If optimism and hard work are the determining criteria for success, some dedicated Chippewa Cree members from the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in Montana may just make things work for their fledgling magazine, Hunting The Rez.
“Hunting reconnects us to the wild places from whence we came, to regain a role in the drama between predator and prey,” says editor Jason Belcourt. “Hunting ties us to our land and our elders…it’s a quest to get back to ourselves, back to our roots as native people, and a chance to remember what the world was like --- what we were like --- before modernization and urbanization separated us from Mother Earth.”
Plus, it’s not a bad business sector to be in considering an Indian Country marketplace estimated to be worth $76 billion with revenue-generating hunting and fishing opportunities to be found in the 55 million acres of woods and waters found on reservation land.
Entrepreneurs Jason Belcourt, his father, Robert, cousin Jerry, and business partner James “Midge” The Boy grew up together, hunted together, and wanted to build a company --- hopefully, an empire --- to ensure their future.
They saw a unique niche and acted to fill the need with a 100% Indian-owned firm that publishes a quarterly outdoor recreation magazine whose masthead touts --- The ONLY source for Hunting Indian Country. The quarterly, 10,000 copy, high-quality magazine is building a large following not only in Indian Country, but growing in appeal to the higher-income, non-enrolled sportsman hunter.
“Indian Country is the biggest best little secret hot spot for sportsmen all across the globe,” Belcourt says. “There’s plentiful game, little hunting pressure, and beautiful vistas. Some of God’s most beautiful country is on Indian acreage. One of our goals is to inspire sportsmen and women to plan hunting or fishing adventures on tribal land where there are specific advantages over the states --- like extended seasons for non-enrolled hunters and rifle seasons during bugling periods.
“There’s nobody else out there doing what we’re doing and that comes with both pros and cons,” says the editor. “There’s no existing game plan, no guidelines. We’ve had to invent the wheel and the learning curve has been pretty damned sharp.”
Now becoming accustomed to the ups and downs of today’s publishing world where staff spends more time behind a desk and less time in the field, they have three issues in print (with a fourth on the way) and some big plans for the future. Although new at the game, they’re learning rapidly and some of the dominoes are starting to fall in their favor.
They facilitated an online big horn ram hunt auction on behalf of the Rocky Boy Fish & Game Department where the tag brought in a record $78,100 for the fully-guided hunt (the first big horn sheep to come from Rocky Boy in over a hundred years, according to the magazine’s editor). They’ve entered into talks with established outdoor television networks to run a 13-episode Hunting The Rez TV series. “We shot the pilot program, a buffalo hunt on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in northern Montana in January --- howling winds and temperatures 50 degrees below zero with the wind chill factor,” Belcourt says.
“Of the 224 large land-based tribes, not all are set up and ready to entertain visitors, but some have moved ahead and set the bar high. They’ve managed their fish and game efforts well to generate revenue from these renewable resources where non-members pay for tags and guides, stay at tribal hotels, eat at Indian-owned restaurants, fill their gas tanks at Native-owned stations --- lots of revenue spin-off opportunities.”
One of the largest to-date coups is a newly-announced partnership with International Sportsmen’s Exposition and the February 2012 show in Phoenix, Arizona, with a planned reservation-themed Gathering of the Tribes Outdoor Expo in the Hunting the Rez Pavilion. Tribes will exhibit a united front in selling a variety of hunting/fishing/outdoor adventure packages.
“We have 18 tribes committed or pending already,” says Belcourt, “with an estimated 25-30 hunt packages valued at close to half a million dollars worth of tags. It took a leap of faith for ISE to include us as a brand new, somewhat unproven partner, but we’ve come out swinging and should help put money into tribal coffers.”
The path forward is exciting with opportunities for more innovative --- bad pun coming --- CREE8tive ideas --- and the hard workers at Hunting The Rez are looking for long-term partners. Says Belcourt: “Tribes have a lot to offer sportsmen and our love of the outdoors, respect for nature, and the responsibility it carries motivated us to try and do something beneficial. Anybody out there that feels the same is invited to join us in working toward that goal.”