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Columnists : Frank Addington : Straight Talk - Interviews
Last Updated: Feb 22nd, 2007 - 18:37:03

M.R. James
By Frank Addington Jr.
Aug 11, 2006, 10:10

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M.R. James is one of those legends of bowhunting that has had a front row seat to where the action is.  He has promoted our great sport and was one of those pioneers in the sport as one of the founders of Bowhunter Magazine.   Now as M.R. prepares to retire, he has stepped into a leadership role with Pope & Young.

FA:  M.R., give us a brief snapshot of your life growing up…

Born and raised in Wabash County, Illinois, I was the youngest child and only son of parents who'd moved to the Midwest from Kansas during the oil boom years of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Both of my older sisters married farmers before I was in grade school. My two nephews were only slightly younger than me and more like my brothers. We fished and hunted together ( squirrels, cottontails, quail, waterfowl, and varmints), but there were no whitetail deer in the area back then so all my early hunting was done with a .22 or 12 gauge. I was 15 before I saw my first whitetail in my home county. I played a lot of baseball and basketball while a teenager, ran a trapline each winter, and hunted all I could. I made crude bows and arrows while still in grade school, and I bought my first real bow with chore money when I was 11 or 12. But I didn't get serious about archery until I was in college.

FA:  What motivated you to try archery/bowhunting? When was this?

A high school friend of mine, Rudy Kight, got involved in NFAA archery, and I would go shoot with him at the local target range. We later hunted deer together in the Shawnee National Forest about 75 miles to the south in Pope County. It didn't take long to get hooked on bowhunting Illinois whitetails. I later attended college in Indiana and shot my first deer, a P&Y buck, in November of 1963. I was a college junior then and still shot field archery tournaments each spring and summer. Two years later I traveled to Colorado and arrowed my first muley buck. That did it! I was addicted.

FA:  What is your background journalism wise?  

I wrote for my high school and college newspapers, always getting a lot of encouragement from my teachers. I worked part-time for an Indiana daily while in college, and accepted a job as sports editor/city editor after graduating. I also did some feature writing and tried my hand writing short stories (fiction) and magazine articles. I actually sold some Westerns and murder mysteries while still a teenage college student. In '66, I became an industrial editor for Whirlpool Corporation in Evansville, Indiana, putting out a weekly newspaper for employees. A year later I was transferred to Whirlpool's LaPorte Division near South Bend. And soon I'd accepted a similar job at The Magnavox Company in Fort Wayne, handling all internal communications (the company newspaper, magazine, bulletins, etc.). I continued to write a sell a lot of freelance material while I worked at Magnavox, and it was there that I started Bowhunter magazine in 1971. Incidentally, my bachelors and masters degrees are in English, not journalism.

FA:  Which came first for you, the typewriter or the bow?

That's kind of a trick question. As I already mentioned, I fooled around with homemade bows and arrows while still a grade school kid, long before I learned to type. But I always printed my stories by hand starting just after I learned my letters. I didn't master a typewriter until high school, but actually I was using paper and pencils before bows and arrows.

FA:  When did the idea occur to you to start Bowhunter magazine?

Several co-workers and I started an archery/bowhunting club for Magnavox company employees in Fort Wayne in 1970. I'd written articles for Archery, Archery World, Bow & Arrow, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fur-Fish-Game, and other hunting magazines starting in the mid-1960s. The thing was none of these publications was 100% devoted to bowhunting, and that was what really interested us. We started talking about how nice it would be to have an all-bowhunting magazine. Since none existed, we decided to start our own in '71, I was Communications Manager at Magnavox where I  met fellow Indiana bowhunters and future partners, Don Clark, Bob Schisler, and Steve Doucette. Don and Bob were Magnavox engineers and Steve a graphics artist who helped me put out our company's award winning publications. We officially formed Blue-J, Inc., Publishers, in February and the first issue of Bowhunter was printed in August of 1971. I was Editor, Don sold ads, Bob handled subscriptions, and Steve served as layout artist.

The heart and soul of Bowhunter Magazine: (l to r) Steve Doucette, Fred Wallace, M.R. Bob Schisler and Don Clark

    Several months later, Ohio bowhunter Fred Wallace dropped by my Magnavox office and said he'd like to get involved with Bowhunter. He started by writing a "tips" column and helping with ad sales. Fred later became a partner and eventually helped the magazine set new ad revenue records year after year. Our new all-bowhunting magazine soon overtook and passed all competing magazines in overall readership and subscription/advertising revenue. In less than a decade we topped 100,000 in circulation and $1 million in advertising revenue for the first time. And it got better and better. At its peak Bowhunter had a paid circulation of about 220,000 and a total readership of nearly half a million.

    Other than taking out one $3,000 loan that first year, we never borrowed a penny or invested one cent of our money in Bowhunter. In other words, it paid for itself. And since we all had good jobs, we didn't need to draw salaries. We put all profit back into our growing company for the first five years. By then, the magazine was on very firm financial footing and one by one we left our Magnavox jobs to devote full time to Bowhunter (only Bob continued to be a part-time employee). It's trite to say but this was a true dream come true for all of us.

FA:  Tell us about those early days? Was it hard to get this project off the ground?

Not really. We worked for over a year planning the magazine, contacting potential advertisers, organizing a subscription contest, and contacting contributors. Also, since the four of us had good jobs at Magnavox, we agreed to put any money we made right back into the magazine. The compound bow was just about to burst on the bowhunting scene and interest in archery hunting was picking up. It was the perfect time to launch an all-bowhunting publication. Newsstand sales were good from the very first issue. Subscriptions poured in. Advertisers called us to reserve space. It didn't take us long to realize we had something really special going.

FA:  Who were some of the early folks you relied on to write for you when you were just getting started?

Dr. Dave Samuel and his twin brother Bill wrote a "Woodlands and Wildlife" column for us from the very first issue. Dave still is Bowhunter columnist and our Conservation Editor. Dr. Larry Bamford, the Pope and Young Club's President at that time, was another columnist who served as our Hunting Editor. Roy Hoff, the Editor of Archery Magazine and the man who'd bought my first bowhunting story, wrote for us, too. I penned many of the features myself, and edited the material we received from bowhunters wanting to see their stories and pictures in Bowhunter. In due time we ran material from just about all the nationally known bowhunters around, but at the beginning our budget didn't permit us to buy a lot of stories from pro writers and hunters. It was several years before bylines of folks like Dwight Schuh, Chuck Adams, Jim Dougherty, Fred Bear, and others cropped up in the magazine.

M.R. with Dwight Schuh

FA:  Any moments in the history of Bowhunter special to you?

Sure. Too many to mention. But I'll single out holding the very first issue in my hands back in '71, knowing that whatever the future held we'd succeeded in creating an all-bowhunting magazine. Also, our 35th Anniversary Issue will be published later this summer. That's a significant milestone and has to be considered special, especially since I'll be officially retiring at the end of 2006 and will no longer be involved with Bowhunter on a day-to-day basis.

From the 35th Anniversary pages Bowhunter Magazine

FA:  Who are some of your favorite folks you have met while in the archery world?

Again, too many to mention. My Bowhunter partners and staff, of course, because they helped make my personal dream come true. But honestly, I've been blessed to have met and known -- or hunted with -- most of the best bowhunters of the past six to seven decades. Name anyone in bowhunting and chances are I knew or know them. That's what's made my job so memorable.

M.R. with Larry Jones

FA:  What books have you published?

Bowhunting for Whitetail and Mule Deer (1976), Successful Bowhunting (1985), My Place (1992), The Bowhunter's Handbook (1997), Of Blind Pigs and Big Bucks (2002), and The Bowhunter's Handbook, Second Edition (2004). I co-wrote Bowhunting Equipment & Skills (1997) and I was editor of three of the six Pope and Young record books (1975, 1993, and 1999).

FA:  Where can we get copies?

Most of these books are now out of print. Copies of the Blind Pigs book and revised Handbook still show up now and then. (The Sportsman's Edge Book Club and Bowhunter magazine offer both copies. Folks can contact me directly at or  (812) 867-0679 if they need help tracking down a book. Copies of the P&Y record books are available by contacting the Club directly at (507) 867-4144.

FA:  A lot of people may not know this trivia, but you're also a gifted writer of fiction. Any plans for additional projects in this arena?

Not really, although it's common knowledge that all English majors have begun work on the great American novel. Who knows what my so-called retirement will bring? Right now I'm busy with a memoir of the most unforgettable bowhunters I ever knew. It'll be published in 2007.

FA:  What changes in archery have you witnessed during your time at the helm of Bowhunter?

The biggest changes have occurred in archery tackle, from the advent of the compound bow to modern arrow material to replaceable blade broadheads and to treestands and on and on. I was there when H. W.  Allen and Tom Jennings fired the first shots of the compound bow revolution. I was there when Dick Maleski's Wasp broadhead changed hunting heads forever. I remember the first carbon arrows in the mid-'80s and how Matt McPherson's Solo Cam compound took wheeled bows to the next level in the early 1990s. I was there back in 1980 when Jim Crumley advertised the first camo clothing designed for treestand hunters (Trebark), and I watched a few years later when Toxey Haas launched Mossy Oak and Bill Jordan unveiled Realtree Camo. I've pretty much seen it all, good and bad, and who knows what's over the horizon? I can't even venture a guess what other changes are in store.

M.R. with TVs Tom Nelson

FA:  Where do you see the future of archery headed?

I see bowhunting, like most everything else, becoming increasingly expensive. And I see no end in sight for equipment changes. Neither is necessarily a positive trend.

FA:  I often wonder what men like Fred Bear, a born promoter, would think of today's cyberspace world and the Internet. Let me ask you, what do you think about it?

Hey, I can recall sitting at an editor's desk when the biggest technological advancement was replacing my manual typewriter with an electric model. No way could I have ever dreamed of the benefits modern communications would provide during the Internet Age. But I certainly use communications technology and suspect Fred would be doing the same.

FA:  I understand you have an increased role within the Pope and Young Club. What's your position and what do you hope to accomplish?

I was elected P&Y President this past March. My goals are to improve our internal and external communications, unify the membership, increase revenue reserves, and further our nationwide pro-hunting, pro-conservation efforts by working closely with other organizations which share our interests and values.

FA:  Tell us about next year's special Pope and Young Club event to be held back east.

Our next biennial convention and awards banquet is slated for Lancaster, PA, on April 26-28, 2007. It's our first "East Coast" gathering and should attract lots of bowhunters from Pennsylvania and surrounding states. The public is invited to stop by and see dozens of the top big game mounts to be honored at the awards presentation. Check out the Pope and Young Club web site or Bowhunter magazine for complete details.

FA:  You can take anyone from archery (past or present) and bowhunt for a week anywhere. Who would your guests be and where and what would you hunt?

Since I'm a writer as well as a bowhunter, I'd elect to share a hunting camp with Maurice Thompson who wrote The Witchery of Archery in 1878 and with Dr. Saxton Pope, author of  Hunting With the Bow and Arrow in 1923. We'd hunt whitetails at one of my favorite Illinois deer camps and spend November evenings around the fire talking about our bowhunting and writing secrets. It'd be a dream come true for me.

FA:  What's been some of your favorite hunts?  

Just about all of 'em! Especially those taken with family and friends. In truth, I have a million good memories of special moments and special animals I've encountered over the past half century.

FA:  You've been a major influence in the sport. What do you consider to be your major accomplishments?

Two things. (1) Creating the most widely read, most profitable, and most honored archery/bowhunting magazine ever published. (2) Helping create an international interest in responsible and effective hunting with the bow and arrow.

    When people ask me about the secret to the success Bowhunter has enjoyed for three and a half decades, I point to our total involvement in the sport. Fact is, we're experienced and successful bowhunters who happen to publish a bowhunting magazine, not professional magazine editors and publishers who happen to be involved with some bowhunting publication because of business reasons. There's a big difference. We walk the walk and talk the talk because it's who we are. Readers can tell or at least sense the difference.

    The Good Lord truly blessed my partners and me. For the past 35 years I've had the best job on earth. Now it's time to step back and let Dwight Schuh take Bowhunter to the next level. I hired Dwight in 1995 to eventually replace me and improve our magazine even more. He and Publisher Jeff Waring are doing exactly that. All Bowhunter readers may rest assured their magazine remains in capable and caring hands.  

35 Years of Bowhunter Magazine

FA:  Do you want to spill the beans about the time I stirred up a hornet's nest at a bowhunting function just prior to you taking the stage?

Talk about warming up an audience! Well, that's not true, is it? As I recall, the only guy who got hot that night was likely the only John Kerry supporter in that Pennsylvania crowd. Your recollections about meeting President George W. Bush were downright entertaining for everyone else. Maybe that guy got uncomfortable because he already knew how the November election was going to turn out. Anyway, the fact he walked out certainly didn't bother me…and no one except his wife joined him. You finished your show and later I came on and did mine. I'll gladly share another stage with you again anytime, anywhere.    
Thanks M.R. for this amazing look back at your adventures in bowhunting.  My wife Amanda jokingly calls you  "MR DUCKS."   We appreciate your friendship and all you have given to this great sport.  Here's wishing you many, many more warm campfires, frosty mornings a field, and more adventures with bow in hand.   

Until next time, Adios & God Bless.

Shoot Straight,
Frank Addington, Jr. 

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