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.


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…


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?

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.

Check your guts here

We’re wrapping up editing/designing the May-June Turkey Country, and I have a headache.

I think it’s stress.

It’s our annual NWTF National Convention wrap-up issue, which I really enjoy piecing together, because we’re giving so many awesome volunteers their due credit. However, it’s this particular part of magazine production that puts me on edge. All these teeny-tiny loose ends just dangle above my head, waiting for me to do SOMETHING with them.

My mind splits into two voices. But instead of an angel telling me to do what’s right and a little devil telling me what I want to hear, I have a mini-Debbie Downer on one shoulder saying, You’ll never get it all done, and a pom-pom-toting cheerleader on the other chanting what’s inevitable: You can do it! You always do! Now make it happen!

Stupid cheerleader…

Just when I’m about to blow out the candles on the pity party cake I’ve made, a letter blips into my inbox. (Seems like this happens to me a lot.)

It’s from a mother in Jasper, Ga., wanting to tell someone at the NWTF what our national convention meant to her son, to her family.

The letter moved me so much that I edited down the others in the Fan Mail section to squeeze it in at the last minute. Here’s the full version:

If you ever wondered what a profound impact your national convention has on people, I think our story should clear up any questions.

Let me tell you about my child, Jeff. My husband and I adopted both our children from Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services when Jeff was 3 and his sister was 5. They had been severely abused by their birth parents; Jeff was taken from them at 8 months. We were their seventh home due to Jeff’s severe behavior due to being starved, neglected and abused. But we decided that we were meant to be their parents, that this is what God intended.

Jeff Buckingham traveled a long, emotional road to meet his hunting idol, Michael Waddell.

Jeff, now 14, has had a lot of obstacles to overcome, with the greatest being post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a mental issue that has resulted in him not liking loud noises (like guns). He’s also restless and can’t stand being pushed or touched in large crowds.

Jeff grew to love us, especially my 80-year-old father, who due to his age is unable to hunt but passed that intense love down to Jeff. We wondered how Jeff would handle the being still and quiet, which is required for hunting, but he has thrived. He has hunted turkey, deer and coyotes.

Hunting led him to join our local shotgun team. He’s also discovered bow hunting and mowed grass all last summer to save money for his first bow.

Now let me tell what your organization’s convention meant to Jeff.

He went with his father, but was nervous about the large amount of people who would be there. We told him that he’s a teenager now, and he needs to cope with his issues so they don’t keep him from doing what he loves.

My husband said they had to leave the building several times the first day for Jeff to get fresh air because of the crowds. But Jeff would then look to him and say, “Let’s try it again.”

Then came the moment Jeff had been waiting for — meeting Michael Waddell. He said, “If I don’t get to do anything but see him, I will be happy.”

As you can expect, the line to see Michael Waddell was long, and the crowd was heavy. Jeff told his dad several times he thought he was getting sick. But he was so excited that he was able to work through the lines, fighting his desire to flee, to meet his hunting hero. It was a huge moment for Jeff.

So if your group has ever wondered what impact it has on young people, know that Jeff is now a member of Xtreme JAKES and plans on returning to your convention next year. Thank you, Traci Buckingham

This letter serves way more than a gut check; it’s a testament to what hunting does for the human spirit and how NWTF members perpetuate it.

God works through us, and most of the time we don’t even realize it. I mean, who in the convention exhibit hall would have seen Jeff as any different than the next teenage boy seeking an autograph from Michael Waddell? None of us would have never known of Jeff’s amazing story had his mother not felt lead to share what was on her heart.

The next time you’re setting up tables for a Hunting Heritage banquet, staking down directional signs for a shooting event, or in my case, finishing up an issue of Turkey Country, pause for a moment and offer up a small prayer in the name of your efforts.

You never know who God’s going to bless that day. It just may be you.

2012 NWTF Convention: The last day and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s going to fill our shoes?

Who’s going to fill your shoes?

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

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

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

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





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





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

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

Here's to a bright future...


NWTF Convention: Backstage access

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

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

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

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

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


Krystie O’Brien of Ohio

Show Director

Has worked the NWTF National Convention for seven years

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

Brad Poulson of Arizona

Video Director

Has worked the NWTF Convention for three years

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

Jim Timmerman of Ohio

Camera Director

Has worked the NWTF Convention for seven years

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

Jason Spence of Nashville


Has worked the NWTF Convention for two years

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

Rachel Heitzer of Nashville

Production Manager

Has worked the NWTF Convention for four years

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

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

Friday night at the NWTF Convention rocks

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

But can music inspire folks to spend money?

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

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

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

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

Here’s what we rocked out to and why:


One Way Or Another by Blondie

Got My Mind Set On You by George Harrison

U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer

Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’ by Hanson

Stayin’ Alive by Bee Gees

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


Let It Ride by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Keep Your Hands To Yourself by Georgia Satellites

Hold On Loosely by .38 Special

I’ve Got You by Split Enz


Nine Lives by Def Leppard

Nothin’ to Lose by Josh Gracin

Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran

Queen of Hearts by Juice Newton


Game of Love by Wayne Fontana

Photograph by Def Leppard


Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran

Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benetar

Wild At Heart by Gloriana

Wild Wild Life by Talking Heads


Red Red Wine by UB40

Love Shack by The B-52s

After Midnight by Eric Clapton

Nothin’ But A Good Time by Poison

Crazy Crazy Nights by KISS


Redneck Girl by Blake Shelton

Chicken Fried by Zac Brown Band


Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams

Old Time Rock & Roll by Bob Seger

Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton

Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen

Magic by The Cars

Walk Of Life by Dire Straits

Be Good To Yourself by Journey

No Matter What by Def Leppard

Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi


NWTF volunteers are total rock stars in my book.

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

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

‘Cause you do…

NWTF Convention: My Thursday in pictures…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OFFICIAL TITLE: graphic artist and illustrator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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