Petersen's Hunting

I generally try not to kill things. I know, I know -- li'l hypocritical Larry, always respecting the life around him until he gets one of his thrice-weekly jones for a big honkin' cheeseburger. But really: I try not to kill people, animals or plants without a solid, defensible-in-court reason. I'm a lot like Gandhi that way.

At the same time, I don't judge those who do. Frankly, I gave up on the rest of humanity once it became clear that we're less interested in living well and sustaining the planet than we are in getting Flavor Flav laid. So I walked into today's romp through Petersen's Hunting with exactly zero preconceived notions and/or agendas, except twin desires to avoid getting strafed and resorting to Cheney jokes.

As has been stated roughly 3746364536374 times before in this space, I'm a fan of enthusiast titles. In this not-nice magazine climate -- think the Bataan Death March, but with more suggestions for the "perfect weekend" -- enthusiast mags alone inspire the loyalty that used to be enjoyed by both generalist and niche titles. People tend to pay more attention to stuff that is focused, Hubble Telescope-like, on their core interests. That's plain old common sense.

Petersen's Hunting gets this. If you like to hang out in the woods and neutralize Little Rabbit Foo Foo before he scoops up all the field mice and bops them on the head, you will like this magazine very, very much. If you're less ammunitionally inclined, you won't. It's that darn simple.

Still, with a few tweaks Petersen's Hunting could do a much better job of serving its armed-to-the-teeth readers. Given the mag's overarching subject -- the great outdoors, in all its critter-vaporizing glory -- you'd think that it would push the envelope a bit with its photography. Instead, we're mostly treated to shots the size of post-it notes and generic wildlife poses (er, as much as soon-to-be-exterminated deer can pose, that is). The text-intensive layouts don't exactly enliven the reading experience, either.

Petersen's Hunting would also be advised to shake hands with the devil: specifically, to hire a liberal-arts major and charge him/her with overhauling its captions and headlines. There's gotta be some kid out there who wants the gig, either a words-first person who enjoys hunting or a gal who has so many student loans that she's drawn to the job out of sheer desperation.

The mag's headlines lack imagination ("Federal Land Whitetails," "Pure Adventure") and the captions more often confuse than tantalize ("trails like this can carry you along the spine of the high country old mule deer bucks prefer. But you need to get up there in the dark if you are to find them"). Similarly, while the writers gamely attempt to spruce up their prose (one story begins with the English 101 flourish, "After my shot, the woods would sigh"), all too often they trip over their literary intentions. The editors could use another pair of eyes, basically.

From a subject-matter perspective, the October Petersen's Hunting fares much better. Rather than devote excessive space to the war stories that usually fill publications of this ilk ("so I've got Bambi's mom in the crosshairs, when all of a sudden it hits me: I totally left the oven on!"), the mag covers a lot of ground. The front-of-book "Outfitter" section recommends a few Virginia forests and calls for coyote control; other smaller items include an oddly nostalgic look at lever-action rifles and a genuinely intriguing examination on the effect that a U.S./Mexico border fence might have on wildlife.

The feature on modern mule deer hunting, despite its unfortunate "Monster Mulies" cover tease, nicely envelops the topic at hand, noting where such creatures can be found in an enormously detailed map. Elsewhere, the issue recollects a hunting trek through New Zealand, reviews a handful of field boots ("rubber knee boots ain't just for the wet anymore" -- I hear you loud and clear, sister) and suggests that would-be ace deer hunters practice their craft on squirrels. Then there are the tips for waterfowling, which double as a NYC dating primer: "dress in all black," "take concealment seriously" and "mix up your decoy species."

So yeah, if I were a hunter -- and I'm not, because arms are for hugging and lifting adorable baby kittens and dribbling basketballs! Yay! -- I'd devour this magazine. And if I were a marketer of products that appeal to this demographic (trucks, outdoor wear, etc.), I'd direct more than a few advertising dollars here. There are only so many chances you get to hawk your wares to the true believers; Peterson's Hunting would seem to be one of the few venues where advertisers can count on a high level of reader engagement, and all the purchase-y goodness that comes with it.

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