What Deer Hunting Teaches Us About Communications

By Chad Doran - Communications Coordinator
City of Appleton, Wisconsin

It’s the opening day of deer hunting. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Not even so much about the chance to bag a buck (don’t get me wrong, that’s the goal), but because of the peace and quiet the deer stand provides.
It’s a chance to be out of the office, away from the city and even away from people in general. In communications, our job is engaging people all day, every day and sometimes it’s nice to have a break.
As I sit in the stand looking and listening for a deer to come within range, I think about the beauty of it all and it struck me how many of the qualities needed for hunting parallel those we espouse in communication.
Wait, what? Yes, hunting and communications do go together. Hear me out.
That’s the first and most important thing about hunting and communications ... listening.
If you are not quiet in the stand or you’re always the one doing the talking in your communications, you’re not going to have success at either one.
The woods can be eerily quiet and yet loud at the same time. One moment the wind is calm, and you can hear a leaf fall to the ground. The next minute, the wind howls through the trees, birds are chirping and fluttering around you and squirrels are dancing on the forest floor. Then you turn and realize a deer is right next to you, and you didn’t even hear it coming.
Sometimes when we don’t listen to the feedback we get from our supervisors or our community on social media, easily solved problems turn into big issues before we even realize it. Knowing what to listen for helps you separate the trot of the deer from the rest of forest’s songs, and the noise from your community to issues you should be paying attention to.
When hunting you also have to be on the lookout. Slowly turning, scanning the woods or the field in front of you, but always keeping an eye on your blind spots.
As a communicator, are you doing enough to look beyond your social media pages, news releases and web stories to see where you can improve your communications? Are there areas of internal focus you are missing because you’re too focused on external? Don't forget to check your blind spots.
From the deer stand I can see much more than I can on the ground. When we step back from the screen, we may see other ways we can improve our outreach. Have you tried putting the camera in the hands of your employees to tell a story from their perspective? Instead of telling your community it’s leaf collection time, have you gotten in the truck to ride along and show them how it works and why you do it the way you do? That's vision.
The other two qualities that make a good hunter are focus and concentration. Whether you’re looking down the barrel at a buck in your sights or staring at the clock watching your deadline tick closer, focus and concentration are paramount skills to help you seal the deal.
Block out the wind and the leaves rustling. Slow your breathing and concentrate on the crosshairs of your scope to line up for that trophy shot. If you don’t and you move too fast or you get too nervous, chances are you won’t be able to pull the trigger or you’ll miss.
It’s the same with communications. Rushing through a social media post to get it out before proofreading invariably leads to errors. Not making that extra phone call to a staff member to clarify something leads to wrong information in a news release. Focusing on one task at a time helps us concentrate and find success.
So next time you’re sitting in your office or at your work station and the phones are ringing around you, emails and text messages are dinging and office chatter is distracting you, think about the lessons of the hunter listening, looking and searching. Even if you don’t hunt, don’t be afraid to take a day to go for a hike in the woods near you. It will help you sharpen all of those skills and make you appreciate work even more.