"I had everything in my own little world all figured out. Or so I thought."
As a young bowhunter, I remember buying and reading every bowhunting magazine on the rack, but Bowhunter Magazine was always my favorite. All the magazines had great writers; I just seemed to connect best with the articles in Bowhunter. I was just a kid, but to me it was the biggest, best, and most legit magazine out there.
This 1994 blacktail helped launch my writing career. Note the "M.R. James" bandana.
Furthermore, in the same way kids today are enamored with professional athletes, I looked up to my "hunting idols." They were larger than life to me. In my dark living room back in the late 80's, the TV flickered and emitted sounds of screaming bull elk as I watched my grainy "Elk Fever" VHS tape so many times that I could recite virtually every line Dwight Schuh and Larry D. Jones spoke.
I recall vividly the pine-cones-in-the-boot prank, as well as all the incredible bowhunting action. I bought green wool gloves like Dwight's, and fletched my arrows with red and white vanes just as he did. I wore camo facepaint with white and grey colors mixed in like Larry, and I have always submitted my hunting articles with my middle initial in the byline, just as Larry did.
Back then M.R. James ran the magazine I loved so much, and to a kid who bled bowhunting, he too was an influencing figure. I even wore a bandana around my neck when bowhunting during those early years, just as I'd seen M.R. do in many magazine articles.
My infatuation wasn't limited to just my Bowhunter Magazine idols. With my first few kills, I didn't smile at all, trying to emulate Myles Keller. Of course, Chuck Adams was the bowhunting king, and I took great pride in the fact that he grew up hunting blacktails, just as I did.
For hometown heroes, the late Billy Cruise, founder of Oregon Bow, and an elk-hunting legend in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, was God-like to me. In my early years, Billy's amazing stories of his backcountry success in the same wilderness and exact same drainages I bowhunted for big bulls inspired me to be tougher and to endure more than I ever would have otherwise. I started shooting an Oregon Bow because of him, and I will never forget my first advertisement for Oregon Bow. The passion I had for bowhunting governed my life in those days. Little has changed.
I wrote my first hunting article back in 1989. Short on writing talent but long on desire, I wanted to be a hunting writer more than anything in life at that time. I told my buddies, "I'm pretty sure I could write just as well as some of the guys getting published in hunting magazines. And I'll bet, all things being equal, I could hunt just as well, too."
I had everything in my own little world all figured out. Or so I thought.
Logically, the best first step to launching my writing career was to get an article published in the very best bowhunting magazine in the world -- Bowhunter. So, after having a good season back in 1994, which included arrowing two Pope and Young blacktail bucks, I put a manuscript package together and sent it off to M.R. James. My first Bowhunter feature€¦ I was excited.
A few weeks after sending my article to M.R., I started calling home every day from work, asking my wife, Tracey, if anything came in the mail from Bowhunter. Day after day I got the same response from her: "Nope, Cam, nothing today."
Then, one day a couple months later, it finally happened. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Heading upstairs to the lunchroom for my afternoon break, I dialed home.
Tracey answered the phone and said, "You got something from Bowhunter."
With butterflies in my stomach, I told her to open it. I heard ripping and tearing, the phone banging around, and then Tracey saying, "You got a letter and some other stuff from somebody named M.R. James. I will read it€¦"
"Dear Cameron, Thanks for sending me your 'Bonus Bucks' manuscript. Congratulations on taking a couple of fine bowhunting trophies. I'm returning your article along with an invitation to rewrite and resubmit it€¦"
A full page of great advice followed this, and the letter ultimately concluded with these sentences:
"Rewrite your article and try us again. You do have the makings of a good deer article but it is going to take some effort to get this ready for publication in Bowhunter. Good luck and give a shout if you need some specific editorial advice. Sincerely, M.R. James"
Well, after Tracey read me the second sentence, I knew where the letter was headed. I was crushed. Since killing my first deer at age 15 and writing a story about it in English class, I had held the dream of being an outdoor writer. Now my dreams were shattered.
Rewrite and resubmit? I didn't want to rewrite anything. I had worked very hard on that article, poured my heart and soul into it, and knew every single word was just right.
With an "I'll show you" attitude, I bitterly sent the article, unchanged, to a local hunting magazine, which published it and sent me a big fat check for $25.
Truth is, that was about $25 more than the article was worth. My article was nothing more than a hunting story about a guy who got lucky and killed two good bucks. It didn't teach the reader anything, and it didn't offer any powerful insights or share any poignant lessons. While at the time I was angry and frustrated, M.R. was right -- my article wasn't up to Bowhunter Magazine standards. However, this sour disappointment was necessary to my development as a writer. I took a chance and was faced with an opportunity. Get better and grow, or throw in the towel. I chose to keep fighting.
It took me 15 years to finally earn a few pages in Bowhunter. Fifteen long, hard years before a feature, "Bleed," which ran in the September 2009 issue, with the byline Cameron R. Hanes, was listed in the table of contents. During that decade-and-a-half I've written hundreds of magazine articles, two books, served as editor of a bowhunting magazine for 10 years, honed my bowhunting and writing skills, worked my hardest to raise three kids as best I can -- all with the unwavering support of my wife, Tracey. And now, coming full circle on this odyssey, I have been blessed with the chance to write a regular column for my favorite bowhunting magazine.
Bowhunting has made me who I am today. When I think bowhunting, I think of hiking up faint pack trails in the wilderness that lead me to lonely, rugged mountains. Nothing about the backcountry hunts I love is easy. In
my world, bowhunting will make you want to cry at times, have you dripping with sweat more often than not, and will probably require you to bleed a little for success.
The words in this column will reflect a mindset I think I borrowed from famous 19th Century German philosopher Nietzsche, who famously said, "Write with blood." In Bleed I will figuratively and passionately write with blood, just as in training or in the bowhunting mountains where I've had to spill some blood while chasing success.
Hopefully, my writings will make even M.R. James proud.
Keep hunting hard.