A 4 1/2 hour drive home to Ohio from Nashville, TN, that turned into a 12+ hour drive thanks to the afternoon snow storm, gave me plenty of time to reflect on my experiences at the 2016 NWTF Convention. If you’ve read my NWTF Overview articles in the past (2014 or 2015), then you are well aware this is not the first time I have left Nashville daydreaming of spring and the forthcoming turkey season, the convention always seems to have that effect on me. But the extra jab from mother nature this year in the form of endless snow seemed to amplify those feelings, as did some of the excitement at this years show.
It is really hard to go to the NWTF Convention and experience everything there is to offer in one weekend. There is simply too much to do and not enough time to do it. So this year, we decided to shake things up a little bit and make sure we spent a decent amount of our time focusing on things we have neglected in the past. We typically spend the vast majority of our time wandering through the aisles of new gear, outfitters, etc. inside the actual exhibition hall. And while there is a lot to see there, it is important to remember the convention is so much more than a shopping opportunity.
This year, I took the time to appreciate some of the smaller details of the Convention. In the past years, I always glanced at the taxidermy displays at the entrance of the show, but typically I didn’t take much time to look at them except to snap a picture or two of the mounts that caught my eye. When I actually took the opportunity to focus in on the fine details and artist’s thought put into those mounts, I was amazed. One display in particular I thought was really neat was a smoke phased turkey. By itself, the bird was a beautiful animal, but the artist who did the taxidermy work added more by portraying the bird feeding on a grape-vine. It is one thing to recreate the animal in a realistic post, but it is another to tie in, and recreate a scene that very likely has occurred in its life. However, even for those taxidermist who do not go so far as to recreate a specific scene, it is amazing the detail that they put into each mount. Right down to positioning the tongue of a turkey while gobbling, or reproducing veins and muscles in a deer’s face. It is easy to overlook the fact that a taxidermist is more than just a person who enables you to keep your trophy in your house. They are artists, artists who bring that animal back to life and help to celebrate its magnificence. It is clear that like any artist, some are better than others, but a few possess a real gift. In the future, I will definitely do a little bit more research before casually selecting a taxidermist.
Another area of the convention I generally walk right past is the kids zone. I have a 6-year-old girl, and a soon to be 4-year-old son, both have shown a decent amount of interest in hunting with Dad. After strolling through the Kids Zone, I have realized I may not be doing all that I can to get them ready when that time comes. Virtual hunting booths allowed kids to fire darts at video sequences of live animals in an attempt to teach kids about shot placement. Now I don’t have a projector or a pressure sensitive screen at my house, but I can definitely print of some large photos and turn them loose providing real-time feedback. I also pride myself in making sure I keep my wife and I’s NWTF memberships updated each year, yet I have neglected to take the opportunity to sign either of my kids up for the NWTF’s Jakes program. What I had always wrote off as a place for kids turned out to be perhaps a greater learning opportunity for Dad than it may have been for my children. Thanks to the Kid Zone, which I have walked passed a dozen times, I’ll be putting a lot more time into preparing my kids to take over the tradition of hunting in our family.
Speaking of learning opportunities, the seminars and calling competitions are always a great place to gather knowledge. Sitting this year and listening to the pro’s as they do their best to “talk turkey”, I was floored by how good their calling was. More importantly, listening to some of the dialogue between the callers and the judges, I was amazed to hear how much time they practice with their calls. I mean, we are talking about having a call in your mouth 365 days a year. We all want to call like the pros, but very few of us actually want to practice like them. I know I am guilty of waiting until 3 weeks before the season before I even think of practicing, and then I wonder why my purrs sound more like a squeal, or my cutting ends up as one slurred note fading into another. Just like the taxidermy displays, it was evident that these guys were artists as well, musicians in a way. Jimmy Hendrix didn’t just pick up a guitar and make great hits his first attempt, it took lots of practice. I supposed it is silly to hope we could do the same with a mouth call, or slate. Needless to say, I’ll have a turkey call close at hand from now until turkey season.
All in all, the NWTF Convention this year was much the same, and yet vastly different. As I stated earlier, it is hard to see everything in only a few days. I have to admit, I really enjoyed spending a little more time focusing on some of the things I have missed out on, or ignored in the past. But the exhibition hall still has a lot to offer. I always take the opportunity to grab some new calls, and talk one on one with some of the industry experts. Of course, a couple of us had to stop by the Benchmade booth and get custom laser engraving done on our Benchmade Hunt knives. I would be remiss if I did not once again touch on how awesome the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Hotel was. We were lucky enough to get an atrium view this year from our room, and it the middle of winter, it is priceless to be able to walk out on your balcony and overlook a tropical paradise in the middle of Tennessee. I think I also put on a few pounds eating at many of the delicious restaurants available inside the hotel as well.
No matter how many times I go to the NWTF Convention, It never seems to get old. If you have not taken the time to visit before, I highly recommend you do. If you enjoy turkey hunting in the slightest, you won’t find yourself in a more appealing atmosphere this time of year. One word of caution however, if you plan to visit only one day, Sunday is the day to do it as the lines for admission are a tiny bit shorter. Last but not least, if you are not already a member, go to the NWTF’s website at http://www.ntwf.org and sign up for your membership today. For $35 a year, you help guarantee the future tradition of hunting in this country will be alive and well for future generations.