To provide some backstory, this is not the first family road trip my dad and I have taken together; late last summer, we took an impromptu journey north, loaded with fishing poles and distinctly lacking in any sort of travel agenda or organized plans (catch that story in full here). The older I get, the more I appreciate time spent with my dad, and I am singularly luck that I live close enough to revel in spending quality adult time with someone who truly is the the Abbott to my Costello. So naturally, when an advertisement for the Expo came across on social media, my first two thoughts were "wouldn't miss it," and "better call dad."
If you have never attended a Deer and Turkey Expo, I thoroughly encourage you to find the next one in your state and immediately clear your social calendar. You'll thank me, I promise. The one in Wisconsin, supposedly the best around, is sponsored by Field & Stream magazine, and every attendee receives a free 1-year subscription to either Field & Stream or Outdoor Life, as your mood suits you. Spending a few hours learning about deer and turkey in the land of beer and cheese seemed like the perfect spring getaway; I reserved tickets online immediately.
Six weeks we waited, looking at the calendar and counting off days until our trip. When March 31st finally rolled around, we were beyond ready to hit the road, grabbing a sack of car snacks as we sped down the driveway, leaving Illinois in the rearview mirror as quickly as we (legally) could. The goal was to arrive in Madison just as the doors to the Alliant Energy Center opened at 2:00 pm, and the crowds were fairly thin as we started touring.
Now, dad and I have trained for years on the art of navigating crowds. We have a standing date every December for a marathon Christmas shopping trip, and we love visiting with every Tom, Dick, and Harry at farm shows and fairs. All this training was about to pay off, because we had hit The Motherload of people to talk to, and I had a checklist of must-see vendors to visit.
The purpose of the Expo really is twofold: to connect businesses to consumers ready for the newest gadget and strategy to improve the success/quality/comfort of a hunt, and to educate the hunter(ella) about best practices in habitat and game management. We travelled up and down each aisle, trying out new bows in the shooting range, discussing methods of preserving new tree plantings from hungry deer herds, testing blinds and stands that are well outside our price range but are within our DIY skill level, and debating potential legislation in Illinois to allow for supplemental deer feeding. We even spent an hour at the Bowfishing Association of America booth, learning all about a new activity that combines dad's love of fishing with my passion for bowhunting. I even went three for three in the 3D bowfishing tank...we won't mention the half dozen children that were able to do the same thing. What I had originally expected to be a three-hour tour turned into us closing the show down on Friday, shuffling out after the 9:00 pm "last call" with the custodians and cashiers. On the short walk to the hotel, dad and I both agreed that we would pop for another round of tickets for the next morning, and then stayed up until 2:00 am decompressing and talking about everything we had seen. I think we planned the 2017 hunting season at least one thousand times that night.
The next morning was more of the same, and when I say more, I truly mean MORE. The crowd was at least triple what it had been the night before, making it distinctly more difficult to get around, but we are hardly afraid of a challenge. That day, we scored free mineral from the Ani-Logics booth, a new set of six broadheads from All-Blade Archery (www.all-blade.com) in exchange for a photo of my first kill with them, and a handy camera mount for my bow from Bow Mount (www.bowmountvideo.com), a company from just outside my hometown that I had to discover 350 miles away. Every single stop allowed us the chance to learn something new, validating some of my existing plans and getting my dad (the landowner) 100% on board.
I would be completely remiss if I did not share the best part of the story, and perhaps my secret ulterior motive for making the trip. I live for Bowhunt or Die, a web hunting show hosted by Todd Graff and Justin Zarr. New episodes are posted on Fridays, and my favorite way to unwind from a week is to reward myself with the latest show. I did my Twitter research in advance to see if any of the featured pro staff would be attending the Expo, and noted which booths I should look for to get a glimpse of the guys in real life. My persistence paid off, for at the Big Horn Outfitters booth, I found not one, but TWO of the show regulars, John Hermann and Dustin DeCroo. Yes, I was embarrassingly excited to meet the guys, and yes, I asked for both a photo and for them to sign my favorite Bowhunt or Die hat. Roll your eyes if you must, but I allowed myself this one groupie moment with no shame. However, what I didn't anticipate was that both guys were so down to earth and happily chatted about episodes and upcoming hunts just as if I was a Big Time Hunter rather than just Little Ol' Nobody me.
Maybe that is the moral of the story in the hunting community; it doesn't matter who you are, or where you're from, we all have one passion and interest that binds us together in the pursuit of getting better and creating something special from our corner of the wild. The gadgets and gizmos at expos and hunting shows are just the excuse to gather en masse; take them all away, and you will have the same stories and pieces of advice shared around the world as hunters help each other in the pursuit of that next fin, feather, or fur.