Gerald Almy: Harrisburg Outdoor Sports Show opens this weekend

Gerald Almy

The management of the National Rifle Association, sponsor of the massive outdoor sports show held each year in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, must be breathing a collective sigh of relief. If the recent blizzard with three-foot snows had fallen during their show dates this year, attendance would have no doubt been drastically curtailed.

Many visitors come to the show from Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. All got slammed by 50 mph winds, waist-deep snow and power outages, with many people unable to get out of their homes for days. Most areas of the Shenandoah Valley saw snow depths of 20-40 inches.

As it is, the weather outlook is excellent for this year’s show, which opens Feb. 6 and runs through Feb. 14, with moderate temperatures predicted and little or no snow. The event takes place at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Called the Great American Outdoor Show, it’s the largest consumer sports and outdoor show in the world.

Over 1,000 exhibitors have booths at the event, a large number of them offering guided hunting trips. This is a great way to find out about hunts you may want to take in the future. But there are so many outfitters at these shows that it would take days to visit all of their booths.

The best bet is to be selective and focus on guides from a few regions you are considering hunting, or those who outfit for one or more species you are interested in. Once you make some initial contacts, be sure to check with references before handing over a deposit and booking the trip. Of course many fishing outfitters have booths at the show and it’s a good opportunity to talk to them about their offerings as well.

Once you enter the vast show complex, stop in at the NRA Foundation’s Wall of Guns Raffle where a $10 ticket buys you the chance to win a prize from a wall displaying over 40 firearms. Also consider attending the NRA Foundation Banquet & Auction on Feb. 6, with chances to win hunts, merchandise and unique firearms. Both events raise money to support the future of the shooting sports.

After exploring as much of the 650,000 square feet of exhibit space as time and your leg strength will permit, check out several entertainment options for the evenings. On Feb. 12, Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty will talk about “God, Guns, and Country.” On Feb. 13, Justin Moore and guests LOCASH and Ben Gallagher will perform at the 2016 NRA Country Concert.

Looking over the newest products in hunting, fishing, camping, boats and RVs is one of the main attractions of the show. You’ll see all the latest innovations in these fields from both retailers and manufacturers, including tree stands, blinds, firearms, calls, camouflage clothing, trail cameras, tents, packs and fishing gear.

Anglers will be able to learn some of the most modern techniques pros use for catching bass at the Hawg Trough, a massive 2,500 gallon fish tank in the Fishing Hall, with live demonstrations and audience participation every day of the show. Well-known TV personality anglers will be giving talks there and in other seminar rooms during the show. A new activity called Bass University will give you a chance to probe the minds of pro anglers on their favorite tackle, lures and techniques for catching largemouths and smallmouths.

Demonstrations will be held on dressing and butchering big game, wild game cooking, decoy carving, turkey calling, filming your hunt, predator trapping and a variety of other topics. Contests will also be held for many of these activities.

The show is a great place to take the family. Lots of activities will appeal to kids, such as Bulls Eye Darts, Safe Archery, wildlife identification, magnetic fishing, a laser shooting gallery and other events at the Family Fun Zone. A Kid’s Trout Pond will have real fish swimming that anglers can try for and a Kids Casting Contest will be held.

Shooters of all ages will have the chance to learn the basics of the fastest growing shooting sport at the NRA Sports 3 Gun Experience.

Over 1,000 people are expected to participate in the 3D Bowhunter Challenge. Or if you’d rather, you can enter your dog in the world’s premier canine aquatics competition at Dock Dogs in the Large Arena.

All told over 200 seminars will be given at the show, by some of the most well-known hunting and angling experts in the country. Here’s a word of advice, though, from a veteran show-goer. Don’t try to cover it all in one day. You’ll need at least two, preferably more to visit even a small part of the show and not feel rushed.

Ticket prices are $13 for one-day, $22 for two days. Children 6-12 get in for $6. Seniors older than 65 pay $11. For more information, including schedules of events and speakers, visit greatamericanoutdoorshow.org. You can also purchase tickets in advance there.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.