The SHOT Show; Remembering My First Time

I have this friend who likes to poke fun at people who do stupid things.   Take, for instance, the time one of our buddies backed his boat trailer into the water and then got talking with some people who momentarily distracted him.   Yup, you probably guessed it…he forgot to put the drain plug back into the boat before it hit water.

Well, to make a long story short…by the time he figured out his predicament the boat had taken on lots of water to the point gear was floating on the bottom.   It’s about this time my other buddy is famous for saying, “I remember my first beer, too.”   The connotation being that someone just learning how to drink alcohol is generally not too aware of the stupidity that can result.

In many ways the concept of “remembering my first beer” sort of relates to my first experience at SHOT Show, too.   I was a rookie.   I did lots of stupid things.   I was intoxicated, so to speak, of the sheer scope of the event.   In other words, the first time I walked into the Las Vegas Convention Center back in 1988 to attend the SHOT Show a sensation of nervous excitement raced throughout my body.

Now, keep in mind back in 1988 the number of show attendees was just shy of 20,000 people.   Last year, in comparison, there was about 64,000 people at the Sands Convention Center which I’m guessing has a footprint smaller than what the larger L.V. Convention Center once offered.

I attended this 1988 show because my boss (at the time) told me to go with the intent of making some new contacts to sell them calendars.   Truth be told, I failed miserably.   I came home with a pocket full of business cards and none of them were leads for future business.   In fact, I quickly discovered how people don’t go to SHOT with the hopes of peddling products or services TO THE exhibitors (albeit, to some extent it does happen)…nope, folks go to SHOT to BUY FROM the exhibitors who spend big bucks on fancy tradeshow displays.

And you see, at that first show I discovered how companies had a sneaky little trick to distract you.   While you might be wanting to tout the benefits of the products and services you can offer, they have new products on display that makes your head spin with excitement and intrigue.   I quickly learned the proper protocol for SHOT or any tradeshow, for that matter.   In fact, today even more so than three decades ago, SHOT management strongly discourages any selling by roving “carpetbagging” as this practice undermines the tradeshow concept.

So, if you’re walking the show aisles and not selling, you must be buying products, correct?   Well, yes and no.   At this first tradeshow I discovered how the exhibitors wanted to “write orders” and have the product shipped to your store.   That didn’t mean they would necessarily have products for you to “grab and go” with to fill a shopping cart.   Nope, found that out when trying to leave the show.   Bags were often inspected and a “bill of sale” best be available as proof of purchase.   And samples, oh boy…a person better have a good story.

Today, however, mostly with the size of the tradeshow show tripling from those earlier years…show floor selling doesn’t appear to be as big of a deal.   While all bags are still subject to inspection upon departure, it seems to now rarely occur.

The new smartphone app is a welcome tool to both navigate and learn about what is happening at SHOT.

Okay, so what’s it like to walk your very first SHOT Show?   I guess if I had to sum it up in one word I would say “disorienting.”   Honestly, the SHOT Show is so big and vast that without a good plan of attack you just will not see it all.   A person needs paper maps, smartphone apps, and the confidence to ask someone who can help show you the way.

Aside from that the show will wear you down.   Yes, it will even make your feet bleed.   Just ask my buddy, Jeff, who chose not to take my advice and wear comfortable shoes while at the show.   His white dress socks having spent the day inside a pair of leather dress shoes made for blisters and bleeding.   Oh yeah, once the “dogs start barking” the discomfort will not stop biting likely for the remainder of the show.   Be warned and stay aware.

Another thing most people forget about is staying hydrated.   After all, the SHOT Show is in the desert and your body can wear down quickly when fluid intake is lacking.   Oh, and perhaps this is a good point in time to talk about the proper fluid, too.   Yes, the show is in Vegas and yes, the alcohol has a tendency to flow(especially in the evenings).   Alcohol does not do well to hydrate a body, in fact, in most cases it is rather counter productive.

So, by now you might be wondering why the hell would anyone want to go to SHOT.   First off, not just anybody can get in…you must be a bona fide member of the outdoors industry with credentials that seem to get more strict each year.   Oh yeah, and it costs lost of money in travel and lodging; Vegas is not the cheap destination your parents once knew.   On top of that, the tradeshow can be overwhelming in so many of the ways I just explained.

Honestly, I go for the friendships.   Over all my years I have met many outstanding people in this industry with whom I have developed very cherished friendships.   To me that is what SHOT is truly all about.   Renewing acquaintances and discovering new fascinating people to connect with in the future.

This first-time SHOT attendee was so overwhelmed by the experience I could hardly get him out of the Tenzing booth.

Of course, this is only an estimate, but I figure conservatively I have walked at least 750,000 steps while attending SHOT over the many years.   This works out to be over 300 miles of tired, sore feet walking on carpeted cement in various cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans.   No wonder I’m tired.

Yet, in 1994 a book author named John Roskelley handed me a signed copy of his new mountain-climbing book, Stories Off The Wall.   In the book he signed and wrote, “To Jim, all adventures begin with the first step…”   Advice I have not only taken to heart in my life, but subsequently offered to many others who were contemplating a new life journey.

Indeed, I would say how the first time a person takes steps inside of the SHOT Show it becomes a transformational experience; an experience that will change how you appreciate the shooting and outdoors industry from that day forward.

To all those folks who will be taking their very first steps at SHOT this year, I’m excited for what you are about to witness.   …And oh yes, “I remember my first time.”

Minnesota’s 2016 Youth Waterfowl Day Was…Challenging

Minnesota’s Youth Waterfowl Day kicked off last Saturday with…well, let’s just say some challenges.

First, this summer has seen an abundance of rain which has filled every possible pothole, gully, slough…you name it.   If it holds water this year it’s likely filled with water.   That’s the good news for ducks as they have plenty of habitat this year.   It’s also the bad news for hunters because ducks have plenty of habitat this year.   Their numbers are just not concentrated in any one particular area which obviously makes hunting a bit easier.

And, of course, with rain also brings mosquitoes.   Now, in Minnesota it certainly is not unusually to still be battling this pestilence early into September before the freezing temps appear.   Yet, this year seems to have brought them out with a vengeance.   Perhaps making up for past summers where their numbers were…shall we say, a bit more tolerable.   As we ease toward winter and cooler temps the bug problem for many early season hunters is far from tolerable, unfortunately.

In fact, on this particular morning the ThermaCELLs(they had 4 of them) outnumbered the number of ducks witnessed (which unfortunately was none).   But, that sometimes happens early season before the ducks start moving south.   Youth Waterfowl Day can be highly unpredictable, but it usually teaches many great lessons in patience and the need for persistence.

What follows are some images supplied to me by my buddy, Todd Rost, from his morning afield with daughter, dad and dog this past Saturday.   Thanks to Todd for providing some visual insight into his experience on the 2016 youth hunt.

The youth hunt is intended to get young hunters into the field with plenty of adult guidance to ensure safety and fun.

Young hunters learn how one of the magical times of the day is sun-up when the morning just begins to peek over the eastern horizon.

The morning marsh is unusually quiet as mother nature transitions from the nocturnal to diurnal activity.

Whistling wings or distant specs flying in unison is often the first indication that waterfowl may be approaching.

It’s important to introduce the sights, the smells and the wet feet from leaky boots to youth to get the full experience.

Dogs, decoys and daughters…the perfect combination for a successful waterfowl hunt.

Dogs must play in the water…it’s part of their DNA to do so.

Ashley and Grandpa Dick wait patiently for the action to begin.

Time to call it a morning…even with no ducks in hand, there are still smiles on the faces because the kids got to go hunting.

Game Fair Still Going Strong After 35 Years

I figure it has been about 20 years since I last attended Game Fair in Anoka, Minnesota, so when the invite reached my desk to come back I was certainly anxious to check it out once again.

For those who are not familiar, Game Fair is the annual event held over two weekends each August to prime everyone’s pump, so to speak, for the fast-approaching hunting seasons.   It’s an event celebrating guns, shooting, dogs and just about everything related to the shooting sports we all enjoy each fall.   Situated on 80–acres of land containing woods and waters, the location provides all the sights, sounds and tactile pleasures that sportsmen associate with the best season of the year—fall.

I was amazed at all the changes that had occurred over the past 20 years.   Now, with over 300 outdoor exhibitors from 28 states and provinces, this has easily tripled in size from what I last remember back from the mid ’90s.   Duck and goose calls, decoys, dog equipment, home decor, you name it…if it appeals to the outdoors person it will likely be found at Game Fair.

I think the biggest purpose Game Fair serves annually is to scratch the itch many outdoors oriented people get about this time of the year.   With big game seasons now happening in the western states in a matter of days, and seasons in many Midwestern states only weeks away, there’s nothing better than to rub elbows with like-minded folks who share the same passions of life.

Now, because Game Fair is rather visual, I think the best way to further explain the unique experience is with pictures(and captions).

When most people think of Game Fair they think of dogs--you'll see just about all of the sporting breeds.

When most people think of Game Fair they think of dogs–you’ll see just about all of the popular sporting breeds on display.

Indeed, dogs receive lots of attention at Game Fair.

Indeed, dogs receive lots of attention at Game Fair.

Some dogs even put up with more attention than they care to receive. Ha!

Some dogs even put up with more attention than they care to receive. Ha!

But for sure, Game Fair is about enjoying the companionship sportsman have with their canine partners.

But for sure, Game Fair is about enjoying the companionship sportsmen have with their canine partners.

Game Fair is one of the few events where bringing your dogs (on leash) is encouraged.

Game Fair is one of the few events where bringing your dogs (on leash) is highly encouraged.

No dog? No problem. At Game Fair you can come without a dog and go home with a energetic puppy willing to provide years of love in your home.

No dog? No problem. At Game Fair you can come without a dog and go home with a energetic puppy willing to provide years of love in your home.

Then again, some folks come just for the FREE dog training lessons taught by world renowned experts like Tom Dokken.

Then again, some folks come just for the FREE dog training lessons taught by world renowned experts, like Tom Dokken.

Tom Dokken is truly one of the most generous guys sharing his time and experience to turn your pet into an obedient partner.

Tom Dokken is truly one of the most generous guys sharing his time and experience to turn your pet into an obedient, capable partner.

So, you think your dog is already well trained? Prove it! Game Fair offers several events where your partner can prove he's Top Dog in the field.

So, you think your dog is already well trained? Prove it! Game Fair offers several events where your canine partner can prove they’re “Top Dog” in their field.

Some of these timed events give dog owners an opportunity to showcase just how good their canine partners will be performing this fall.

Some of these timed events give dog owners an opportunity to showcase just how good their canine partners will be performing this fall.

But events aside, Game Fair is also a chance for dogs and their owners a chance to socialize and enjoy a late summer day.

But sanctioned events aside, Game Fair is also an opportunity for dogs and their owners to socialize and just enjoy a late summer day.

Most folks, however, are content to walk the grounds and enjoy Game Fair without dogs.

Most folks, however, are content to walk the grounds and enjoy Game Fair without dogs.

They walk around enjoying all the exhibits and the food.

They walk around enjoying all the exhibits and the great food.

You never know just what you might find checking out the exhibits.

A person just never knows what they might find checking out the exhibits.

It can range from someone hand lathing a new duck call from a chunk of wood....

It can range from someone hand lathing a new duck call from a chunk of wood….

To vendors selling 100s of different wild game calls where there is one to suit your needs.

To vendors selling 100s of different wild game calls where there is surely one to suit your needs.

All the way to vendors who want to ensure your home decor reminds you about your passion in the outdoors.

All the way to vendors who want to ensure your home decor reminds you about your passion in the outdoors.

Quite honestly, Game Fair will find a way to put a smile on your face. Guaranteed!

Quite honestly, Game Fair will somehow find a way to put a smile on your face. Guaranteed!

The event covers two weekends (Friday-Sunday) each August to allow 6 full days for fun.

The event covers two weekends (Friday-Sunday) each August to allow 6 full days for fun.

Wildlife art has long been a part of Game Fair with some of the best artists in the world on display.

Wildlife art has long been a part of Game Fair with some of the best artists in the world on display.

Best of all, Game Fair is an OUTDOOR event unlike many other shows held in stuffy convention centers.

Best of all, Game Fair is an OUTDOOR event unlike many other shows held in stuffy convention centers surrounded by bricks and cement.

...So bring your sunscreen and rain gear, depending on what the weather forecast promises for the day.

…So, bring your sunscreen or rain gear, depending on what the weather forecast promises for the day.

Game Fair also caters to kids as they are the future. Supervised games that allow kids to put down their iPhones and pick up a slingshot, shotgun or bow are highly encouraged.

Game Fair also caters to kids as they are the future of our outdoors heritage. Supervised games that allow kids to put down their iPhones and pick up a slingshot, shotgun or bow are highly encouraged.

Indeed, Game Fair is often the place where kids discover shooting a slingshot is more fun than a smartphone app.

Indeed, Game Fair is often the place where kids discover shooting a slingshot is actually more fun than most smartphone apps.

Game Fair is also learning about the natural environment. You can talk to expert hunters, trappers, and conservation officers to get all of your questions answered.

Game Fair is also learning about the natural environment. You can talk to expert hunters, trappers, and conservation officers to get all of your outdoors questions answered.

It's also a place to meet Master Falconers like Frank Taylor who has spent a lifetime working with these special birds of prey.

It’s also a place to meet Master Falconers, like Frank Taylor, who has spent a lifetime working with these special birds of prey.

Game Fair's new Birds of Prey display allows attendees an up close look at these marvelous birds.

Game Fair’s new Birds of Prey display allows attendees to get an up close look at these marvelous birds.

Folks from the Minnesota Falconers Association share their love for these creatures and explain how this form of hunting has evolved over time.

Folks from the Minnesota Falconers Association share their love for these creatures and explain how this form of hunting has evolved over time.

Let's not forget Game Fair is also about shooting.

Let’s not forget, Game Fair is also about hands-on shooting.

Game Fair allows hunters to touch and feel (and yes, shoot) some of the newest guns, bows and similar equipment on the market.

Game Fair allows hunters to touch and feel (and yes, shoot) some of the newest guns, bows and similar equipment currently on the market.

Game Fair also gives attendees an opportunity to view the masters who are at the top of the shooting world.

Game Fair also gives attendees an opportunity to visit with the masters who have skills that are at the top of the shooting world.

But let's face it...people also like to come to Game Fair to eat.

But let’s face it…people also like to come to Game Fair to eat.

And unlike most events, the one comment I heard folks saying is how reasonably priced the food here is.

And unlike most public events these days, the one comment I heard folks say is how fairly priced the food is at Game Fair.

After all, who likes to be price gouged when you're trying to enjoy some cotton candy?

After all, who likes to be price gouged when you’re trying to enjoy some cotton candy?

If you haven't made plans yet to attend...it's time to make tracks this coming weekend before it is all over again for another year.

If you haven’t made plans yet to attend…it’s time to make tracks this coming weekend before it is all over again for another year.

For more information about Game Fair click HERE.   This coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday (August 19-21) is the final weekend in 2016.