The Toughest Hunt: Conventions!

Some hunts are tougher than others, some are tough physically, while others are tough mentally. On any mountain hunt you know going in that you’re going to sweat, struggle, and huff and puff your way up—and with increasingly bad knees, I know the downhill is going to hurt just as bad. On the other hand, I hate to sit still…but I love to hunt whitetails, and in a lot of good country stand-hunting is the only viable option. It’s late December now, and I’ve spent much of the last month sitting on stands waiting for a good buck to step out. I did it in Nebraska and Kansas, and the last few days I did it in Georgia. Results were, er, mixed…but now that’s behind me, and I’m gearing up for the toughest hunt of all: Convention Season!

Yeah, it looks easy, but it isn’t. If you’re hunting for a hunt you’re going to stalk miles of cement-floored aisles (probably not in hiking boots). You’re going to see a lot of great trophies and talk to a lot of outfitters. You’ll pass and keep passing—and then you’re probably going to get confused and forget exactly where you saw the hunt you liked best. I’ve done my best to make some of this easier for you by endorsing about 40 outfitters I find to be exceptional. Look for the Craig Boddington Endorsed Outfitter signs. You can then find them easily later on by visiting my website.  I’ll do some of that, but my conventions are a bit different. I spend a lot of time chained to my booth (Donna keeps the keys), hunting the next book sale. My economy is a bit different from an outfitter selling $40,000 safaris…I’m selling $40 pieces of paper. So I’ll talk to lots of people, shake lots of hands, and hopefully sign enough books to break even.

This is one of very few situations where I’m fortunate to be left-handed: I shake hands with my right hand and sign with my left, so hand cramps work out pretty equal! Toward the end of each day, and certainly at the end of each convention I’ll probably get the 1000-yard stare of a foot soldier too long in combat. But I try to remain bright, cheerful, and attentive. A couple of years ago, pre-hearing aids, the background noise got me so bad that I could see lips moving but could only hear the occasional word. I nodded a lot. Today, post-hearing aids, it’s a lot better—but far from perfect.

I do have one pet peeve: The guys who cover their show badges and say, “Remember me?” Under the best of circumstances I’m good at remembering faces but not so good at remembering names. In the convention setting, where I meet hundreds of people daily, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t recognize my mother if she walked up late in the day. Most of us who spend our convention days chained to our booths are in the same boat. But, of course, that’s the real fun of this particular “hunt”: Meeting old friends, making new ones, and comparing notes on the hunting year just past. I love it…but it’s not as easy as it looks!

From my perspective, I’m there to sell books, but I appreciate not everybody is a buyer, so I’m equally happy to say ‘hi’—and I get a lot of good story ideas (and useful critiques of recent work) from brief convention conversations. Now, outfitters are in a different situation. They’re there to sell the next couple of years’ worth of a limited product. They’re hunting for customers, and it’s a serious pursuit that their livelihood depends on. It’s okay to just say hello, and part of the convention deal is the opportunity to shop around. But after doing the convention gig for nearly 40 years I can give you every outfitter’s Top Two Pet Peeves:  1: Folks who take up a lot of their time but have no real intention to book a hunt; and 2, far more serious: Folks who ask them to hold a date, promising to return and give a deposit…and are never seen again.

I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming conventions, but please be conscious that you, as an attendee, are on a different hunt than the folks chained to their booths. Both hunts are difficult, but the goals aren’t the same. That booth space costs a lot of money, and show hours are limited. Get the information you need and make a decision: Book the hunt or move on. It’s okay to say, “I’m just starting to shop; maybe I’ll come back around.” But don’t ask for concessions or make promises unless you mean it. I’ll see you in the convention jungle!

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