Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Elk Camp/Hunter Christmas Expo: Day One

A foggy, drizzly kind of day didn’t dampen any spirits at the first day of Elk Camp, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s annual national convention. It was a family reunion of sorts as an overflow crowd spilled into The Mirage Thursday morning for the second of twice-a-year meetings for the Habitat Council.

Shortly thereafter, the doors opened at straight-up 10 a.m. and the crowd poured into the Las Vegas Convention Center for the inaugural Hunter Christmas Exposition, presented by Cabela’s. Given the December timing, the expo is the first of a series of nationwide hunting and outdoor shows that will stretch into the coming year. It offers the approximately 300 vendors and outfitters a chance to show their wares as a barometer of what lies ahead for them in 2015.

Among the many sights to see is the new-look Great Elk Tour. Overhauled with a longer, larger trailer and six new bull elk mounts, its interior gives off the feel that you’re inside a hunting cabin complete with log siding, a bear rug and fire burning in a fireplace.

Immediately next to the Great Elk Tour is the Elk Country Theater. Six seminars, each of which is presented by Cabela’s, highlighted the first day of instruction, learning and even some laughs. Presenters offered insight and information for those venturing into the backcountry to hunt. 

We learned from the Yellowstone Country Bear Hunters Association about the perils of encounters with grizzly bears. We also learned that a bear can lose up to 40 percent of its body weight during hibernation and that it internally recycles, for lack of a better term, its urine and excrement during that time. That’s right, there’s no pooping in the den.

Cook with Cabela's making some on-stage magic
David Draper and Mark Millis (aka Uncle Millie) of Cook with Cabela’s took center stage, along with their four-camera set-up, to tape an episode of their popular web-based cooking show. They showed on-lookers the finer skills of preparing venison sausage—from cutting up the meat, to grinding it, to cooking it up and eventually offering free samples afterwards. It was a tasty treat for all who attended.

The hosts of Driven with Pat & Nicole shared tales of their many hunting adventures. Pat and Nicole Reeve showed videos of some of their favorite and most memorable hunts and walked us through the challenges and emotions they faced along the way. They also shared a bit of news that they’re looking forward to…well, that they’re expecting to...Hmmm, let’s just say that Nicole used the words “baby bump” as she smiled toward her husband on stage—something she says she hasn’t shared with anybody else.

Popular author, hunter and photographer Mark Kayser –fresh off one hunt and heading to Wisconsin for another—talked about how to adapt and overcome for public land bulls. He passed along ideas on planning an elk hunt to the type of gear needed and tactics used to find and be successful in the pursuit of elk. 

Montanan Rich Birdsell, a long-time outfitter from Montana who also outfits in Colorado and New Mexico, talked about how to choose the right outfitter. He answered questions and explained how if you do your homework then you can make your dream hunt a reality.

Wayne Carlton passing on his passion to the next generation

Last to take the Elk Country Theater stage was Wayne Carlton, the man who pioneered the first diaphragm elk call. He prepared for his appearance by transferring old photos into digital photos. Carlton had folks rolling as he told decades-old tales of coon hunting, “skeeters,” and chasing bulls. In fact, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of his first elk kill. The RMEF life member told story after story about bulls he killed and what he learned from each of them. 

World class auctions also kept attendees busy. The always popular Ladies Luncheon and Auction (that’s right no boys allowed) included a fashion show and a high energy, spirited afternoon of fundraising for the RMEF. The larger auction hall held the first of its three different auctions scheduled to take place daily through Saturday.

The RMEF Membership Booth was also a busy place throughout the day. That was the location of a series of Hunter Christmas Exposition celebrity autograph session. Participants included hunting personalities, rodeo legends and country music personalities.

Surprise, surprise Patrick!
Festivities shifted back to The Mirage in the late afternoon for the Friday Banquet. RMEF Team Elk Host Brandon Bates served as emcee. The highlight of the evening was a surprise recognition of Fort Hood shooting victim Patrick Zeigler. Attending with his wife and young son, Zeigler had no idea his first ever elk hunt would be shown to more than a thousand people on hand. A video presentation showed the many challenges that Patrick dealt with and continues to deal with on a daily basis as he rehabs from his injuries. The crowd roared as the video showed Zeigler dropping a dandy of an bull elk on the UU Bar Ranch. RMEF President and CEO David Allen also announced that RMEF would further support its "adopted son" by funding a college scholarship for the Zeigler's young son.

Country music artist and a good friend of RMEF Daryle Singletary closed out the banquet with an acoustic performance. He played several of his favorite songs and both talked about and performed work from his new CD as he serenaded the throngs.

The evening closed with a live feed from the National Finals Rodeo from the Thomas and Mack Center across town.

NFR live feed on four really BIG screens

Or we thought it did. After the opening night of the NFR came to a close the party kept going as Singletary returned to the stage for two more hours of country music--and he did it just for fun!

All in all, it was a great first day!

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