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M&J Outdoor Communications » Biography - M.D. Johnson


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Biography - M.D. Johnson

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M.D. Johnson

Born in Nelsonville, Ohio – home of Rocky Shoes and Boots – outdoor writer, M.D. Johnson, spent 28 years in the Buckeye State before moving to Washington (state, that is) in the Fall of 1993. “A girl prompted the cross-country move,” he says, “and I don’t regret it for a minute.”

That girl was Julie Walling, now Julie Johnson, and co-owner of the couple’s freelance outdoor writing and photography business, M & J Outdoor Communications. “She’s a fantastic lady,” Johnson says, “and it’s a great mix in terms of business. I handle the writing and the day-to-day public relations aspects, and she does everything that requires intelligence and patience…computers, billings, electronics.”

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism and English from Ohio University (Athens, OH – 1986), Johnson worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’, Division of Wildlife, as a public information specialist. During his time with the state (1988-1992), he began to establish his freelance outdoor writing career; however, it wasn’t until he relocated to the Pacific Northwest that his writing ventures began to gather momentum. “There’s just so incredibly much for the outdoorsman to do out there on the corner,” he said. “And for me, it was particularly exciting because everything was so new. We lived 90 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and everything she had to offer – and for an Ohio boy, that was a novel and fascinating experience. The state and the people and the outdoor opportunities fueled the journalistic fire, if you’ll forgive the cliché,” he continues.

In 1997, the couple pulled up stakes and relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Johnson assumed the role of public relations director for Hunter’s Specialties. “It was an extremely short-lived position,” Johnson says with a smile, “for a number of reasons. The company was in flux, and the principle players weren’t sure what they were looking for.” The position lasted but six months; still, it had its benefits. “We learned quite a bit about the industry during that brief period,” he says. “And that knowledge has carried over into our own personal business.”

With the turning of the calendar to 1998, the Johnsons returned to outdoor writing on a full-time basis, and have been riding the literary ebb and flow ever since. In 2000, they published their first full-length book, Successful Duck Hunting (Krause Publications). “Julie had been pushing me to write an outdoor book,” recalls Johnson, “but I always balked, saying it was too much time for too little money. This first one (Successful Duck Hunting) was a true learning experience – it DID take a lot of time to put it together, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well it did.” To date, the Johnson’s first book on waterfowling has sold over 12,000 copies.

The success of Duck Hunting was followed by similar full-length works on turkeys, small game, and goose hunting. “There hasn’t been as much interest in those titles,” says Johnson, “for whatever reason. Television and DVDs, I believe, are taking some of the people away from books. Still, we enjoyed putting those projects together.” During the Fall of 2005, the Johnsons, working with new publisher Stackpole Books in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, published their first hard cover book – Guide to Pheasant Hunting. “It’s a visual success,” says Johnson. “Julie’s photography work in that one is stunning.”

On 21 May 2007, the couple mailed the manuscript and digital photography package for their sixth book – Waterfowling: Beyond the Basics – to the folks in Pennsylvania. “This one,” Johnson predicts, “is going to be our finest work, visually, thus far. The photography is absolutely incredible.” Waterfowling is scheduled to be released in late Summer of 2008, and will be available through the writers or the publisher (

What’s next for M & J Outdoor Communications? “The outdoor magazine industry is changing at a breakneck speed,” says Johnson. “And that’s both good and bad. Advertising dollars are being pulled away from print and put into television, which I can’t argue makes sense from a business standpoint – still, this reallocation of funds is causing narrowing the outdoor literature market dramatically. Just since 1 January ’07, I’ve seen six waterfowl-specific magazines slip into non-existence, and there weren’t that many to begin with! I’m not sure,” he continues, “where it’s all headed, but it’s going to be an interesting ride. It’s always an interesting ride.”

When they’re not staring at a computer screen, presenting waterfowl or turkey seminars, or shooting photography, the Johnsons can be found – or hopefully not found! – behind a turkey gun, flat in a layout blind, or holding onto a salmon or steelhead rod. “When you take something you love to do, like hunting and fishing,” Johnson says, “and turn it into a business, it changes that ‘something’ radically. There was a period of time not too long ago where we wrote about hunting and fishing. Didn’t do it near as much as we had 10 years ago; just wrote about it. Or photographed it. Today, though,” he says, “that’s changing. We’re spending more time – or trying to spend more time – hunting and fishing for the sheer recreational enjoyment it provides us. This (the outdoors) is supposed to be fun, and sometimes we have to stop, stand back, and remember that.”

Today, the Johnsons live in eastern Iowa with their three black lab dogs – Margaret, Jet, and Jet’s son, Deacon.