George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 2

We arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center with a lot of apprehension, not knowing what we would encounter.

We found a beautifully maintained base, spotless. And the welcoming area is a USO office, which felt like being at home. It’s run by a dedicated volunteer and professional staff, some who have been there eight years. They served us a home cooked meal of brisket, and we shared the meal and conversation with ambulatory patients and medical staff. There were many outdoors enthusiasts among them, both anglers and hunters, so you can imagine there were many tales told.

Here’s a bit of history for you. Before WWI, Landstuhl was a hunting retreat for the ruling German aristocracy. Hitler confiscated it and turned it into a Nazi Youth Camp. It was liberated at the end of WWII by the U.S. Army Medical Corp, turned into an Allied forces hospital and has remained in service to this day.

At the hospital, we were introduced to the chiefs of each ward. I’ve never met more professional, caring and dedicated people. The staff is personally involved with each patient.

Visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center surfaced so many emotions in me, mostly sadness and thankfulness. It’s uplifting to see the strength these patients have, knowing these are the folks who are over here protecting us. I, for one, could only thank God the center held a light patient load that day.

We talked with a soldier, a severe burn victim, who came through the center eight years ago as a patient and was mentored by another patient. After his extensive treatment, he dedicated his remaining service to mentoring patients. He has a strength of character I only wish I had.

We also met a father and son. The son was four days out of Afghanistan, an IED victim. How do you express your feelings to a father who has rushed to his only son’s side?

The entire experience was one of sadness and thankfulness. Sorrow that the world has not progressed beyond conflict and combat. Thankfulness that we live in a time — and in a country — that has the best of medical technology and resources to care for the people who protect us.

The remainder of our trip is in the Persian Gulf theatre. I don’t know what we will see but we will forever remember the men and women who serve at Landstuhl.

On a lighter note, there is downtime. Gen. West had the first straight flush of the trip and is feeling pretty flush himself (with our money). Ryan Klesko remains a shark and has taken the single largest pot. Never count him out. Jerry Martin sits quietly in the weeds and waits for prey. Michael Waddell and I are like innocent fawns among wolves.

Tomorrow is a travel day. The skies of Lufthansa are not so friendly. They’re undergoing a baggage handlers strike. We have several alternate routes identified and are determined to not let the strike interrupt our tour.

More to come when we hit the Persian Gulf. In the meantime, click here to read about Michael Waddell’s experience on the tour.

— George

Oh, one more thing. I have to share some background on our tour leader, retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy “Grits” West. Under Gen. Schwarzkopf’s command, Gen. West organized and led the Marine air support task force that coordinated and led the invasion of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. Under Gen. West’s leadership, we not only liberated Kuwait in four days, but did so without the loss of a single Marine or aircraft under his command. He personally raised the Kuwaiti and American flags over Kuwait City on Day 3 of the invasion.

Gen. West has written a captivating account of his experience. And he gave me the honor of reading his galley proof. It’s a story of personal commitment, discipline, duty, leadership and faith. He attributes his success to the power of personal and collective prayer. You will not find a more compelling witness. I could not put it down.

We’ll let NWTF members know as soon as it’s published.

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

SHOT Show – Day 3

Had a great dinner with Sky Horse Publishing last night. Jay Cassels and Katherine Menone hope to guide me through the steps of creating an NWTF cookbook. I’m going to keep begging y’all for wild game (all types) recipes and favorite hunt camp dishes from breakfast to dessert. I want you people to make my mouth water. If I don’t gain at least 5 pounds during this project, you haven’t done your job.

6:00 a.m. — The sweet sound of CJ’s alarm set me in motion (his phone, not his snoring). I went to bed full as a tick last night but woke up hungry. Guess I have food on the brain.

8:00 a.m. — Good thing the first item on my list was heading to the Mississippi Tourism’s annual Downhome Breakfast. Nothing says “good morning” like a plate of bacon and biscuits and gravy. It went great with the sweet tea I grabbed on the way.

10:00 a.m. — L.L. Bean had a product showcase, and I got to see all the beautiful items they’ve developed to celebrate its 100th anniversary — knives, duck decoys, a canoe. They also have a wingshooter’s field kit. It’s a sturdy pair of shears and a knife, complete with leather sheaths. Get this and you’ll be guttin’ in style.

Noon — Had an entirely too rushed lunch with the crew from the “Benelli On Assignment” turkey hunt I went on last spring. About half of the gals, show host Joe Coogan and Jason Nash from Federal grabbed sushi. I sucked down half a bowl of miso soup before I had to dash to the next thing. So good to have some of the crew back together. We missed the ones who couldn’t make it. Our girl Julie Golob, rocking awesome competitive shooter, was off signing copies of her new book called Shoot!

1:00 p.m. — Here’s a little show secret for ya. Sometimes you make decoy (not the quack, quack kind) appointments with friends in the industry, just to have a chance to sit down and chill. Not naming any names or saying I would EVER do that…

2:30 p.m. — My No. 1 SHOT Show pet peeve: A company (or media rep) that calls me before the show, sets up an appointment, then doesn’t have “time” to meet with me when I arrive. Such a time suck. I don’t believe for a minute they do it to be malicious. It’s just rude.

3:30 p.m. — Got the scoop on the Magellan eXplorist series of handheld GPS units. I really liked the 510 model, because it has a camera, microphone and speaker to geotag, record voice notes and videos to relive your outdoor adventures. Then you can upload them and share online. I can totally see this serving as a scouting tool as well. If you agree, count on plopping down about $300.

4:00 p.m. — Chatted with Aaron at Source Media Group. They have something like 12 clients in the outdoor/hunting industry. We just touched base to see how we can continue to work together in the future. This is the stuff gear guides are made of.

5:00 p.m. — Melanie Swearingen (NWTF web chica), Katie McKalip of Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and I got together for a little girl chat. I hadn’t seen Katie in nearly eight years. And I’m about helping women in the industry make quality connections with each other, so I asked Melanie to join us. On our way to find a place to sit, we ran into my husband and some of his clients and co-workers and decided to join up for appetizers. Networking can be so fun.

Stick a fork in me, people. I’m done. Heading home tomorrow morning. Ready to see the kid and get back on track with the magazine and convention.

I’m gonna give y’all a break from me for a few days. Let’s catch back up next week sometime. Thanks for hanging.

SHOT Show – Day 2

Thank goodness my husband set his alarm, because I sure forgot. Hubby works in the hunting industry too, so we get to be roomies. Good thing, ‘cause that’s about the only time I see him at this show.

He was out the door when I was still putting on eyeliner while simultaneously checking my e-mail. Risky business…

7:00 a.m. — Got word from back at NWTF headquarters that the spring hunting forecast was ready for me to edit, so I packed up my stuff and headed to the show floor to read.

8:00 a.m. — Like I said yesterday, if you stay in one place long enough, folks will find you. This morning, between edits and pausing to chat with people dropping by the booth, I had a wonderful visit with former NWTF national board members Gene Goodwin and Tom Behrens. We reminisced about past co-workers, and I gleaned a lot of insight about where the NWTF is heading from these Golden Spurs who’ve stuck around to help keep us on track. (Look at me! I just made a turkey pun!)

Then Turkey Country’s Shooting Savvy columnist J. Wayne Fears dropped in to make sure his content was still on target. (Pun!) I just love that guy. I know he’s a gun guru, but I think of him more like an industry uncle. He’s one of my mentors.

11:00 a.m. — Awesome surprise! Brenda Potterfield of MidwayUSA stopped by the booth to say hi. Have to say I was quite honored. We’re Facebook friends, and I think she might read my blog from time to time. She’s so nice (and Mr. Larry seems the same way). And you know they have more than a generous bone. Heck, I think their entire skeletal system is built from generosity. Prime example: JAKES Take Aim. Not possible without them. (Learn more about it at www.nwtf.org/jakes.) So when you see them at the NWTF National Convention in a couple weeks, tell them thanks for helping secure the future of our hunting heritage.

11:30 a.m. — Pirated WiFi from the media room again and saw “my other daddy” (pronounced dead-ee), outdoor freelance writer John Phillips. I started in the hunting industry as his intern more than 12 years ago. He brought me to my first SHOT Show way back when and told me to wear high heels. I’ll never forgive him for that little nugget of wisdom. But I’ll also never forget all he taught me.

Noon — Had the best pizza at the Hunter’s Specialties new product luncheon. Enjoyed finally meeting Outdoor Life Editor Andrew McKean in person and just hoped his mad magazine skills would hop over on me. Nice guy. But I was there to see what’s new in the H.S. Strut line-up. Grand National champion caller and H.S. pro-staffer Matt Morrett ran through a few of their new get-that-gobbler-to-your-gun calls.

I’m the kind of gal who likes small, cute things — purses, kittens, turkey calls. Hunter’s Specialties is introducing a slew of “small but deadly” calls this year. Go to www.hunterspec.com and look for the Derringer Slate and Derringer Glass friction calls and the Li’l Strut box call.

They say you should change your shoes at least once during the day to keep your feet from aching. I slid my tootsies in a pair of cushy Muck Boots. Better yet, why not cruise around the SHOT Show on a Yamaha ATV?

3:30 p.m. — Got the low-down on Muck Boots. Of course, I’d heard of the brand but never owned a pair. Learned about the women’s waterfowl boot (brown, waterproof, cozy) and the new ATV riding boot. It’s the first rubber-neoprene boot for gettin’ your mud on a 4×4. Go ahead and Google it. An outdoors enthusiast can never have too many boots.

5:30 p.m. — End of show. On my way to meet with Sky Horse Publishing about the cookbook I’ve mentioned a time or two. Seems like it’s gonna happen, people, so get your wild game recipes to me ASAP.

Vegas love to you all. I’m signing out.

SHOT Show – Day 1

Ready. Aim. SHOT Show has started. Like a bullet out of a barrel, you can’t take it back. I’m in it to win it, folks.

Arrived in Vegas late yesterday afternoon, got settled, finished some office work, then headed off to the Hard Rock to have sushi with the marketing team from Yamaha. Those guys are a ton of fun, and I met other media folks and caught up with a few I haven’t seen in a while. People who do magazines, web content and video for organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the NRA. It’s always good to commiserate with your counterpart.

Then I called it an evening to catch a few Zs and fool my body into being A-OK with the Pacific Time Zone. It wasn’t buying what I was selling.

So my 6:45 a.m. alarm came a bit too early. Did my thang to get ready. SHOT Show 2012 … meet Karen.

8:00 a.m. — Arrived at the NWTF booth a half hour before the show started, just to get my bearings. The booth looks great — like if a log cabin and billboard fell in love. It captures the NWTF hometown vibe but sells what we’re cooking, like advertising and licensing opportunities, ways for companies to get involved with the greatest group of conservation volunteers EVER!

The NWTF banner hangs high on the SHOT Show floor. Good thing, since it's like a beacon for this lost chick.

Awesome location, too. Smack between a concession stand and bathroom (good for traffic, good for Karen). Other neighbors include Mossy Oak, Ameristep and Under Armour.

9:00 a.m. — If you sit still long enough, people start finding you, which can be good or bad. This morning, it was great. Got to visit with gobbler-man Preston Pittman, as well as Brian Lovett, the editor of Turkey & Turkey Hunting (and we didn’t get into a West Side story-like knife fight).

10:00 a.m. — Short and sweet product run-down with Tom Cox of Motorola. He showed me the updates on the MS350R/MS355R two-way radios. It has the stuff a hunter needs in the field — 35-mile range, a VibraCall feature that won’t spook game, a built-in flashlight, NOAA weather alerts. But the new, cool feature is that this waterproof radio floats. A radio doesn’t do you a bit of good if it’s on the bottom of a river, even if it’s waterproof. (Cause this girl ain’t goin’ in after it. Eeek!) But this dude bobs right to the top, face side up, ready to fish out with the toe of your boot. It’s available in camo or school bus yellow. Go for the yellow if you have a habit of dropping stuff in water.

11:00 a.m. — Stopped by the pressroom to leech off the free WiFi and peruse the sea of familiar faces, folks like Turkey Country contributor Steve Felgenhauer.

Noon — Lunch in the Sportsman’s Lounge. Listened to the 2012 digital line-up plans for Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. A little espionage goes great with soup and salad. But it’s not really spying if you were invited, right? Learned that more than 85 percent of hunters and shooters get their sporting info from magazines. And about 25 percent dig into blogs and social media. Yeah for job security!

3:00 p.m. — Found out that Jana Waller is just as awesome as I thought. Watched clips from her show, “Skull Bound,” and am convinced she’s the real deal. I can relate to a gal who will get dirty and try something at least once. She’s full of life and creativity. Have plans for featuring her in the magazine. She’s Turkey Country bound! Hop on over to my Facebook page and see the beaded skulls she donated to the NWTF. They’ll be auctioned at our national convention in a couple weeks. Thanks, Jana!

4:00 — Went to a reception at the Benelli/Franchi booth. Didn’t win the drawing for a shotgun. (Boo.) But saw some of the peeps I hunted with last spring on the “Benelli On Assignment” hunt in Texas. (I wrote about it in the January-February issue. I’m sure you remember…)

5:00 p.m. — Met up with a few of the girls I went to Africa with this fall. A brief time to catch up and grab a few laughs.

All right, I’m off the clock. Well, not really, but let’s just catch back up tomorrow…

Night night.

Must-see Karen Lee TV

Here’s a little something for those of you who’ve been keeping up with me the past few weeks, wondering if I ever turkey hunt or just yammer about my family, feelings and Christmas trees.

I offer you proof that I can sling a 3½-inch shotshell at a living, breathing bird. Catch me on Outdoor Channel this week. It’s playing reruns of the episode of “Benelli On Assignment” where I take down a turkey in Texas with a Super Vinci.

It airs on the 16th at 9 a.m. (which goes nicely with your second cup of coffee for the day) and a pre-lunch showing on the 17th at 11:30 a.m.

The production company did an excellent job in putting the show together, but I have to say I look like I have a big head — literally, not figuratively. My noggin easily looks twice its normal size.

Now if that doesn’t get your TiVo or DVR going, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, I hope you’ll tune in. And then check out the companion piece I wrote on the hunt in the January-February 2012 issue of Turkey Country. It’s cleverly titled “Hunting for a TV Show,” where I give my inside view on what it takes to make a hunting show happen, including the self-inflicted pressure to shoot something and not look stupid.