HARRISBURG – Last summer National Rifle Association past-president David Keene announced the organization would sponsor an outdoors sports show that would be the largest of its kind in the country.
That promise has become a reality with the inaugural Great American Outdoor Show making its debut run Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 1-9, at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. This show replaces the Eastern Sorts and Outdoor Show, whose 65-year run ended last year when exhibitors boycotted the show because of an anti-Second Amendment position taken by the shows Great Brittan-based promoters.
"We have always looked at Pennsylvania as the potential site for a massive national event like the Great American Outdoor Show," Keene said. "For us, coming to Pennsylvania is a natural as it sells more NRA memberships than any state and sells more hunting licenses than any state.
"This show will be a total family experience with the emphasis on the outdoors, and hope that anyone who is a sportsman will want to be in Harrisburg for this show. From bringing in big-name speakers to concerts and special events, we have the capabilities do this because what people don't understand is that only about 17 percent of our budget deals directly with firearms.
"One of our major areas of emphasis is educational programs ranging from the Youth Education Summit for college-bound students to the Eddie Eagle Program that teaches youngsters how to safely handle a firearm without it being fired. Our plan is to have as many of our free educational gun-safety programs as possible at Harrisburg."
Keene said the NRA wanted to focus on bringing a show to Harrisburg, as Pennsylvania is the state with the most NRA members and the state that sells the most hunting licenses. He said the NRA's ability to make the show a massive national expo with concerts by country music artists and appearances by national celebrities should make this the greatest show of its kind ever held.
"Almost all of the outfitters, guides and vendors have returned, as well as some new ones," show manager Chris O'Hara, who held that position with the ESOS, said. "There will also be the usual hunting and fishing seminars, but the overall schedule has been expanded and includes some that are designed for kids and families – with Family Day being held Sunday, Feb. 2.
"There is a big emphasis on interactive event, and families attending the show will have the opportunity to participate in activities at the Family Fun Zone in the concourse around the complex's large arena. Family Fun Zone activities feature stations for camouflage face painting, Laser Shot, suction cup archery, magnetic fishing, Eddie Eagle, duck calling and other events where kids can compete and win prizes in many outdoor-themed events designed to peak their interest in the outdoors lifestyle.
"Additional show events include game calling contests, daily 3D archery competitions, an air gun range, a fly casting pond, archery tag and much more. There are more than 100 seminars and demonstrations on topics from hunting and fishing to dog training and trick shooting."
Friends of NRA, which supports firearms and outdoors educational events, will have its popular Wall of Guns throughout the show in the main corridor, offering winners a choice between more than 50 firearms. Headlining the final weekend is a country music concert, Saturday, Feb. 8, in the main arena.
Friday, Feb. 7, the NRA Foundation Banquet, celebrating freedom with a night of fun, food, and firearms, will be held on site. These banquets raise funds for local, state and national programs dedicated to promoting America's shooting sports traditions.
"We've redesigned the layout of the show to utilize 650,000 square feet of exhibit space that will feature nearly 1,100 exhibitors, including shooting manufacturers, outfitters, boats, RVs, hunting and fishing retailers and more," O'Hara said. "This year's show will expand the presence of firearms, including modern sporting rifles, with the addition of a shooting sports section that will join the traditional hunting, fishing, archery, camping and boating areas.
To purchase tickets to the Great American Outdoor Show and see a complete list of events, visit the website at www.greatamericanoutdoorshow.org.