By Lisa M. Snuggs
Wade “WC” Hodges, a rising junior at Georgia Southern University, is the 2016 Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award recipient. Presented by the Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation of America (OJEFA), the award provides an aspiring young outdoors communicator with a scholarship to attend the annual SEOPA conference. Hodges received conference registration, lodging and travel expenses to Lakeland, Fla., to meet industry icons, attend seminars, and learn about being a successful outdoor communicator.
“I applied for the Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award because I saw it as a great opportunity to showcase my God-given talents to professionals in the industry,” Hodges said. “By going to the conference, I hope to gain wisdom and knowledge from those at the top of the outdoor communications field while also establishing essential relationships that could help advance my career. I think this conference is a great chance for me to get my foot in the door and hopefully lead me to where I want to be. I am expecting to meet a lot of influential people while I am there and create friendships that will last a lifetime.” Unfortunately, Hodges had to cut his conference visit short to help his family evacuate from the path of Hurricane Matthew.
Prior to the conference, SEOPA President Gil Lackey said, “Our goal is to encourage young folks to pursue a career in outdoor media. It’s inspiring to watch the younger generation meet and learn from outdoors icons at the SEOPA conference. I can’t wait to meet Wade and welcome him into the SEOPA family.” Hodges was one of seven communicators under the age of 26 registered to attend.
Stu Tinney, founder of the original Striper magazine and tournament series, is the benefactor of the Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award. His donation of $25,000 at the 2013 conference is restricted for the sole purpose of providing this conference scholarship. Tinney established the award to honor his late wife, Lindsay Sale-Tinney, and her love of the outdoors, animals, children, photography and education. “The SEOPA conference provides a super venue for networking, learning and enjoying fellowship with like-minded individuals,” Tinney said. “I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to Lindsay than to send young outdoor communicators to a SEOPA conference.”
Wade wrote the following essay as part of the scholarship application process:
Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award Essay
In my opinion, there are certain key moments that change our lives forever. Whether they were tragedies that made you stronger or a relationship that molded you into the person you are today, we should be thankful for those moments. For me, the influence of my father has given me the passion and drive to achieve my goals and aspirations in life.
I’ll start with a little background about myself. I was born in Statesboro, Ga.; a little college town three hours south of Atlanta and an hour northwest of Savannah. I was raised on a humble farm where my dad instilled in me the importance of hard work and shared with me the beauty Mother Nature had to offer. I remember riding the tractors with dad for hours on end when I was a kid, listening to the radio and trying to think of things to talk about so I wouldn’t fall back asleep. My dad introduced me to the sport of hunting and the art of conservation. I’ll never forget going to retrieve his dove in the fields on those long, hot, summer afternoons, watching the dogs point a covey of quail on a crisp morning in the pines, or helping him perform prescribed burns every spring. These images and sights are forever etched in my brain, and were the foundation of my career in the outdoor communications industry.
I first started filming my own hunts when I was a sophomore in high school. Like most kids at my school, I played football and baseball so there wasn’t much time to hunt. However, when I did get the opportunity to go, I always toted my camera “just in case,” I would tell myself. It was the opening day of turkey season in 2010 and my buddy and I were right on the “X” that morning. As we were pulling up to the spot, I told him I’d film while he shot, if given the opportunity. As fortune would have it, these turkeys flew right down in our laps and put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. At that point in my life, I had killed three turkeys. I thought the nervousness and heavy heartbeat would go away, but when that gobbler made his last strut to the decoy and heard the safety click off, I knew I was dead wrong. This was my first successful encounter with filming a hunt and I’ve never looked back.
Of course, like everybody in the industry, my early work needed improvement. I would watch hunting shows and be envious of their footage and spend hours on hours in the fields or stands trying to get that “next level” footage. The more I watched hunting shows, the more I got accustomed to the way they ran and were organized. Before long I began to get recognized around town for my videos. “Wasn’t that you who videoed that big gobbler last weekend?” I loved hearing from people who enjoyed my work, and that still is what drives me to this day.
Going to college was a huge scare for me because I had no earthly idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. Georgia Southern University, located in my hometown, is a wonderful place to obtain higher education, and the community around Statesboro provides a ton of hunting opportunities. I gave it some time and out of nowhere one day my advisor brought to my attention a major in the Communications department called Post-Film Production. I thought long and hard and finally decided that was the route to take. In the summer of 2014, I jokingly mentioned to a buddy about starting up a company called Whistlin’ Pines Outdoors, basically to expose our outdoors adventures and to broadcast my work. Sure enough, the name stuck and we began to slowly release our videos on various social media platforms. At first, it was tough because we barely had any followers, and it just seemed like nobody was paying attention. This motivated me and drove me even more to capture more videos to show people we were for real. Slowly but surely we gained more attention and followers through the weeks, and before we knew it we were going to Arkansas to film duck hunts, filming turkey hunts for other companies, and making a huge impact on the younger generation. We have met outstanding people from all over at hunting expos and turkey calling competitions who have offered us advice on filming and editing, all the while promoting our videos and merchandise. The goal of Whistlin’ Pines Outdoors is to simply inspire people to get outside and enjoy nature. We try to bring to people’s eyes the beauty of the outdoors as we see through our own eyes. We want our audience, after watching our videos, to share the same love we have for the outdoors.
I have gained a lot of knowledge from my time with Whistlin’ Pines Outdoors. I have learned how to build a brand with social media marketing skills that are crucial in today’s society, and I have enhanced my videography and photography skills tremendously. SEOPA is filled with some of the best outdoor writers, photographers and videographers our nation has to offer, and I want the chance to get to meet them and learn what it takes to get to that level. I understand whole-heartedly that my work is by far not the best in the world, but I feel like I have a good grasp for what the outdoor communications field requires. I truly believe God has gifted me with the ability to capture, edit and produce films that captivate and compel audiences of all ages. My short-term goals are to continue learning in school to enhance my craft, while getting to practice it in the Great Outdoors alongside friends and family. Long-term, I would like to be a full-time videographer who travels the nation in pursuit of game. I would like to either own my own hunting show or be a producer of one. I feel like both my photos and videos help me connect with people and help me explain my passion for the outdoors. Hopefully, when I finish college with my degree, I can tag along with a company and start my career while working up the ladder to land eventually on my dream job with Mossy Oak, Realtree, or any other big name in the business.
SEOPA is the perfect door for me to enter into the field and showcase my talents with people who otherwise would have never gotten to see my media. I hope to inspire future generations of hunters and those who are disabled by giving them opportunities in the field. Seeing the smile of a kid who has just successfully taken their first animal is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s rewarding to be a part of something so great. This award is an investment in my future in the outdoor industry and a way to meet new people and learn from some of the best in the business. I hope I get the chance to experience that comradery.
Editor’s Note: Applications for the 2017 Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award will be accepted between January 1 and July 1, 2017.