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?
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?
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?
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
FA: Which came first for you, the typewriter or the bow?
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
FA: When did the idea occur to you to start Bowhunter magazine?
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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 MRJames12640@aol.com 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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
I understand you have an increased role within the Pope and Young Club.
What’s your position and what do you hope to accomplish?
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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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 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
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?
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,
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.