2013 NWTF Convention: In case you missed it (Always…)

Then. Now. Always. Forever. Never-ending.

That’s how long we want to keep the NWTF moving and grooving with our mission.

And how will we do that? Through the hard work of our rockin’ awesome volunteers, of course!

NWTF volunteers are super heroes when it comes to sheer passion for the mission. And Saturday night of the NWTF Convention is when we recognize the best of the best at our annual awards banquet (sponsored by MidwayUSA).

Money raised for the mission. Members recruited to the flock. Habitat conserved on behalf of wildlife. New people introduced to the fun of hunting and shooting. Those are the criteria for winning an NWTF award.

It’s awesome to see the humbleness of those recognized. Nearly all of them share credit with their committees, understanding it takes the effort of many to achieve success.

Which brings me to the another important part of Saturday night — the official roll out of the NWTF Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative.

In a nutshell, it’s a focused set of goals the NWTF believes we need to achieve to make a positive impact on wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage. It’s our super plan to face head-on certain challenges such as loss of critical habitat, decreased hunter access and attacks on our hunting heritage, to name a few.

Got five minutes? Watch this video to learn more about the initiative and discover why the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative is the answer to some of the challenges our country faces.

Now you’re feeling the need to get involved, aren’t you? Click here to learn more about how you can be part of the dynamic team of volunteers who believe it’s crucial for our country to Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.

AHHH…SUNDAY MORNING

I’m going to just come out and say it: I believe the Sunday morning breakfast and worship service (sponsored by Remington) is the most underrated and overlooked meal function at our convention.

Maybe some folks are still coming down from the excitement of a full weekend, so they choose to sleep in. Perhaps others have to get the heck out of Dodge to make it back home before the workweek begins.

I, however, believe it to be two of the most inspiring and important hours of the convention — and I’m pretty sure the couple hundred of our volunteers who attend the breakfast agree.

It’s fun and joyful: the comedy of Dennis Swanberg and singing by Terry Thompson made sure of that.

But it’s more than a feel-good morning. It also offers serenity and perspective. I believe that what we do “for the least of these” — whether it’s a child, a wild animal, a disabled veteran or just reaching out to anyone who may need a helping hand — we’re doing it in the name of God.

I like knowing I’m investing in the future of our country when I volunteer on behalf of the NWTF. But when it comes to doing for others, belonging to a greater cause, it’s the always … forever … never-ending love of my Savior that reassures me I’m on the right track.

2013 NWTF Convention: In case you missed it (Now…)

Then. Now. Always.

It wasn’t only the theme of this year’s convention; it’s how we view the viability of the NWTF.

We have a strong past, which has proven our organization has what it takes to facilitate success, as evident in the comeback of the wild turkey.

We have a promising future with the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt initiative.

And now is the time to make sure both have a place in history.

It’s what we do now as an organization that pays tribute to the path paved by those before us. Now is when we lay the bricks for the road ahead of us.

Totally cool to have my photo made with "Gene Simmons." Not creepy at all that I'm old enough to be this impersonator's mom...

Totally cool to have my photo made with “Gene Simmons.” Not creepy at all that I’m old enough to be this impersonator’s mom…

Those bricks aren’t made with good intentions. There’s got to be money in the mix. Money to fund our mission today and tomorrow.

That’s why the Grand National Auction is so important. Just like the thousands of auctions, raffles and fundraisers NWTF volunteers hold throughout the country each year, the Grand National — “the big daddy of ‘em all” — helps foot the bill to carry out our mission and programs. It puts money where are hearts are.

Hunts, a Chevy truck, a triple-barrel shotgun and even an entertainment center from Elvis Presley’s bedroom were up for bid. And the backdrop for the evening was celebrating 40 rockin’ years of the NWTF, complete with celebrity impersonators walking around the room.

For me, the highlight was having my photo taken with “Gene Simmons” of KISS, then using “Madonna” to help sell raffle tickets for a Kentucky elk hunt. Tell me that’s not funny…

SATURDAY MORNING

When is the best time to tell a veteran thank you for his or her service? Now … and anytime you see one.

Their sacrifices helped pave the path that allows us to enjoy hunting, because we live in a country protected by the finest military in the world.

We began the Winchester Veteran’s Breakfast with a photo diary/video of the Outdoor Legends Tours, where members of the hunting community traveled overseas to personally thank active duty military. Many of you may have read accounts from the tour’s frontlines from NWTF CEO George Thornton and NWTF Spokesperson Brenda Valentine on this blog. If you missed it, click on their names for a link to each of their adventures and get caught up. Both offer glimpses into the everyday life of our servicemen and women.

It’s a given that I cry during this breakfast every year. And I shed a few tears listening to NWTF District Field Supervisor Dave Mahlke talk about his son’s enlistment in the Army, how he was injured in the line of duty and made an incredible recovery, as well as how hunting and family played a role in it.

As parent, I can’t fathom watching my son go through so much pain. Dang it, I’m crying just thinking about it. God bless the Mahlke family and all military families.

And if I wasn’t already a hot mess, the super-duper talented brass player Mic Gillette played the haunting notes of “Taps,” as we remembered the fallen, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

The annual breakfast is always so moving to me, not by just watching what’s happening on stage, but thinking about the individual stories of the folks in the crowd.

I looked up from my production book to see a fella, probably not five years younger than me, walk with a slight limp to receive his commemorative veterans pin (an annual tradition at the breakfast). What was going through his head at that moment? Pride? Heartache? Both?

I can’t begin to understand. All I can do is offer my sincere gratitude and respect.

Thank you to Winchester and the NWTF for giving me a venue to do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

2013 NWTF Convention: In case you missed it (Then…)

The theme for this year’s convention was Then. Now. Always. It pretty much summed up all we were celebrating.

THEN: 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the NWTF, so there’s been a lot of talk about “back in the day,” in a cool-and-not-annoying-to-us-young-whipper-snappers kind of way. I’ve enjoyed sifting through old photos and hearing about the beginning of the organization, which has been the collective journey and beliefs of volunteers over the years.

NOW: When’s the right time to celebrate? The here and now, party people! It’s also the right time to raise money for the mission, as well as acknowledge key partners and volunteers who keep the turkey world spinning.

ALWAYS: The answer to, “How long do you want to see the NWTF survive and thrive?” And how are we going to do that? With the new initiative that was officially rolled out during the weekend — Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. (More on that later.)

Every year, the convention kicks off on Thursday night with the annual Welcome Party. Chevrolet sponsored the shindig.

The opening video for this evening is crucial. For me, it sets the tone for the entire convention. So I worked with NWTF Executive Producer John Brown to craft the video you see here.

We had multiple generations of the Kemp Family, of Edgefield, S.C., to tell the story of 40 years of the NWTF. They represent the many families who have grown up and grown with the organization, but the Kemps are one of a select few who have witnessed it all unfold in their hometown, where the NWTF headquarters is based.

Watch it and think about what the NWTF means (or could mean) to your family.

Other Welcome Party highlights:
• Will Primos telling NWTF volunteers that WE GET IT. The hunting industry icon let us know we’ve always been on track when it comes to our mission.
• Seeing NWTF District Field Supervisor Mark Jackson and his daughter, Sarah, walk on stage hand-in-hand to lead the prayer and National Anthem. This Tennessee family is another example of how the NWTF has impacted several generations.
Bass Pro Founder John L. Morris’ generosity. Sure the money is freakin’ awesome, but it also means a lot to have such a formidable partner.
• And, of course, Sawyer Brown proved they’re not just a blast from the past. They’ve still got it when it comes to a high-energy performance.

Check, please! Thanks Bass Pro for your continued support!

Check, please! Thanks Bass Pro for your continued support!

Moving on to Friday’s breakfast sponsored by Federal Premium Ammunition. It’s the annual recognition of remarkable volunteers who have made the NWTF outreach and education programs their calling.

We used the morning to showcase these programs’ valuable place in the NWTF’s overall history, as well as how they play a huge part in carrying out our founder Tom Rogers’ overall vision.

Two standout moments of the breakfast, for me, were:
NWTF Educator of the Year Scott Cronin announcing his students received a grant for their annual trek to the convention (where they learn about careers in the hunting and conservation industries). They, in turn, donated the $600 they’d raised to come to Nashville to Hope for the Warriors on behalf of the NWTF. Thanks, guys!
• Seeing Virginia NWTF volunteer Robin Clark’s smile as he accepted an award on behalf of his chapter. There are some people who brighten your day, even if you only see them across the room. Robin is one of those folks…

I know a missed a million more awesome moments. I hope you’ll share yours with me — and we can live vicariously through each other! So talk to me: What were your favorite convention moments from Thursday night and Friday morning?

2013 NWTF Convention: In case you missed it

I can’t believe it’s been a week since the NWTF Convention and Sport Show in Nashville. That entire weekend zipped by, but this week back in the office seemed to go by even faster.

With all the yelps, clucks and howdy-do hugs going around, it’s hard to imagine anybody wasn’t at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. And if you’re into Facebook or Twitter trolling, I bet you felt like you were there, with all the posts and tweets flying around.

The theme of the NWTF Convention this year was Then. Now. Always. The weekend was like a time warp of conservation success.

The theme of the NWTF Convention this year was Then. Now. Always. The weekend was like a time warp of conservation success.

In case you weren’t at the biggest turkey celebration on Earth (or even if you were there, but couldn’t be two places at once), I’m going to fill you in on what I know.

But don’t feel like you’re out of the loop, I’m just learning most of it myself — including details like we had a record-breaking convention attendance, more folks joining the NWTF onsite and more turkey people roosting at the Gaylord Hotel than ever before. It was HUGE! At least that’s what I hear…

This was my view for most of the convention — screens, screens and more screens. But screens can be a source of excitement, when you're doing a live show.

This was my view for most of the convention — screens, screens and more screens. But screens can be exciting when you’re doing a live show.

You see, my perch for the entire convention was on a small riser in the back of the Delta Ballroom. I barely left that cavernous space other than to sleep, so my snapshot of the NWTF convention was what happened on stage during the breakfast and dinner shows. Those held enough action in themselves; not sure I could’ve handled much more excitement.

We had country music stars, Army generals, hunting industry executives and a trumpet player grace the boards of the stage — and that was in less than 24 hours!

Sounds like a circus, doesn’t it. In many ways it was. But that’s my job at convention, to manage the circus.

I worked with a fabulous production team (called PRG) to choreograph a parade of speakers and entertainers, as well as breathe life into hundreds of graphics, PowerPoint slides and videos to create six separate celebrations, each a part of the NWTF mission.

Check back for the skinny on what happened in the Delta.

The warmest place on Earth in January? South Dakota!

The weather outside was frightful, but inside the Watertown (S.D.) Convention Center was so delightful — thanks to the warm hospitality of NWTF South Dakota volunteers.

I spent last weekend with a few dozen of them at their annual state convention, where they handed out awards for awesomeness in volunteerism and events. I served as the keynote speaker, did a seminar on communicating with nonhunters, and spread general goodwill on behalf of the NWTF headquarters staff. It was an easy task with this great group of folks.

Here I am with my South Dakota NWTF “host” family, the Schauers. Dad Ron was inducted into the state’s NWTF hall of fame for his volunteerism. All three of them got my stamp of greatness for taking care of me during my stay.

Here I am with my South Dakota NWTF “host” family, the Schauers. Dad Ron was inducted into the state’s NWTF hall of fame for his volunteerism. All three of them got my stamp of greatness for taking care of me during my stay.

It began when the Schauer Family picked me up from the Sioux Falls airport, saving this Southern gal a potential stroke of having to drive in below freezing temps, dodging ice patches or waiting for pending doom as the snow crept in.

They said, “South Dakota volunteers are like family.” I found that to be true as they instantly took me in and made me one of their own for a few days. I felt like an exchange student from the other “South” state.

But the family vibe was even more evident watching the volunteers interact with each other. They spent just as much time encouraging each other and pitching in to help, as they did ribbing and poking fun in a good-natured way. Looks like a family reunion to me, no?

I found it wonderful how so many “flesh and blood” families came to the convention as well, proving the NWTF offers something for everyone. Among the training seminars on turkey hunting and NWTF events, the Bramble Park Zoo brought in critters for kids of all ages (like me) to pet and get a closer look — a hedge hog, bearded dragon and, ew, snakes, to name a few.

Conference planners also offered a visit to renowned artist and son of Watertown Terry Redlin’s museum. I slipped in and took a fast-forward tour of the three levels of original art and prints, thanks to my NWTF sister Becky Schauer hauling my tail over there between speaking engagements.

I’m thinking this Dakota didn’t get its “prefix” based on geography; it’s because it gives the South (as in Dixie) a run for its money on hospitality.

Thanks, South Dakota NWTF, for a great weekend. And I’ll be thinking of you until spring comes and thaws out your awesome state — and brings turkey season your way.

 

He is a champion, my friend

Your copy of the May-June issue of Turkey Country has had plenty of time to simmer on the coffee table, bed stand, back of the toilet or wherever you catch a few moments of downtime for yourself to read a few pages.

I’d like to invite you to pull it back out of the stack and look at the cover with me. No big time commitment. Simply look at the pretty picture, and allow me to give you the inside scoop.

Doesn’t Mark Prudhomme have the nicest smile? He looks like a favorite uncle. So kind and friendly. I also imagine him as the family friend who would take you fishing or show up unannounced at one of your Little League ballgames.

But this man is a mega contender in the calling competition realm. He was crowned champion in three divisions of the 2012 Grand National Calling Competitions — Owl Hooting, Team Challenge (with Kerry Terrell) and the Wild Turkey Rare Breed Champion of Champions. That’s the most titles any competitor has ever won in a single year. To top that, he now holds 13 GNCC titles — more than any competitor in GNCC history!

No one gets to be THAT successful by being a nice guy. Or do they?

Absolutely, if you’re Mark Prudhomme.

I called Mark to find out how he thought the Turkey Country cover bearing his friendly face turned out, and I was met by a wave of humility.

Here’s one image from the Mark Prudhomme photo shoot that didn’t make the cut. We were trying to have some fun, mixing two aspects of Mark’s life — winning calling competitions and working as a professional land manager. He was a good sport, allowing the photography team to haul a dozen or so of his trophies to the field and load them in a spreader.

He told me how he’d get Turkey Call magazine when he was a kid, remembering when it was just art on the cover, not photos. He was eager to dig into it. And when he started calling competitively, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on The Caller (when it was a stand alone newspaper) to see his name listed as a winner in a state or regional contest.

“It was a lifelong dream to be on the cover of the NWTF’s magazine,” he said. “So when [the magazine staff] called and said they wanted to put me on it, I couldn’t believe it.”

Mark said he enjoyed being a part of the creative process, watching NWTF Photo Director Matt Lindler and graphic artist Ryan Kirby set up the shots.

“It was amazing to watch their minds work,” Mark said. “When I saw the finished cover, I wasn’t surprised that they’d done a good job. They’re professionals. But I was really amazed at how well it turned out. They must have someone who’s really skilled at Photoshop to make me look that good.”

Mark made the cover of Turkey Country not only because of his wicked awesome calling skills, but that he lives his life as a hunter, land manager and family man with the same commitment it takes to be a winner on the competition stage. Plus, he’s just so darn nice about it.

Read more about Mark on page 128 of the May-June issue. Then click here to check out a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the cover.

Discover for yourself how sometimes nice guys finish first … a lot.

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

Audio

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.

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.