Few names in western big game hunting are bigger than the Eastman family.
Publishers of Eastmans’ Hunting Journal, Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal and stars of Eastmans’ Hunting TV, the family has shared their passion for the outdoors for decades and offered the opportunity for sportsmen across the West to share their stories. It is an ever-evolving industry where traditional outdoor magazine publishers must adapt to a growing demand for online media. And it is a world where they must also balance the demands from a new generation of outdoorsmen with the diehard hunters who have long made up the core of their readership.
Editor-in-chief Guy Eastman owns the Powell, Wyoming, based company along with his brother Ike. They are the third generation of the family in outdoor media. Their grandfather, the late Gordon Eastman, was an early pioneer in outdoor filmmaking who began producing hunting movies in 1957. Their father, Mike Eastman, started the hunting journal as a newsletter in 1987 and authored several books on hunting the West.
The magazines use the same formula today as they did when Mike started the hunting journal: roughly half is dedicated to expert tips and tactics, gear reviews, locations and editorials. The other half is packed with reader stories and photos where hunters submit tales of successful hunts. Each magazine is packed with iconic images of western hunting, from wilderness packstrings toting bulls from the backcountry to happy hunters in awe of the buck of a lifetime they just harvested.
“You have to realize back in 1987 there was only a handful of hunting publications and most of them were run out of New York City,” Guy said. “… My dad always thought there wasn’t enough attention paid to western hunting, and there were a lot of guys like him that were really passionate, hardcore hunters that had good stories to tell and even better information to possibly share, but there was no outlet for that.”
In 1996 Mike sold the hunting journal to newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises. Lee owns five Montana newspapers: the Helena Independent Record, Montana Standard in Butte, Missoulian, Ravalli Republic and Billings Gazette. Lee also owns the Casper Star Tribune in Wyoming.
Under Lee, the company started the bowhunting publication and TV show, which airs on the Outdoor Channel. It was also at that time that Guy moved to Helena to work for Lee. In 1999 the company decided to sell the business back to the Eastman family.
The sale came at a turning point in outdoor publishing. While working for Lee, Guy helped create Eastmans’ first website — an evolution that would spur them from magazines and a TV show to a multi-media company.
“We just thought (the website) was pretty nifty and neat at that point, but nobody could’ve ever seen what it’s done to the publishing world now,” he said. “It went from really nifty to uh oh, this is a threat, to completely changing the landscape of information as we know it.”
While subscriptions for the print magazine have continued to increase, the online-portion of Eastmans’ is now the fastest growing in terms of revenue and is expected to eclipse the bowhunting magazine this year. Eastmans’ has its own YouTube channel, offers the digital-only hunting show “Beyond the Grid,” and produces multiple podcasts available on popular platforms and eastmans.com.
The evolution has meant rethinking how they publish for online while continuing to offer print content geared toward serious hunters. Eastmans’ now writes more online articles for beginning hunters and recognizes that nonhunters are also more likely to come across their website or social media.
“We’ve kind of lived in a bubble in the magazine world where we could say whatever we want and be pretty hardcore because it was just going out to people who paid to get that content in their mailbox,” Guy said. “They all pretty much thought like we did, and we could preach to the choir for 20 years. Now things are going to a more generalized audience and a more generalized hunting audience in the digital world … so we have to be a little more careful on how we present some of the things.”
Guy grapples with the role of social media in hunting, calling it a “double-edged sword.” On one hand it brings awareness and has helped grow the field-to-table movement where new hunters take up hunting to claim an active stake in their food supply. On the other hand, hunting is not always pretty, and he has reservations about the reaction by nonhunters who come across that imagery on Facebook or Instagram.
“I believe if people really dig into hunting and conservation and why we do it and learn from that base up, in my experience they become more accepting to it,” he said. “But if you just shock them with stuff like that off the bat, you do more harm than good.”
Hunting has always had its share of challenges.
Guy noted that COVID-19 presents a major funding shortfall, at least in the short term, for states, conservation organizations and even some countries.
A diversity of perspectives has always been ingrained in hunters over topics such as wildlife management to advancing technology and ethics to trophy hunting, and that passion can sometimes turn hunters against each other.
And opportunity can be an issue for many hunters now, whether it is securing a license or finding access to hunt, which Guy believes has made many hunters more strategic.
Despite short- or long-term challenges, Guy often finds himself talking to new hunters, detailing the history of hunters stepping up to fund wildlife conservation or explaining the basics he learned as a child. He believes the growing diversity of new hunters coupled with the continued passion of those who have hunted their whole lives bodes well for its future.
“Overall, hunting I think is in a good place — maybe I’m overly optimistic — but we’ve always got some things to work on as hunters and our image, but overall I think these new hunters coming in and more women hunting, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.
Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin
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