George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 1

Six months ago retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lew Deal of the Paralyzed Veterans of America contacted me and asked if men and women in the outdoor, hunting and conservation communities would be interested in visiting our troops in the Persian Gulf. What a question! Of course we would! He put together two teams to undertake the trip.

After all the waiting and planning the opportunity to visit our servicemen and women in the Persian Gulf theatre is finally here.

Our mission is simple: Travel to a military hospital and forward bases to express the gratitude of all Americans to those who defend our freedom and keep harm away from our shores.

I am traveling with retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West, former Major League Baseball player Ryan Klesko, Bass Pro Shops TV host Jerry Martin, NWTF national spokesman Michael Waddell and outdoor TV personality Jim Zumbo. We’re all relieved to be boarding our plane because just three days ago, the other half of our group had had their tour delayed because of things heating up in the region. Everyone in that group — TV host Jim Shockey, Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, North American Hunting Club Executive Director Bill Miller, NWTF national spokeswoman Brenda Valentine, and Deal — was bitterly disappointed to suspend their visit.

We are the guests of the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Entertainment, whose mission is to provide entertainment to troops around the world. We are told that this tour is the first of its kind in that we will be on the ground, meeting one-on-one with servicemen. We all feel a great sense of responsibility to carry the best wishes of our fellow countrymen to sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines serving overseas.

We met up at Dulles International Airport for a flight to Frankfort, Germany where we will tour Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl Air Base. This hospital is the first stop for our severely wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. I’m certain I’m a sitting duck to card sharks Ryan Klesko (a shifty dealer), retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West and Jerry Martin. Keep your friends close and your wallet even closer…

As a distraction from the delays of travel, and I suppose from the seriousness and gravity of the world we are about to enter, we have resorted to poker. You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. It’s obvious to me that Klesko spent way too much time in MLB baseball clubhouses, buses and planes. The games he deals are only understood and won by the dealer. Gen. West and Martin spent a lot of hurry-up-and-wait times in their military careers. They are like patient, quiet sharks in the water. DO NOT let them hold your wallet. I am somewhere between a place holder and a victim, but I’m learning fast. Waddell and Zumbo are feigning inexperience, sitting on the sidelines like predators watching prey. I expect they’ll make a move in the next day or two.

Off to bed after a full 30-hour day. More after we return from Landstuhl.

— George

Handing over the reigns…just for a couple weeks

Because you keep up with me, it’s only fair I keep you in the loop.

For the next week or so, I’ve invited NWTF CEO George Thornton to guest blog on Keepin’ Up With Karen. (Invited is kind of a funny way to put it. He’s my boss, so he can do whatever…know what I’m sayin’?)

Anyway, George is on a monumental tour overseas with some of the hunting industry’s most dynamic leaders on the Outdoor Legends Tour. I’m not going to give away too much information, because the full scoop is on its way. George is sending us reports and photos when he can, and I’m posting them here. (And if I’m understanding things correctly, Michael Waddell may be sending posts every so often as well.)

Keep up with George by clicking on the “George’s Outdoor Legends Tour” tab to the right. Check back as often as you can to see what he’s up to. Or you can subscribe to have the most up-to-date posts sent to your inbox.

And for those faithful Karen followers, don’t worry your sweet little heads. I’ll still post myself every so often, ’cause there’s no need for you to go through withdrawals.


It’s food o’clock at the NWTF

Food has always been a big part of my life.

I grew up in a family who used mealtimes interchangeably with numbers on a clock.

Instead of making a shopping date for 2 p.m., it was, “Let’s go shopping after lunch.”

Or, “Aunt Margie passed away around dinnertime,” as opposed to talking about the hours around 7 p.m.

Meals make the world go-round in my house, and my life is richer (and belly rounder) for it.

That’s why I volunteered to spearhead the newest NWTF-sanctioned cookbook. It’s still in its pre-breakfast stage (I’ve yet to even settle on a title.), but I’m gobbling up recipes from NWTF members as fast as they’re served.

My hope for this cookbook is that it finds a permanent place on a hunting trip packing list, or even becomes a hunt camp cook’s favored kitchen companion. I want to pack it full of hearty, easy recipes to satisfy the most active sports enthusiasts, from in-the-field snacks to go-to-bed-happy wild game dinners.

Here’s your chance to be a part of this spiral-bound feast of information by sharing your favorite recipes. (Here’s a teaser … Will Primos already submitted his!)

In the next 15 days, I will award a prize to the yummiest recipe in the following categories:

BREAKFAST — Winner will receive a super classy black and pewter NWTF logo mug, perfect for a cup of Joe on a chilly spring morning.

PACKABLE SNACKS — Winner gets a soft-sided camo cooler for toting your own goodies in the field.

Have an awesome wild game inspired soup, sandwich or salad recipe you want to share? It could get you one of these Grand Slam candles handmade by yours truly.

SOUPS, SALADS and SANDWICHES — A Grand Slam wild turkey themed candle handmade by yours truly goes to the one with the best recipe here. Don’t worry, the candle smells like dogwood, not an Eastern.

DESSERTS and DRINKS — Winner gets the Knight & Hale Bad Medicine Series 3-Pack of diaphragm calls. They have a minty flavor, which will go nicely with after-dinner calling practice.

So crack open your recipe files and send your favorites to Be sure to include your name, hometown/state and any NWTF chapter affiliation. I’d also like to hear any backstory on the recipe, such as how you came up with the concoction, if it was something your mom used to make, it’s a favorite at hunt camp, stuff like that.

And feel free to send as many recipes as you’d like. But don’t make me wait, it’s three hours ‘til dinner and I’m getting hungry.

In desperate need of therapy

This past weekend I realized I was in need of some therapy — massage therapy, that is.

I’ve just come off a rollercoaster two months, including the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, the NWTF National Convention in Nashville, finishing the info-packed March-April issue of Turkey Country (landing in your mailbox within the next two or three weeks), matched with family life, home life, church life, just life in general.

So I self-enlisted in some TLC at a local spa to detox from the last 8 or 10 weeks and recharge for spring.

I’m a firm believer that massage therapy will make anyone a better person, a more successful hunter even. No doubt you can sit in the woods longer if your chakras are aligned. And a relaxed state of being surely comes in handy when a gobbler approaches your setup. Am I right?

Don’t let the magical fingers of a massage therapist fool you. They can turn on you like gently bumped hornet’s nest. But, oh, is it worth every ounce of delightful pain…

OK, so that may be self-serving rationalization, but I did use the hunting argument to convince my husband to get a massage once.

CJ is an avid bowhunter and was dealing with tension in his right shoulder about the same time we were planning a weekend getaway to Ashville, N.C. The Grove Park Inn has a super-primo spa, and I wanted to go. So I booked the couple’s spa package, which includes a treatment for each of us.

“I’ll do it, but I don’t want a dude rubbing on me,” CJ said.

Not a problem. I made the arrangements and we parted ways for our hour-long immersion in relaxation.

When we met back up, CJ asked, “Did you set that up?”

I became a bit nervous, thinking something had changed at the last minute, and he’d been manhandled by “a dude” after all.

He went on to explain that the lady who performed his massage was a bowhunter also, so they spent the hour talking hunting. She knew just how to work out the kinks brought on by repeatedly drawing back a recurve.

“That’s awesome,” I said temporarily relieved. Then I asked, “Was she good looking?”

I had to know what I was up against. I’m not sure I could beat a bowhunting masseuse, especially a pretty one. Then I realized I have the ace in the hole. I’m the mother of his child. Boo-yah! Top that, archer lady!

I digress … back to last weekend …

I laid on the table listening to the gamut of music reserved for spas: the slow thumping of Native Indian-inspired chants, the Stanley Kubrick-esque space odyssey synthesizer tunes that are soothing and creepy at the same time and, my personal favorite, songs that use Medieval lyres and pan pipes of yore.

Suddenly, the sweet sounds of a dulcimer became distant, as the magical hands of my massage therapist turned pure evil as they hovered over my left shoulder blade.

“You hold your stress here?” she whispered in a question-statement, as she dug her ice pick fingers into my flesh.

“I guess so,” I said, trying not to whimper.

The other shoulder felt the same. Apparently, I really do put the weight of the world on my shoulders, and Little Miss Masseuse wasn’t going to let me leave with an ounce of it. Ouch.

I learned a few other things on the table that day.

I can harbor tension in the strangest places, like my kneecaps, the sides of my feet and even the little webby flaps of skin between my fingers.

I’m a confirmed Type A. I suspected it before, but I knew it to be true when I tensed up my muscles in response to her efforts to make them relax. That resulted in her taking my hands and feet and shaking my arms and legs into submission several times before she could move forward with the session.

And even though I used my hard-earned money to pay someone to help me relax, I still can’t turn my brain off. I actually wrote this blog post in my head during the session.

Perhaps I should investigate some other type of therapy.

Who pressed the fast-forward button?

If you kept up with my posts during the NWTF National Convention (or if you’re like some of my coworkers and just now finding time to read through them after the fact), you know how I spent our 36th annual event — backstage. You also know that I’m the fan club president of Ovations, the production company hired by the NWTF to add the bells and whistles to the dinners, calling contests, breakfasts and such by using lights, surround-sound and 30-foot screens.

If you didn’t follow me throughout the convention, well, drop and give me 20, then keep scrolling down. My post for Saturday night introduces you to some of the Ovations team.

One of the crewmembers, Video Director Brad Poulson, planted a camera somewhere in the rafters of the Delta Ballroom and captured the hours of labor it took to turn an empty ballroom into a venue worthy of our annual Thursday night Welcome Party, as well as the rest of the weekend’s events.

Ovations loaded in the first of the production equipment on Tuesday at 8:45 a.m., and had us ready to kick off our convention by 5:45 on Thursday night. Makes me break a sweat just thinking about it.

You’ll see dozens of busy bodies hoisting lights and testing mics over a span of 33 hours, then starting at minute 3:15 footage of the actual Welcome Party, complete with Pledge of Allegiance, four sets of entertainers and a Bass Pro racecar.

Brad edited the footage and smooshed it into a rockin’ video that takes less than 5 minutes to watch.

But don’t blink, you might miss something. This time-lapse video of the Delta Ballroom gives new meaning to busy bodies and shows (yet oversimplifies at the same time) just how much work it takes to make the events at the NWTF National Convention a memorable experience, complete with lights, cameras and a whole lot of action.

2012 NWTF Convention: The last day and beyond

I didn’t post yesterday — the last day of convention — and I had a good reason.

I opened my tired eyes to a little voice that said, “Mommy, wake up. It’s time to go outside.”

By outside, my 3-year-old meant one of the lush atriums of the Gaylord Opryland. My husband had picked him up from the grandparents’ the night before and spent the evening exploring the “outside that’s inside” portions of the hotel.

I pried myself out of bed, relishing in the fact that for the first time in five days I wasn’t in a hurry — and that my family was together once again.

I thought of the speech Larry Potterfield delivered the evening before at the MidwayUSA-sponsored Awards Banquet.

He said (in paraphrase) that out of a population of 300 million people in the United States, only 14 million are hunters. With a life expectancy of about 78, nearly 182,000 hunters go on “to the happy hunting grounds” each year.

Mr. Larry then posed these pointed questions to the audience:

Who’s going to fill our shoes?

Who’s going to fill your shoes?

He said that each of us must do our part for our children and grandchildren to ensure the adults in our society 30, 40 and 50 years from now WANT to conserve wild turkeys and turkey habitat.

Sunday morning, I traded my dress pants for jeans. I slipped on a pair of comfortable shoes and my name badge. But instead of heading to the Delta Ballroom, we took the stairs to the Exhibit Hall, specifically The Roost.

Here’s me doing my part for the future of conservation…

Preparing to plant a suction cup “shotgun shell” on a big gobbler target





This was the first fire I enjoyed putting out all week! Learning about prescribed burns from the folks at the USDA Forest Service (or at least dressing the part.)





Cooper’s first time shooting an airgun at the Daisy inflatable range

Petting wildlife is only a good idea if they’re skinned and treated with Borax.

Here's to a bright future...


NWTF Convention: Backstage access

So if you’ve been keepin’ up with me this week, you know most of my days are spent in the big (Delta) ballroom, preparing for the evening shows, rehearsing with speakers, stuff like that.

Have you ever wondered what the production team thinks about the NWTF Convention? These are people from across the country, some from urban areas, not many of them hunters. They’re rolling video of animals getting shot. They’re prepping ammunition company executives for their speeches. They’re capturing the faces of our volunteers as they win awards for fundraising and hosting outreach events.

For a week, they become invested in what we do … but it’s all done behind the scenes, backstage.

So let’s bring them in the spotlight and hear what they think of our biggest event of the year.

Here’s proof that you can be crazy and get the job done. Cheers to a super production crew! Love, Karen


Krystie O’Brien of Ohio

Show Director

Has worked the NWTF National Convention for seven years

“I really like the Outreach Program Breakfast. I’m not a hunter, so it’s appealing to see the side of the NWTF that’s about more than hunting. It’s also about education. The first year I worked this show, I found this breakfast to be the most surprising aspect of the NWTF. It just seems to grow each year.”

Brad Poulson of Arizona

Video Director

Has worked the NWTF Convention for three years

“I’m a hunter, so it’s great to see how friendly the people are who come to this event. It shows who hunters really are — conservationists, just good family people.”

Jim Timmerman of Ohio

Camera Director

Has worked the NWTF Convention for seven years

“The Veteran’s Breakfast really gets to me each year. It’s so sentimental. I’ve never served in the military, but there’s always at least one moment that makes me gasp or brings a tear to my eye, especially when it involves World War II or Korean Conflict veterans. Like this year during the pin ceremony, I watched an older vet and Lt. Gen. Buck Bedard embrace in the most sincere way. I could feel the brotherhood. That was really cool.”

Jason Spence of Nashville


Has worked the NWTF Convention for two years

“I like to look at all the auction items on Friday night. But I always get side glances from the security detail when I do. I guess I look suspicious.”

Rachel Heitzer of Nashville

Production Manager

Has worked the NWTF Convention for four years

“I really like how the production crew and the NWTF work together as a team. Everyone is fun and appreciative of what we do. That means a lot. So many times we work with people who take what we do for granted, that we’re here to make them look good. The NWTF just feels like family and that we all here to support each other. That makes us want to go above and beyond.”

Want to know my favorite part? Becoming a part of the production team for just a bit each year. You are champions to me. Thanks for helping us celebrate hunters in style.

Friday night at the NWTF Convention rocks

If you ask me, music sets a mood. It can make you dance, sing along or play air drums like a fool.

But can music inspire folks to spend money?

I don’t know if anyone even pays attention to the music that plays over the room speakers during the breakfast and dinner functions at our convention, but I spend an (probably unnecessary) amount of time picking a playlist for each one.

But I love to do it. Suppressed DJ, remember?

I have a reason for choosing most of the songs played at each dinner. My reasons might not make sense to you, or you may need to listen to the actual song to track with me, but they’re reasons nonetheless.

The theme for Thursday night’s Welcome Party was Champions of Music City, so I had to play country. That’s a no-brainer. But I’m a rocker chick by nature, so I decided Friday night would be a night for rock stars.

Here’s what we rocked out to and why:


One Way Or Another by Blondie

Got My Mind Set On You by George Harrison

U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer

Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ by Hanson

Stayin’ Alive by Bee Gees

Totally sporting the pop diva look with this headset that keeps me connected to the production crew. Guess how many people yelled “Hey, Britney!” (or “Hey, Janet!” if they’re my age or older) when I walk through the ballroom? More than you’d think. And it’s Ms. Lee, if ya nasty…


Let It Ride by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Keep Your Hands To Yourself by Georgia Satellites

Hold On Loosely by .38 Special

I’ve Got You by Split Enz


Nine Lives by Def Leppard

Nothin’ to Lose by Josh Gracin

Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran

Queen of Hearts by Juice Newton


Game of Love by Wayne Fontana

Photograph by Def Leppard


Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran

Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benetar

Wild At Heart by Gloriana

Wild Wild Life by Talking Heads


Red Red Wine by UB40

Love Shack by The B-52s

After Midnight by Eric Clapton

Nothin’ But A Good Time by Poison

Crazy Crazy Nights by KISS


Redneck Girl by Blake Shelton

Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band


Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams

Old Time Rock & Roll by Bob Seger

Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton

Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen

Magic by The Cars

Walk Of Life by Dire Straits

Be Good To Yourself by Journey

No Matter What by Def Leppard

Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi


NWTF volunteers are total rock stars in my book.

No matter if you donate a Chevy truck to the Grand National Auction or simply your time to an outreach event, you buy that Chevy truck or a $10 raffle ticket, you’re a champion of conservation.

So press your right thumb against your middle and ring fingers, extend your pointer and pinky fingers in the air, then thrust your hand upward and say, “I rock!”

‘Cause you do…

NWTF Convention: My Thursday in pictures…

My brain is fried, so I’m gonna let these snapshots do the talking. There are six of ‘em, so that’s roughly 6,000 words, right? Enjoy!

Kathy and Heather from K2 Productions keep everyone on script with the teleprompter. They scroll and roll with anything we throw their way. Always a pleasure to work with them each year.

Some of the greatest turkey callers in history practicing for the big surprise opener for the Welcome Party. As a turkey hunter, it gave me chills.

It’s the small details that make the NWTF National Convention great, like this awesome coffee cup lid. It has a sliding door on the opening. It’s a sippy cup for adults. Genius!

That’s me with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White, the night’s keynote speaker. We snapped this pic after his stage rehearsal. What a smart and witty guy! (BTW, he doesn’t really have two heads. That’s what you get when you ask a stranger to take a photo for you.)

Shhh…calling competitions are going on all weekend. Congrats to today’s winners: Scott Wilhelm won the Gobbling Competition, and Mark Prudhomme is the master owl hooter. YEAH!!! (Oh, yeah, supposed to be quiet…)

If this blogging gig doesn’t work out, I’ve got the racecar driver pose down pat. This is Austin Dillon’s car for the Nationwide Series. Looking sleek with the Bass Pro Shops and NWTF art all over it. Thanks Bass Pro for including us in the fast lane!



Wandering the Halls: Ryan Kirby, a hunting dude’s artist

We’re going beyond the halls with this NWTF employee and into the exhibit hall of the NWTF National Convention, where you’ll find Ryan Kirby this week, showcasing and selling his wildlife art.

Although I benefit from Ryan’s talent as a graphic artist for Turkey Country, so much of his creativity goes beyond designing magazine pages. He’s a multi-media phenom — from lifelike illustrations to cartoons, Web pages to paintings.

When I asked him what paint color he’d be, he answered burnt sienna. “It’s the most versatile color I use,” he said. Well said. He’s the NWTF’s burnt sienna too. We use (hopefully not abuse) his abilities to their fullest extent on a daily basis.

Ryan Kirby has donated artwork to the NWTF since he was 14, which was like three years ago. Just kidding. Ryan may be young, but he’s accomplished a lot in his 20s. The NWTF selected him as the 2010 Stamp Print Artist. You may have bid on his work at the NWTF National Convention or at Hunting Heritage Banquets in South Carolina or Illinois.

I, for one, feel exceptionally inadequate when I watch him work and see what he creates. But I don’t let it get me down. ‘Cause I know when the TV and magazine reporters come calling, I’ll be the first in line to talk about how I knew him before he became famous. Yes, folks, he’s THAT good.

Read more about him below, then stop by booth #349 in the exhibit hall and take your turn at feeling inadequate. It’s nothing a little retail therapy won’t cure. Ryan is giving back to the NWTF 10 percent of what he sells at the convention, so you’re helping yourself, Ryan and the NWTF’s mission with your purchase.

Not going to the NWTF National Convention? Then check out Helping two out of three ain’t bad.

OFFICIAL TITLE: graphic artist and illustrator

JOB DESCRIPTION:  I work within our team of designers to layout Turkey Country magazine and produce other materials for print and Web. I also create illustrations for a bunch of other projects throughout the year.

NWTF EMPLOYEE SINCE: I left for a brief time then came back, so almost six years over two separate stints. (Ah, the NWTF’s prodigal son…)

WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU CAME TO WORK FOR THE NWTF? I was in college. This was my first full-time gig right out the chute.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB? The people I work with are great. We’re pretty brutal messing with each other, and that’s fun. But if I had to pick an actual work assignment, it would be illustrating hunting scenarios for the magazine. That and illustrating Tom Kelly’s humor column at the back of Turkey Country. I like projects where I’ve got a lot of freedom to be as creative as I like.

WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PART? Leaving a deer stand or the turkey woods to come to work on a weekday.

FINISH THIS SENTENCE: I USUALLY SPEND MY LUNCH BREAK…working. It’s lame I know, but most of the time I eat a sandwich at my desk, and I’ll work on putting together my next painting composition or something like that. If I really need a break, I’ll head behind the office to the archery range and sling some arrows at the 3-D bear target. I’ve put a hurting on him this year.

Ryan on his painting, Boys Night Out: “This was one of my favorite paintings, mainly because of the freedom I took in portraying the foliage. Most of the evening light is coming from behind the deer and lighting up the tree line in golden light, while their velvet racks are catching a lot of blue from the sky directly above them, highlighting their impressive headgear. These two late summer bucks are enjoying one of their last evenings together as buds. Soon this turf won’t be big enough for both of them, and they’ll go their separate ways in search of ladies. I’ve still got the original and, this year, made it my first edition of 100 signed and numbered prints.” You can win one of the prints by stopping by Ryan’s booth (#349) during the NWTF National Convention.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ALTER-EGO, THE PAINTER: Well, because I’m working the NWTF full time, most of my painting is done at night and sometimes on a weekend. I typically start a painting session about 7 p.m. and paint until I’m mentally cashed out. I’ve found it’s not about the quantity of hours you log, but the quality of the time. I also try to use the time I’m hunting to gather new ideas for a painting. I’ve typically got a camera and sketchpad in my hunting pack. I also read a ton and study other artists for technique and inspiration.

HOW DO YOU GET IN “THE ZONE” TO PAINT? Going to the gym after work helps clear my head and put my workday behind me. I need a clear head to work. It’s intense creative work and takes a lot of mental clarity, so I do everything I can to stay healthy and happy to avoid burnout.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST? Carl Rungius (1869-1959). He was a true outdoorsman and excellent artist. He’d take a sketchpad, easel, canvases, paint and hunting gear to the remote parts of Alberta and work while hunting. My favorite story of his career is from a moose hunt. He sat down to paint a remote landscape one fall while on a hunt. Rifle at his side, he would occasionally throw out a cow call. About halfway through his painting, he heard a bull answer, and as he got close, Rungius put down the brush and picked up his rifle. The moose kept coming, walking right into the scene Rungius had been painting, where he dropped the bull on the first shot. He showed me how to combine hunting and art into a single career — there’s no need for them to be separate.