North America’s most famous female hunter aims to be a lifestyle brand
Eva Shockey is telling me about what it’s like to shoot and kill an elk.
“There was a much bigger elk, but we wanted to get the oldest male. We tracked him for a day. He was behind a tree. I sat there, maybe 150 yards away, in the sleet and freezing rain, for six hours, waiting for him to move.”
“He moved into the open and I took the shot.”
“I want to know where my meat comes from,” she says.
Eva Shockey is only 30. But she is already a brand-building force to be reckoned with. The daughter of Jim Shockey, himself a world-famous hunter and the host of Outdoor Channel show Hunting Adventures, Shockey aims to extend her brand into the consumer lifestyle category. So far the only woman to be on the cover of Field & Stream besides Queen Elizabeth II, Shockey is having a meteoric rise.
Never having been hunting, or killed an animal, I wondered what it was like to field dress the animal, slicing through skin, sinew and bone to get to the meat. I wondered what it was like to cut off the head of an animal to take the trophy home. Shockey said she plans to mount the antlers.
“That’s uncomfortable and it’s hard,” she said. “But it’s part of the process and journey.”
What’s more important, she says, is to understand how it feels to be one of the team carrying the packed meat off the mountain, slipping on stones and falling into thorny bushes. Elks weigh more than 600 lbs.
“It’s a feeling of gratitude. It’s a pretty serious moment.”
With that, Eva Shockey skillfully returns to one of her themes, which is filling her freezer at home in North Carolina with fresh meat. “Every time we eat its meat I think about that elk,” she says. “It gave its life for us. We give it more respect that way.”
A big part of her brand, and a key to the transition from hunting to the outdoors lifestyle, is being part of the field-to-table movement. Named to The Hollywood Reporter’s most influential TV brands list based on social media followers, Shockey has marketing deals with 12 companies in the outdoor business, including $4 billion Cabela’s Sporting Goods, and has published a memoir. Two are gunmakers.
She’s also walking a tricky tightrope. Women are traditionally merely decorative in the hunting world. She’s already broken that boundary, aided by her father’s status. But becoming an outdoor Martha Stewart is a step further, and the tough business woman persona necessary to build a lifestyle brand – think Oprah Winfrey or Stewart herself — doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably with that of a sweet huntress. During our interview, when she was telling me that she was up at 1 a.m., working for the love of it, I slipped out of my journalism mode for a minute and told her, one working mother to another, not to do that.
“Cabela’s is a billion-dollar company,” I said, picking just one of her business partners. “Why don’t you have an assistant?”
She emailed me later.
“People who enjoy hunting don’t generally do it to make money, and neither do I, but at the end of the day I want to 1) pave the way for others, especially females and girls within the industry, and 2) convert my passions into a career that can help my family and I live comfortably. My husband and I dream of traveling with our daughter, Leni Bow, to show her the world and experience different cultures, so both of us work hard every day to make that a realistic possibility.”
Shockey Enterprises is an approximately $5M multi-media and marketing business, with the Eva Shockey brand a prominent component of that business. (Jim Shockey, a Canadian, is renowned as a big game hunter). Shockey is personable, friendly and athletic. But like other women hunters, she’s been the target of vitriol online, including a threat to her dog after she posted a photo of herself with a black bear she’d killed – or “harvested” in hunting parlance. “Kill that little worthless dog you have instead,” wrote one person after she posted a picture of a bear she’d killed.
Shockey’s response: “Apparently hunting a bear, eating/donating all of the meat, and putting money towards conservation is a bad thing, but killing my puppy is OK. If this logic isn’t totally insane, I don’t know what is.”
A Washington Post reporter opined that because women are supposed to be the gentler sex, women hunters come in for special condemnation when they break the gender stereotype. Shockey has a simpler explanation: “The anti-hunting community sees us as a threat,” she says.
In the hunting world, the Shockeys have always stood for ethical hunting. These are the ideas, among others, that you kill an animal with one shot; that you treat an animal with reverence; and that you eat what you kill.
But the older, classy patina that used to hang over the hunting world – as evidenced by Elizabeth II on the cover of Field & Stream 30 years ago, hugging one of her dogs — has largely been subsumed, both by the political debate over guns in general, and by the media’s culture of empty violence. Hunting shows can look like slasher movies.
That nuance – of ethical hunting, versus bloodsport – may well be lost on the mainstream as Shockey moves to become an outdoor lifestyle brand. There are about 18.2 million hunters in the United States (a number that’s been declining); about 3.9 women hunters (a number that’s been increasing). Shockey started hunting after college, just as many hunting companies realized they needed a new demographic.
Now, she has her eyes on a larger target: outdoors people.
Appealing to them may require disavowing at least some of the violence of hunting culture and nasty politics of guns. Shockey says she will never let go of her roots, but stays carefully away from anything that smacks of controversy – “I don’t do the politics,” she says.
The lines are blurry in the gun world, however. Her marketing partners include Daniel Defense, for instance; there’s nary a green mountain nor antler to be found on its web site. (Her other deals are with companies including Bowtech Archery, CrosmanAirguns and In-SeasonApp). And it was Dana Loesch, the NRA’s lightning rod spokeswoman, who, in a congenial interview, gave Shockey the moniker: Martha Stewart of the Outdoors.
The greatest brand builders, like great hunters, are relentlessly disciplined. Shockey steers the conversation fast to safer topics: cooking – she has a recipe for elk jalapeño poppers on her blog –and to policies she and her brand can wholeheartedly support. “I’m in favor of policies that maintain trails and greenways,” she says — away from guns themselves, “guns are a means to an end.”
In 2003, researchers Linda Kalof and Amy J. Fitzgerald of George Mason University and the University of Windsor studied 792 images of dead animals in 14 hunting magazines for clues into hunters’ mindsets about animals. As a side note, they noticed: “Neither women nor men of colour ever held a weapon when they appeared in photographs with white men.”
Shockey’s taken advantage of the changing market for hunting to make headway, with the help of her dad. These days, women hunters frequently appear in pictures holding guns, next to animals they’ve killed.
Whether she continues to evolve as a leader remains to be seen. In the photos she sent, none show a full-on view of the gun she used to kill the elk or a trophy shot with the elk. The gun, and the violence, are not the centerpiece.
“When building a brand, it’s just as important to know when to say ‘no’ as it is to know when to say ‘yes’,” she wrote in an email. “I have turned down more opportunities than I can count over the years because I knew they weren’t a good fit. The choice to walk away from money isn’t always the easiest, but at the end of the day, I need to be proud of what I’m doing and the life I’m living.”
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