When your company hasn’t been allowed a pay raise in 20 years and has a steadily falling customer base, is now the time to shell out $85,000 for a marketing specialist?
The Pennsylvania Game Commission thinks so.
The agency recently hired Matt Morrett, a nationally known turkey hunter with branding experience since he was a teen at Central Dauphin High School.
Morrett is now on the job, tasked with a broad and challenging mission. That includes garnering more money from hunting opportunities for the cash-strapped agency, suppressing hunter in-fighting and uniting sportsmen and environmental groups under one conservation banner, and providing more useful information to those heading afield.
Morrett, 48, plans to try to get more veteran hunters involved in mentoring men, women and youths who may be eager to experience hunting and the outdoors but simply don’t know where to start.
“We want a lot more encouragement to get license buyers to introduce folks, whether it’s just hunting or the outdoors in general,” Morrett says.
And he wants the Game Commission to impart more useful information — like where do deer bed and what kind of habitat do wild turkeys need to thrive — to those already holding hunting or trapping licenses.
Among the initiatives to reach more hunters is establishing a connection with Plain sects since they are big-time hunters.
“We want them to be a part of us,” Morrett said in an interview. “They are buying hunting licenses and very much are a part of what we do.”
Morrett, who grew up in the Linglestown area of Dauphin County and now lives in Perry County, comes with name recognition.
When he was a junior in high school, he won the first of five turkey-calling world championships. That led to his hiring as a promotional director with Hunter Specialties, a hunting gear manufacturer. He barnstormed the country when he wasn’t in school, giving seminars on turkey hunting.
It was a time before hunting shows on television, and Morrett’s classmates were amazed he could make a living from the sport.
Then he was hired by Zink Calls as vice president of sales and marketing. He was featured on turkey hunts across the country for Avian-X TV, a staple on cable and satellite hunting networks. He still films hunts for Avian-X as a part-time employee.
He recently shot a gobbler for the cameras in New York state. Back in Pennsylvania, without any camera crews around, he took a gobbler in Perry County in the rain, with his 17-year-old daughter Madison.
Morrett is aware of the Game Commission’s budget crunch — the General Assembly hasn’t allowed a hunting fee increase since 1999.
And, like all hunters, he painfully knows the bleeding of participants in the sport nationwide. In Pennsylvania, the number of hunters has declined from 665,719 in 2007 to 587,640 in 2017, the most recent year statistics are available from the Game Commission.
Still, by providing better marketing across various social media and print platforms, he thinks he can put more money into the coffers of the agency. Opportunities such as Pennsylvania’s lottery-based elk hunt and the new sale of a second tag for spring gobbler hunting can become moneymakers with the right presentation, he says.
“We’ve seen from our counterparts in other states that making investments to promote the sale of general hunting licenses, as well as the additional licenses and permits, can have an immediate return in license dollars to the agency,” says Travis Lau, Game Commission spokesman.
Morrett and other officials already have talked about hits and misses with counterparts in Ohio and Kentucky.
Expect much of the new digital content coming out of the Game Commission under Morrett’s tutelage to be about mentoring and who Pennsylvania hunters are.
Expect more stories and information emanating from the Game Commission touting the benefits of being in the outdoors and eating wild game.
“There’s no better organic meat than wild game,” Morrett says, adding that such thinking appears to be a driver in California’s increasing ranks of hunters.
“I can tell you, Pennsylvania’s tradition — there’s no one that matches us out there. We just need to bring it through all channels,” he says.
“As a hunting industry, we need everyone we can to be on the same page with each other, whether it’s private industry or hunting groups. We need to keep hunting alive out there.”
Morrett knows there are plenty of hunters who are critical of the Game Commission, whether it be for deer management policies or other reasons.
But he says now is the time to stand together to ensure hunting’s survival. “We have to stop not being friends and drawing lines. We all gotta be buddies.”
He says there will be more touting of the good things the state’s wildlife agency does, even while admitting mistakes, if necessary.
In a world filled with ever more nonhunters, a priority will be to make the public aware of the importance of the Game Commission to conservation and the protection of some 400 species of wildlife for which the agency is responsible.
“We have so much public land in Pennsylvania — no one east of the Western states even rivals us,” Morrett says. He thinks the public needs to know that nearly 1.5 million acres of game lands — and counting — is a product of hunters’ conservation efforts.
“We have to expose ourselves to the nonhunting community,” he stresses.
The Game Commission’s successful restoration efforts of such species as turkeys, elk, peregrine falcons, otters and fishers are huge advertisements of that, he says.
At some point he thinks the Game Commission will address the possibility of charging a fee from nonhunters for the use of game lands for various uses.
More than anything, Morrett wants to be part of an effort to keep Pennsylvania’s rich hunting tradition alive for future generations.
“I’ve taken a lot from hunting,” he says. “For me, the ability to give back and make the future bright was what was important to me. I can’t imagine not going out and hearing a turkey call on a spring morning.
“We’re all on borrowed time here for sure and the only thing we can do is make it better for the next generation when we leave this earth.”
Ad Crable is an LNP outdoors writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.