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!



Livin’ on a prayer and a Z-Pack

I’m staring at my external hard drive.

It’s cold, silver and seemingly lifeless, with the exception of an occasional blip of a green light, telling me that it’s still doing its job of storing information.

Good thing, since I feel like my brain is on overload right about now.

I’m not delirious, at least I don’t think. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last four days, and I think the antibiotic is messing with my head. Maybe it’s nerves. Either way, the hard drive is capturing WAY too much of my attention.

It’s the day before the day before the NWTF National Convention officially starts, but I’m already at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. My butt is planted on the (quite comfy) sea foam green couch in the production suite, sifting through agendas, scripts, videos, graphics and PowerPoint presentations.

Months of work done by no fewer than two dozen people sits on an external drive that’s about the size of three packs of Trident gum stacked side by side. I hold it in my hands like Gollum grasping the ring, afraid to give up control of the gigabytes of information nestled in the belly of my silver … square … PRECIOUS sidekick.

I slowly, cautiously let go of each file, into the hands of a more-than-capable production crew. I trust them. We were a great team last year, and no doubt this year will be just as great, even better! My anxiety comes from the fear that I’m not prepared, though I’ve done my best to be.

Ladies of the night (functions) —Krystie O’Brien (of Krystie O’Brien Productions), Rachel Heitzer (OVATION) and me making shows happen in the big, honkin’ ballroom in the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center in Nashville. Just so ya know, we took this pic from far away because it was 10 p.m., after a really long day. No one should have a close up that late… Plus, you get to see the Delta Ballroom as a work in progress! Neat-o!

If you’re coming to Nashville this year and attend any of the evening functions or breakfasts, you’ll see the cumulative efforts of what goes into producing live shows. It starts with ideas from NWTF staff members. Then makes its way to the NWTF communications department where it becomes scripts, videos and background images. I collect all the elements and provide a sort of map or schedule, putting them all together in a somewhat cohesive manner.

By the sound of it, I’m not much more than an information courier, when in fact it’s a large load to bear. Every brain cell is wrapped around some detail of the next several days.

And now the day has come to pass it off to the people who give it life in video and sound, from camera operators and teleprompter operators to sound technicians and stage managers. The NWTF brings in professionals from across the country to make each show worth the price of admission.

You rarely see the production team, but that’s the point. They’re the backstage genies who made our onstage wishes a reality.

In the next few days, I will morph into a member of the production crew, not fully sure of my role, other than to be the detail Sherpa. I know that it’s Mitchell Johnston, spelled with a T, and not Johnson. That MidwayUSA is not supposed to have a space between the Y and the U. That Ashton Shepard is playing two songs per entertainment break. It’s not Bakersville, but Bakersfield, Ca.

Perhaps each of those details seem minute when standing alone, but, to me, each one is a very important detail that makes up the NWTF. And when there’s like a bazillion of them to keep up with, I start to feel pretty darn useful.

But nothing beats when those details come together in a fun night for our volunteers. I can’t help but feel proud to be part of the team that made it happen.

Don’t feed the animals

I don’t know a whole lot, but I know a lot of people who know something.

So when I received this question from Keepin’ Up With Karen follower Bernadette, who says she’s from a very rural part of Georgia, I knew exactly who to send it to — Robert Abernethy in the NWTF’s conservation department.

He’s like the Ask Jeeves of wildlife.

Here’s what transpired…


Last spring I started throwing cracked corn behind my house. I had seen deer and wild turkeys a few times. I would toss some corn out every few days and was delighted to see the flock grow from four to 13.

Now the turkeys are coming to eat corn in the mornings and early evenings. So I’m tossing corn two times a day.

Bernadette's turkeys are about to go on a diet...

If they see me with the corn, they come running, and will come within 6 feet of me. They have become like yard chickens. They will not come if anyone else is outside, just me.

But, I’m concerned I may be hurting them in some way. I don’t want to create a dependence on the corn. I want them to still forage for their food. Perhaps they do that now when they’re off doing their thing during the day.

I am fascinated by the turkeys and their behavior, but I don’t want to do something that might hurt them. Any advice?




In general, it is never a good idea to feed wildlife. It unnaturally concentrates animals and can lead to disease transmission. Plus, it provides a small, localized site where predators will soon learn to hunt.

It also can become an attractant and food source for predators and cause an increase in predators such as raccoons. Raccoons are a significant nest predator on the wild turkey and increased ‘coon populations can lead to fewer turkeys. You may not have seen the coons, but they will find the corn left behind by the turkeys and get fatter every night.

As you have already discovered, feed can also tame the wild turkey. It has led to turkeys losing their fear of humans in the Northeast and California. When you combine this with aggressive gobblers in March and April, you can have turkeys that will jump on you, spur you and flail you with their wings. While not as dangerous as a semi-tame deer, bear or coyote, they will scare people and can become a nuisance.

We all love watching wildlife and feed brings them close, but a much better solution is establishing a food plot that provides food year round and spreads out over the landscape. Chufa is a great attractant, as well as brown-top millet and clover.

I hope this helps and have fun watching your turkeys.

I had a similar experience in my own backyard. A fluffy cat started lurking among our trees a few weeks ago. I had to fight the urge to run to the pet store and buy it cute little bowls and a food mat. I thought to myself, It’d be nice to have a mouse catcher around the house.

Then the voice of reason (in the baritone of my husband) sounded in my head: It won’t want to catch mice if it knows it’s going to get a belly full of Meow Mix every day.

Touché, CJ.

So, Bernadette, we both learned something from ol’ Robert and (sigh) my husband. It’s better to allow animals to help themselves instead of dishing handouts. Keep your feeding hands in your pockets but your elbows well greased.

However, I don’t think I’ll be planting a catnip plot anytime soon. You’re on your own, cat.

Lights. Camera. We so crazy.

When someone walks in my office, plops down in one of the chairs and stares at me with a grin, I know he or she is looking for a favor.

That’s exactly what Josh Fleming, the NWTF’s public relations manager, did a couple weeks ago. And the odds were high I was going to do whatever he asked, because:

A) I’m an extremely helpful individual.

B) I’m a pushover who chokes on the word “no.”

C) I’ll do just about anything, except for endangering my child, eating live bugs or swimming in an underground lake. (That’s some scary stuff.)

Josh was “casting” a couple commercials to promote the upcoming NWTF National Convention and Sport Show in the Nashville area. The ad would run Jan. 23 through Feb. 12 on several major networks, like CMT, ESPN and Fox News. He promised fame, fortune and the chance to wear camo to work. (One out of three ain’t bad.)

That’s part of the fun of working at the NWTF. You have no idea what’s going to be thrown your way on any given day. And these commercials were no different. I’m not a professionally trained actress, which will be painfully evident if you click on the second video link, the one with the people in the break room. But we had a good time, and it was a nice diversion from office work.

If you don’t live near Music City and won’t be at our convention (tisk, tisk,) check out these stellar performances on YouTube.

Then consider writing to the Screen Actor’s Guild about the untapped talent in single-species conservation groups.

So you’re in the know, the guys in the first video are Chris Piltz, NWTF special events coordinator, and NWTF TV producer Joe Mole. Chris wants everyone to know he’s actually a good turkey caller. And Joe wants everyone to know he didn’t share spit with Chris. (It was a camera trick.)

In the second video, you have NWTF graphic artist Ryan Kirby, Turkey Country Senior Editor P.J. Perea and little ol’ me. The aforementioned Josh Fleming plays the working stiff. This commercial won’t actually be on network TV for reasons unknown, but I’m not bitter…

The NWTF convention of my dreams

Most every NWTF employee has a National Convention alter ego. What I mean is what we do in Nashville for that week in February (and the weeks leading up to it) is different than our daily jobs.

Take me, for example. Everyday job: Turkey Country editor. Convention job: Live show production.

I serve as the liaison between the NWTF and the professional company we hire to produce the live stage shows. I’m tasked with gathering all the elements for the programs in the Delta Ballroom — scripts for the presenters, images and information slides that pop up on the screens, videos, stuff like that.

My favorite part is picking the music that plays while everyone is milling about or eating dinner. I’m a suppressed DJ, so this is about as close as I’m going to get to spinning rad tunes for a large group of people.

Once I get to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, I rarely leave the cavernous backstage, with its painted black floors and walls, thousands of buttons, miles of cord and a dozen or so screens that go along with the production of our events each morning and evening. I wear a trail in the ornate hotel carpet between my room and Delta Ballroom, only deviating to grab a slice of pizza or Diet Coke.

Very few national conventions come with their own cave, unless you’re a bat or vampire … or work backstage. This year, the turkey folks get one, thanks to the BLM. Don’t miss out on the fun — above or below ground. Register for the NWTF National Convention and Sport Show at www.nwtf.org.

But being backstage is kinda fun. A lot of action takes place once the shows are in full swing. You watch the bands up close, see the sweat beading up on the presenters’ foreheads, listen in on the stream of talking from the production staff as they cue lights, video, cameras.

My only regret is that I rarely see the rest of the convention, since I’m holed up Boo Radley-style for most of the week.

Every year, I have the best intentions of dropping in on a calling contest, auction or a seminar, but it never seems to work out. I finally made it to the exhibit hall on Sunday afternoon last year, only to grab a t-shirt from Turkey Shoppe, then I was on the road back to Edgefield.

I often daydream as to what I’d do if I ever attended convention as a participant getting my turkey on with other volunteers from across the country.

Here’s what I’d do this year …

I’d rock the Roost. I’m a big kid, so I gravitate to anything hands-on. For those who don’t know, the Roost is an area of the exhibit hall that’s geared toward kids and families, with a ton of activities for the youngster in all of us. This year, the Bureau of Land Management is bringing its indoor cave all the way from New Mexico. I hear it’s massive, like 43-feet-long, 12-feet-high and with three chambers complete with dripping water and cool breezes. You can explore underground wildlife and rock formations without the creepy feeling the earth is going to close in on you. I’m down with that.

I’d be a marathon seminar goer. I’d run the gauntlet of women’s classes on Friday — make a survival bracelet, do a few feather crafts, learn a little more about outdoor photography. Then I’d hang with the hunting experts on Saturday and harvest a few tricks and tips from Michael Waddell, Eddie Salter and Brenda Valentine.

I’d catch the fun vibe at the Ladies’ Luncheon and Auction. If I had a dime to my name, I’d bid on stuff, but what really draws me in is the girls-just-wanna-have-fun atmosphere. I saw pictures of the regional directors from last year’s hoorah, many of them dressed as has-been rockstars and washed-up hippies. Who knows what they’ll do with the theme: Pioneer Women — Trailblazers of Conservation? Any bets on who’ll wear a bonnet?

I wouldn’t miss the Winchester Veteran’s Breakfast. Even backstage last year I teared up at the moving series of speakers, videos and parade of vets recognized for their service. And I even KNEW what was coming next! I’d probably be a blubbering mess if I watched from the audience. No napkin or tablecloth would be safe from the waterworks.

I’d mosey through the exhibit hall. I would take my time and see what’s new, cool and waiting to grace my turkey vest. I’d catch up with friends in the industry and snag a bag of those cinnamon pecans that just smell so darn good.

I’d have a pedicure at Relache Spa at the Gaylord, because my feet would be exhausted from taking it all in. A girl can dream, you know…


Jump on the train or watch the train wreck…you’re invited

Sorry I didn’t post last week. Did ya miss me?

Time just got away from me. It seems as if all the parts of my job right now keep stacking up on this imaginary shelf above my head, and it all came crashing down on me at the first of the year — the March-April edition of Turkey Country (the biggest issue of the year), filling my dance card for SHOT Show (the biggest industry trade show of the year) and preparing for the NWTF National Convention (our biggest event of the year).

None of it’s a surprise. Each one happens annually. Just the immediacy of it all at the turn of a new year seems to catch me off guard every time.

As I sit at my desk, staring at various piles of paper, listening to my inbox ding with new items for my multiple to-do lists, I console myself that it will all be over with before I know it. Then I freak out again, because, well, that means it will all be over with before I know it. I just hope I’ll be ready.

It’s that same feeling you get at the beginning of a school year when a teacher hands you a syllabus. You read the long, detailed list in front of you and wonder how you’ll ever get all of it done (and still, like, have time for a life). But the reality is you will, taking it one task, one day at a time.

The next few weeks are gonna be crazy, but I promise not to forget you. I hope you won’t forget to keep up with me, because it’s going to be action packed, including trips to Las Vegas for SHOT, Nashville for NWTF Convention, new outdoor product reveals, giveaways, a possible meltdown by me. You don’t want to miss it.

Get the full experience by following me on Twitter (@Karen_Lee_NWTF) or friending me on Facebook. Search for Karen Lee and look for the same picture that’s smiling at you at the top of this page.

You can even ask the Internet spirits to magically let you know I’ve made a post by subscribing to this blog. It’s super easy. Just move your head a quarter-inch to the right. OK, now up a smidge. Type your email address into the little box and hit the subscribe button. You’ll get a message in you inbox to verify you want to take this earth-shattering step, but you’ll just coolly say, “It’s OK. I’m ready.”

And if you’re a real rock star, you’ll do all three.

Alright, people, we’re in this together. Buckle your chinstraps. ‘Cause here we go!

Wandering the Halls: Jamie Hutchinson, associate TV producer

OK, this dude just cracks me up. I got to know Jamie at last year’s national convention when I shared a suite at the Opryland hotel with the TV production crew.

That’s sounds kind of bad, so let’s take a minute to dodge any scandals: It was a last-minute room change. My husband was there. I could lock the door to my part of the suite. There. Are you satisfied?

The point is when you work in close quarters with someone and depend on them to get your job done at an event as big as our convention, you become fast friends.

Jamie is like a ninja when it comes to humor. He delivers these one-liners in such a deadpan tone it leaves you wondering what just transpired. Then a couple seconds later, you realize what he said and begin laughing hysterically.

Just like when he answered the following questions, he said: “I’m opening the window to my soul here, so be gentle.” Priceless…

If TV production ever doesn’t work out for Jamie Hutchinson, I want to hire him to sit in my office and make me laugh every 10 minutes.

OFFICIAL TITLE: associate TV producer

JOB DESCRIPTION: I edit TV shows, video hunts, interview people on camera and do a bit more editing.


WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU CAME TO WORK FOR THE NWTF? I produced television and Web commercials for businesses nice enough to pay me to do so.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB? I like meeting new people and working outdoors.

WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PART? Though I realize it’s a necessary evil, I really don’t like getting on and off airplanes. But if that’s my only problem, I’m doing pretty good, right?

FINISH THIS SENTENCE: I USUALLY SPEND MY LUNCH BREAK…eating. Should I be doing something else?

IF YOU WERE A WILD ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? I’d be a duck. Any animal that gets to hang out near water and also has the ability to walk, fly or swim is ideal. Plus, if you can find a neighborhood pond, then people will feed you. You just have to quack and look pretty. (Note: I can do both.)

Wandering the Halls: Todd Price, graphic designer

When I think of Todd Price, Clemson football, sarcasm and the image of him dressed as a prep for my ‘80s-themed roller skating birthday party pop into my head. He’s not a stereotypical artist, dressed in black, listening to Morrissey and stuff. None of the NWTF’s graphic artists are.

But Todd’s a darn good designer, wrapped in the skin of a family guy wearing a polo shirt, always ready to talk smack about sports, politics or whatever you throw his way.

Todd Price — Don’t let the button-down shirt and American dad persona fool you. This guy’s a raging artist who expresses himself through hunting t-shirt designs and magazine layouts featuring dead animals.

Blogosphere, it’s time to get to know Todd.

OFFICIAL TITLE: senior graphic designer

JOB DESCRIPTION: graphic designer and job giver-outer


WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU CAME TO WORK FOR THE NWTF? I was a graphic designer for Expotechnik, a trade show exhibit company in Atlanta.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB? All the projects we get to work on, from logos and fliers to magazine layouts.

WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PART? Short turn-arounds on projects and edits

FINISH THIS SENTENCE: I USUALLY SPEND MY LUNCH BREAK…eating and reading on the Internet.

IF YOU WERE A WILD ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? A bear. They fish and sleep.

IF YOU WERE A PLANT, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? A fern. They get to hang out on people’s front porches.

IF YOU WERE A NATIONAL HOLIDAY, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? Thanksgiving. You get to eat and sleep.

I’m starting to see a trend here, Todd. Todd? Are you awake? Todd…