Wednesday, January 28, 2015


For the 22nd year, the Virginia Outdoor Writer’s Association (VOWA), along with its contest sponsors, Bass Pro Shops, Dominion, VirginiaCooperative Magazine, and Hunt’s Photo & Video is holding two writing contests, one for high school-aged students and one for undergraduate college students.

High School Contest

    The high school contest,sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, is open to any public, private, or home-schooled student in grades 9-12.  Essays should be written about a memorable outdoor experience, with possible subjects including hunting, fishing, camping, boating, hiking, birding, or another outdoor activity.  Accounts of athletic events are specifically excluded.

    Three winners will be selected and invited the annual VOWA membership meeting in Charlottesville on March 21 to present their essays.  The deadline for the contest will be February 16. 

    Prizes provided by Bass Pro Shops will be $150, $100, and $50 gift cards for first, second, and third place winners, respectively.

    For more information on the high school contest, visit

Collegiate Contest

    In cooperation with Dominion, Cooperative Living Magazine, and Hunt’s Photo & Video, VOWA is once again offering a collegiate levelwriting and photography contest to any student at any Virginia university or college, including community colleges, two-year schools, and private institutions.  Virginia residents enrolled at out-of-state schools are also eligible.  The topic for the writing contest will be a memorable outdoor experience or special interest. 

    Entrants in the “Best Outdoor Photo” contest, sponsored by Hunt’s Photo & Video, are encouraged to enter up to three of their best outdoor photos in JPEG format, accompanied by a 50-75-word description. 

    Winners will be selected by a judging panel and invited to the annual VOWA membership meeting in Charlottesville on March 21.  The deadline for all contests will be February 16. 

    Each entrant of the contests will be given an annual student membership to VOWA.  The winner selected for the best overall essay will be awarded a $250 cash prize by VOWA-Dominion.  Cooperative Living Magazine will select one winner for the best essay related to outdoors in Virginia and award a $100 cash prize and publish the essay in the magazine.  “Best Outdoor Photo”, as decided by Hunt’s Photo & Video, will be awarded a $50 gift card to Hunt’s.

    I often am faced with the question, “How does one become an outdoor writer?”  The answer is complicated and dependent on a host of factors.  However, one factor is common across the board—credentials.  Before any editor or publisher will be willing to give you a shot, generally, one must prove ability and/or knowledge.  This is at least difficult to youth or young adults without any prior experience in professional writing; and so the best options for earning a first gig, without first organically wearing down a market with hundreds of rejected query letters, are to 1) get to know someone in an editing, publishing, or writing position, and 2) make your name known in the outdoor writing field.

    If you can’t tell where I am leading by now, I’ll make it easy for you.  This contest, should you win at any level, provides both of these opportunities.  Winning will make your name known to those in the local outdoor writing community, and you can forever introduce yourself to an editor as an “award-winning outdoor writer.”  Moreover, you will be invited to attend a meeting in a room full of outdoor writing professionals, all of which are full of knowledge and the mission of recruiting young communicators.  So, if you are interested in outdoor writing in the slightest, this contest is for you.

    Still, should you enter and not win, and you are serious, come to the meeting.  Shake as many hands as you possibly can.  Collect business cards.  Take members up on their offers, suggestions, and invitations.  You will not leave empty-handed.  VOWA is a resource.

    Thus I conclude my annual plug for the writing association that started it all for me.  I do it out of gratitude to the men and women that comprise VOWA, and to everyone that has supported me; but more importantly, I do it out of a desire to see more youth members involved.  The younger generation cannot expect outdoor writing to remain strong, advocating for the continuation of the treasured passions and traditions we all enjoy without recruitment of strong voices.  I suppose that is why VOWA established, and continues to sponsor, this contest.  I hope to see everyone interested in March.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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