Monday, February 20, 2012
Pheasant Fest 2012: Winning Hearts and Minds, One Kid At A Time
Pheasant Fest in Kansas City this past weekend. For those unaware, it's an outdoor trade show that features all things related to hunting and conservation -- bird dogs, guns, and everything else related. By any account, it was a success, drawing more than 22,000 people over three days. That's impressive, given that KC was as far south as The Fest has ever ventured -- not to mention that the weather was ridiculously nice, which probably kept a few people outside.
But I've got another, more personal, way to measure the festival's impact. Saturday morning, I took my 11-year-old son Jack to the show, and let him bring along one of his classmates -- we'll call him Justin. While Jack's outdoor experience rivals almost any kid of his age, Justin wasn't at all familiar with hunting, shooting, or bird dogs. I could tell on the drive downtown that he had no idea of what to expect from the show.
After arriving, the boys and I cruised the aisles. We pet bird dogs and we handled shotguns -- a first for Justin. After about 30 minutes (and a few "rules" admonishments), I let them wander the hall alone while I conducted some business. A couple hours later, we met up for lunch. The boys were ebullient. They told me about the shooting galleries and fishing games, and showed me the autographs they got from the young men who would represent the U.S. on our Olympic skeet team. They had collected stacks of catalogs and brochures from vendors. (Jack was a little bummed he couldn't find Larry Potterfield to autograph his Midway USA master catalog that he lugged to the show, but that's another story...)
Anyhow, I had planned on taking them home after lunch, but we went back for more. Two hours later, we were descending the escalator, smiles on all our faces. And then Justin turned to me with a question.
"Do you think I could take a hunter's safety course with Jack this spring?"
That's when I saw Pheasant Fest from a different perspective -- the view of a non-hunting kid who had truly gotten excited about a new thrill. It's a thrill that I've never lost, but it's one I've almost come to take for granted.
The kids are home from school today (Presidents Day, you know). But I can't wait to hear what Justin says to Jack tomorrow in class. Hopefully, he's still as excited about hunting as he was on Saturday. Hopefully, he'll talk his dad into shooting with us some afternoon this spring.
And maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to show Justin the thrill of a rooster flush or covey rise next fall.