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2023 Hall of Fame Inductees

Help us Congratulate the 2023 Inductees of the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame.

Bill Miller

Bill Miller “I just want to be an outdoor writer …”

One Wisconsin winter afternoon in 1973, a school bus pulled up to the Miller’s driveway. The door opened; a kid jumped out and sprinted toward the house. Sixth-grader Bill Miller had something to show his pa.

He burst through the backdoor of the house to find his dad seated in the hallway, pulling on boots to do the barn chores. Bill rushed up and pushed a paperback under his father’s nose.

“Pa! Pa!,” he shouted, unable to contain himself. “Read this!”

 

The book was Run Rainey, Run, the true story of a dog owned by Mel Ellis. Ellis was the retired outdoor columnist for the Milwaukee Journal. The passage that had the youngster so excited described Ellis loading up his car with gear and dogs to head for Canada. The mission was to hunt, following the migration south, and file newspaper stories as he went.

 

That description ignited a spark in 11-year-old Bill. He realized that you could make a living hunting and fishing and telling people about it. Bill’s father also loved outdoor books and magazines. He was a hunter and dog and horse trainer, too. Though chores awaited, he read the pages that so excited his boy.

 

“Well?” said Ted.  "So …?”

 

“This, this is what I want to do!” Bill said. “I want to hunt and write about it!”

 

It was at least a decade before “Nike” was a household name, but Ted looked at his son and said, “Okay. Just do it.”

And so Bill did.

 

It was undoubtedly the calling God chose. Encouragement and success started early. Just a year later, Bill entered the Marlin Firearm’s Hunter Safety Essay contest. He won the 12-year-olds’ division earning him a $50 L.L. Bean gift certificate. He was a “professional” outdoor writer.

 

In high school, Bill structured his choices toward writing. He received permission to take “journalism” as a freshman. By his junior year, he wrote a regular outdoor column for the paper. Every English class essay was about hunting, fishing, or shooting. Teachers rolled their eyes at poems like “From Whence the Mallards Came.” Sophomore English required a demonstration speech. Bill got his mom to bring a bucket of live trout to the classroom where he deftly cleaned them on the teacher’s newspaper-covered desk!

 

College at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire went much the same. With a major in journalism, Bill crafted a specialized minor called “environmental communications.” Senior year, Bill co-produced “Chippewa Valley Outdoors” covering hunting, fishing, shooting, camping, rappelling—even ski jumping.

 

Torn between print and broadcast—and figuring to pay his dues in general assignment reporting—Bill sent tapes and resumes to North Dakota, Montana, and New Mexico. But one morning at the campus television studio, his faculty advisor pointed out a classified ad.

 

“Check this out,” he said. “I’ve never heard of North American Hunter, but they need an associate editor. It’s just in Minneapolis. An interview would be good practice, anyway.”

 

Bill got an interview and test assignment. Then came a second interview a month later with one of the company founders. After an hour in Steve Burke’s office swapping hunting tales, Bill got the job.

 

That was March 1984. In May he graduated; June he started the job. In August, he married his college sweetheart, Laurel. On October 2, Laurel’s birthday, began Bill’s first “business trip”—a Manitoba goose hunt.

 

Such launched a 28-year career with North American Hunter during which Bill became its editor, executive director of the North American Hunting Club, and vice president of media development and production for North American Outdoor Group. NAOG produced numerous television series for ESPN, Versus, the Outdoor Channel, and more.

 

Bill hosted “North American Hunter,” “The Shooting Sports,” and “Tales of the Hunt.” His “Shoot More, Shoot More Often” segments sponsored by Federal Ammunition ran 13 seasons on ESPN subsidiaries. The NAOG team also produced hundreds of videos for the NAHC and North American Fishing Club. Bill’s idea for the magazine, “You Call the Shots,” expanded to video and became a successful franchise for decades.

 

NAOG changed hands several times and grew to 12 lifestyle clubs, each with its own publications and video productions. In his VP role, Bill was responsible for editorial, art, and production teams and the video production department for all of them. The publications grew to 5 million subscribers. Employees numbered nearly 500; most in suburban Minneapolis, but also New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

 

Despite his executive responsibilities, Bill’s most beloved connection was always to North American Hunter magazine and its TV/video productions. He was blessed to travel as much as 150 days a year across North America, South America, and Africa. He was even more blessed with an incredibly understanding spouse. Hard as it was to have him gone, Laurel recognized the life outdoors made Bill who he is.

 

Hunting, fishing, and the outdoors were his personal life, too. He and Laurel operated Northwings Kennel. Bill travelled even more training, testing, trialing, and hunting their dogs. He also competed in trap and sporting clays shooting internationally and coached one of the first high school trap teams in Minnesota, a program which now has tens of thousands of athletes. He saved his vacation from “work” to hunt and shoot, too. Family getaways always included fishing or some other outdoor pursuit. He kept his hand in freelancing through Bill Miller Outdoors.

 

After 28 years at NAHC, Bill needed new horizons. Many of his mentors and idols like J. Wayne Fears and Larry Weishuhn were freelance communicators and consultants; following in their footsteps, he decided to give it a try.

 

Bill was blessed with an outdoor who’s who client list: Federal Ammunition, Bass Pro Shops, Quebec Outfitters Federation, Camp Chef, National Sporting Clays Association, Brownells, Delta Waterfowl, Kalkomey, OutfittersRating.com, ThermaCell, Reel Action Sport Fishing Charters, and many more. He developed new skills in production, marketing, and crafting outdoors and shooting sports curriculums. His work on the National Handgun Safety Course won the Pinnacle Award for broadcast from the Professional Outdoor Media Association.

 

That same year, Bill was honored to participate in “The Outdoor Legends Tour.” Conceived by Mossy Oak and the NWTF working with Paralyzed Veterans of America and the U.S. Department of Defense, a dozen outdoor celebrities were invited to visit troops overseas.

 

With Brenda Valentine, Jim Shockey and Lt. Col. Lew Deal (USMC retired), Bill visited troops in Landstuhl, Germany and in and around Kabul, Afghanistan. Hearing the outdoor tales of the soldiers and Marines and seeing their trail camera pictures of bucks they planned to hunt back home was life-changing.

 

Another life-altering experience was publishing Reflections Under the Big Pine, co-authored with his friend and colleague, K.J. (Kristine) Houtman. It’s a 52-week devotional for people who cherish outdoor adventure in God’s creation.

 

The title comes from the site of the camp where Bill grew up deer hunting. For more than 75 years, the camp was under the big pine beside the first beaver pond at the headwaters of the KC Creek. The big pine is Bill’s favorite church and remains the place he’s closest to his departed dad and his Heavenly Father.

 

Despite the new adventures, three years into freelancing, Bill recognized he wasn’t as tough as his heroes. Missing the security of regular paychecks and benefits, he realized he wasn’t built to “resell” his services every day.

In 2014, he became executive editor with a multi-media startup called “50 Campfires” devoted to car camping and all the activities family campers enjoy such as fishing, boating, hiking, and especially outdoor cooking. Bill upped his cast iron cooking, smoking, and grilling game, adding more outdoor passions to his ever-growing list.

 

Because “50 Campfires” and sister-pub “Fired Up Food” were part of the Revo Brand Group, Bill also worked with Revo’s Primer 180 agency and their Real Avid gun care division. It was in this capacity that he wrote an extensive hunter training curriculum for the NRA and the book Top AR15 Mods.

 

In 2019, “50 Campfires” sold to new owners who consolidated content creation into their existing channels. Bill was back to being a freelance content creator.

 

Throughout his time with Revo, Bill maintained his relationship with Delta Waterfowl magazine, writing their “Duck Dogs” column and providing frequent freelance content. About that time, Delta was looking for a jack-of-all-trades staff writer for their communications team. It was God closing a door and opening a window.

 

The role with Delta took Bill back to the roots of what he wanted to be all along … “just an outdoor writer.” He could just write. Scores of articles, press releases, scripts, blogs, reports, white papers, DM packages, abstracts—all about Delta Waterfowl’s mission to produce more ducks and secure the future of waterfowling in North America. And his biggest project to date is—“Delta’s Duck and Goose Hunting 101” online course.

 

In 2022, the opportunity arose to apply his management experience when Delta sought a Communications Director. Bill was promoted, and said, “It feels great! I’m really in the game again.”

 

He says, “My story shows that all I ever wanted to be was an outdoor writer. That’s what I became. That’s what I am. And it’s what I want to be as long as Delta will have me.”

 

Bill’s written his own epitaph. It will read: “He walked in awe of God’s creation.” Until then, you can keep up with his adventures at www.underthebigpine.com.

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