Peek-a-boo! It’s me! Karen. Remember?

It’s just me, peeking into my blog. Just checking on you all. Hoping you’re doing well.

Those reports from George Thornton and the Outdoor Legends Tour have been pretty cool, right? What an amazing opportunity.

Well, I’m popping back in with a little post to get you prepared for the spring season. With all this overseas excitement, you didn’t forget about turkey season, did ya? I didn’t think so.

So, here’s a question for the ages: What’s better than finding out you’re good at something?

Answer: Finding out you totally stink at something (ranging turkeys in the field), then realizing there’s something you can do about it (use a rangefinder).

A couple coworkers and I did a little experiment. We stuck an Avian X decoy in various hunting scenarios — in an open field, across a creek bed, up a hill side — and did our best to guess the yardage.

Then we were gut-checked by a Leupold RX-1000i TBR rangefinder.

Nothing beats being told you’re stupid by a piece of gear that weighs less than 8 ounces.

Click here to read more. Then watch the video below.

You’ll see me totally blow my first attempt at guessing the distance to the decoy in an open field.

You’ll witness my superstar dance as I manage to somewhat accurately guess two out of three scenarios.

You’ll understand why I desperately need a rangefinder in the field.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 5

We are on a small base, and its mission is to provide 24/7/365 support for all operations in the hot parts of the theatre. They take care of things like refueling, cargo, limited fighter support. We feel privileged to glimpse into the logistic and emergency support that is necessary to our success.

Our first stop on the base was a briefing by the commanding officer. It’s a shame our press does not report the great job our people are doing over here. Truly amazing.

When we arrived at the camp gate, the security force met us with a sign that said, “PETA Members Only — No Hunters.” They are all avid hunters and had been preparing for our visit.

During the day we got to see every part of the operation, from fire fighters to security forces, supply and communications. We made a special effort to personally visit all security personnel at their duty stations. They work 12 hours on/12 hours off shifts, and many would not be able to take part in our meet and greet that evening.

The high points of the day for me were:

  • Meeting a SEAL team that spent 12 quiet hours on the base, then departed for a mission we know nothing about. They took an American flag with them for Jerry Martin and will return it to him with a certificate confirming that the flag accompanied them.
  • Putting my name on a bow that one of the fireman spent five days before we arrived carving by hand just for us to sign.
  • Visiting the Security Force K-9 group and meeting Cpl. Ronnie, a German shepherd. He and his handler gave us a full demo where he used a man my size as a chew toy. Very impressive. When not working, Ronnie reminded me of Lucy, my black Lab back home.
  • Sitting in the commander’s seat of a new Striker armored vehicle. It was configured with a 105mm turret cannon, which I got to operate. Glad these are our vehicles. They have and still are saving countless lives. Worth every penny of the $1.5 million per vehicle price tag.

Michael Waddell and I had a bit of vehicle envy. We got to sit in the commander’s seat of a new Striker armored vehicle and took a ride in what can only be described as the military’s version of a fire truck — it holds 3,000 gallons and can go up to 70 mph.

  • Taking a ride in the latest model of fire truck — not your small town red fire engine. It holds 3,000 gallons of water and can shoot it up to 100 yards. It also can run at 70 mph. A bargain at $800,000.

It feels good to see the quality of maintenance that goes into our support and combat equipment.

After dinner we had a meet and greet with the troops. The Rec Room was full when we arrived. It was scheduled to go on for an hour, but the Q&A, storytelling and conversation went until almost 11 p.m. These guys are eager to hear stories from home, and all have plans for hunts when they get there.

Another long day topped off with another round of poker with the same guys from yesterday. I recovered a bit but didn’t get even.

I finally hit the sack around 1 a.m., couldn’t sleep thinking about tomorrow’s early departure, and that I was on a base that doesn’t exist! We shared time with men and women who have dedicated themselves to a critical national security mission that will never be written about — and they will never discuss.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 4

Departed Camp Arifjan for the 30-minute escorted mini bus ride to the Kuwait International Airport. As much as we have enjoyed the Kuwaiti experience, we are ready for the next stop. We have no idea who we are going to see, what the conditions will be or how many troops we will meet. But we are ready.

As we leave our quarters at 3 a.m., the temperature has dropped and the wind is gusting to what must be 40 mph. Dust storm! We have heard about them and seen videos of roiling black clouds obliterating the sun. It never seemed real until now.

We come to the main gate to leave Camp Arifjan and are told the highway is blacked out. We will be delayed for at least an hour for a possible break in the storm. We immediately begin to think about the implications of missing our flight. We could possibly lose the rest of the trip.

Who’s thanking whom? Even though the Outdoor Legends Tour is a way for us, on behalf the hunting community, to thank the military for their service, we’ve received so much gratitude in exchange from the servicemen and women. I’m so humbled to be a part of this entire experience.

Fate is on our side. After only a few minutes and an appeal to the main security center, we are told there is a break and we can proceed. Off we go. The conditions seemed OK, so what’s the big deal?

By the time we reach the airport, the bus is being buffeted by the wind and visibility is terrible. Will the flights be delayed? Again we’re in luck. We clear immigration without a hitch, except Ryan Klesko lost his visa and has to go through a special line.

We make a few suggestions about the “special” treatment we hope he receives.

Pleasant surprise, the Kuwaitis are very efficient and forgiving. Ryan sails through with no drama, and we make our departure. (Did I mention the Kuwaitis waive all visa expenses for Americans? They appreciated our friendship in Operation Desert Storm.)

At 6:30 a.m., we land to change planes and have a 4-hour layover. Then on to our next destination, a camp in southwest Asia.

We land at the airport at 6:30 p.m. to friendly people, beautiful grounds with acres of oil palms (or date palms, I can’t tell the difference). On the way to camp we see an emerging city in the desert where there were nothing but Bedouin tents 30 years ago. The rest of the scenery is desolate, aside from a few goats, cattle and an amazing number of camels. There were a few olive trees that looked barely alive. Nothing is green without irrigation. It’s just rocky, sandy hills as far as the eye can see.

Upon our arrival, we had time to catch a little shuteye after not having much for the past 48 hours.

Here are our living quarters at the camp in southwest Asia. It’s great to see first-hand how well our troops are cared for over here. The food is delicious!

That evening we headed to the mess hall for some great food. Our troops are well looked after.

We then went to the Rec Center for a poker game, where I lost my a** to a couple of friendly reservists from Maine. I was the first to retreat to our quarters.

The next morning, I was somewhat encouraged to learn the reservists proceeded to fleece our entire group.

Maybe I am not that bad a poker player after all.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 3

We arrived Kuwait City at midnight and were met by American Entertainment and security personnel. We then headed to Camp Arifjan, arriving about an hour and a half later. Reveille sounded great! Off to breakfast in the mess hall. The food, by the way, is outstanding.

Started meeting and talking with personnel immediately at this impressive facility. It’s basically a city of 30,000 constructed in the desert to defend Kuwait and maintain a firm regional support base. We are the guests of the Kuwaiti government as a result of liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion.

We were briefed on the Camp Arifjan mission by the unit’s commanding officer, Colonel R.G. Cheatham and Command Sergeant Major D.L. Pierce. Both are active outdoorsmen and were delighted to receive us. We then moved to a meeting of more than 100 soldiers from all over Kuwait. Some had driven more than three hours from the Iraq border to see us. We had the opportunity to share our personal stories, as well as the missions of our respective organizations. We took questions and shook hands with each one.

Our soldiers are great hunters and anglers, and all miss home and the opportunity to be in the field with friends and family. There are lots of NWTF members and even more turkey hunters stationed here.

Off to Camp Patriot, a joint U.S. Army and Navy base and port shared with the Kuwaiti Navy. It’s the smallest U.S. base in Kuwait but key for supporting embarkation and deportation of personnel and materiel into the region.

We met with the 106th Armored Artillery from Minnesota and shared hunting and fishing stories from their home state. These guys are in the Army Reserve, serving on their third deployment, an incredible personal sacrifice on their part.

Commander, D. T. Lahti and 1st Sergeant J.J. Benson are big outdoorsmen. We shared a great dinner together, then headed back to Camp Arifjan.

We had promised to come back for an informal meeting at the Arifjan Recreation Center. More than 80 men and women came to meet us. Major Gen. Randy West and I left to go to a Friday night Gospel church service, but heard they had a great time. All formality was dropped as they shared non-stop stories of hunting and fishing back home. Tour members say Waddell was on his A-game and entertained everyone with stories of growing up and learning to hunt in Booger Bottom, Ga.

Major Gen. West and I enjoyed the Friday night service, where he gave a moving testimonial of his Christian life journey and the challenges to his faith he had to overcome as a young aviator in Vietnam. There were more than 100 people at the service.

We returned to the Rec Center for more fellowship and to collect the group. By 10 p.m., we were back at quarters to shower, pack and go to the airport for our next Persian Gulf destination before daylight.

I left Kuwait with these observations:

  • The older Kuwaiti generations are warm and friendly. They appreciate America, our role in helping them regain their freedom from Saddam Hussein, as well as our continued presence in their country. Can’t say the same for the 20-something generation. There seems to be a lot of resentment and anger about our presence. I guess it is human nature to forget history and take comforts for granted. A real reminder of how fragile the region is.
  • Kuwait is an extremely rich country with every citizen guaranteed a minimum income that we could only dream of. It can and does lead to a sense of entitlement, which is most evident in their driving behavior. Driving in Kuwait makes driving in Mexico City, Paris, San Paulo or New York look like bumper cars at a county fair. Aggressive to the point that some Americans leave their radio off so as to not be distracted.  Can you imagine driving in a country that prohibits touching anyone in an automobile accident for 30 minutes for religious reasons, Muslim or Christian?
  • Kuwait has a population of 2 million Kuwaitis and more than 2 million guest workers. Kuwaitis spend the winters in large tent camps (There are thousands of them.) out in the desserts, riding motorcycles, four wheelers and horses. They really enjoy getting back to their Bedouin roots.  Sounds familiar, especially to those of us who enjoy the outdoors. For all of their idiosyncrasies and the blessing (?) of wealth that they have, they are a lot like us. Lets hope that they continue to live in a stable region and enjoy their freedoms and privileges.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

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

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 keepingupwithkaren@nwtf.net. 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.

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...