring modified equipment that he needs to hunt again. Any advice you have for obtaining this type of equipment would be greatly appreciated." -- CF, via e-mail

Our best advice is to contact the PCBA -- Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America. This organization's major goal is to help people with disabilities enjoy a full hunting experience, and the PCBA has done remarkable work in helping people adapt, regardless of their challenges. For information on the PCBA, visit

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