The big spectacle at this year's Hunters Extravaganza will be watching snake handler Joe Martin in his pen full of wild rattlesnakes, holding up a handful (we counted four) and making them – and the audience members – squirm.
“He walks around in there. I wouldn’t do it,” says Eric Lewis, director of operations and marketing for Texas Trophy Hunters Association, producer of the event. Outdoorsy folks are both fascinated yet horrified by the display, in which Martin discusses how to survive a snake bite, then teases the slithery reptiles until they lunge. "He'll air up a balloon and the snake will bite it," says Lewis. "He does talk about the venomous snakes in our area, so people will know what's relevant. It's the snakes you could stumble upon while hiking, fishing, whatever. He'll explain key identifiers; which is dangerous and which is not."
In what’s being hailed as the unofficial kickoff to hunting season, the family-friendly expo includes the bubble runner for kids (“It’s kind of like a hamster ball on water for humans”), a mechanical bull and something new. “[It’s the] first year we’ve had Gator Country,” says Lewis. “The little kid in me is excited. They’ll have live ’gators. I think they’ll have all sizes.” He says the organizers will roll out a carpet (which will be barricaded) and put on a show in the open area. "They consistently provide an attraction."
The celebrity appearances and autograph signings are decidedly less mercenary than at some of the comic-style conventions. "Most of the time they'll let them take pictures. We don't formally advertise it being a photo op." Lewis says there are signing cards available, or fans can bring specific gear, like a compound bow for Bone Collector's Michael Waddell. "We're lenient on what they get signed."
Waddell currently is slated for Friday only, from 8 to 9 p.m. "He's been in the industry since I was a kid," says Lewis about the veteran country boy from Booger Bottom, Georgia. He, along with Nick Mundt and Travis "T-Bone" Turner, stars in the popular television show on the Outdoor Channel. Fans should check the organizer's website, as the times for celebrity appearances are subject to change, but you won't want to miss this hard-talking personality who knows his way around a gun.
"If it gobbles, quacks, bugles or grunts, chances are I’ve chased it more than a time or two. Droppin’ the hammer and closin’ the coffin on anything with antlers, feathers or fur just never gets old. I bet you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about." - Michael Waddell, bonecollector.com/meet-the-guys
Other big names include Brian Quaca, host of Pigman: The Series (who's been taking down hogs since his childhood in Mexia), Junie James (Just Junie), Scott Leysath (The Sporting Chef) and Dr. James C. Kroll, who pretty much set the bar for management of white-tailed deer.
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"Dr. Deer gives seminars. Last year it was primarily about CWD, which was at the forefront of news, chronic wasting disease, laying out some facts on that," says Lewis. "Deer season starts in October. That's the big draw, especially for South Texas areas." Hunting seasons vary by region, but hunters can view the Texas Parks & Wildlife website for information.
The expo also has undergone a redesign for this year's show. "Everything feels fresh and we have a new look," says Lewis. Bring the family, meet up with friends both old and new, and check out the latest in rifles, knives, archery and hunting equipment.
Hunters Extravaganza 2016 runs 3 to 9 p.m. on August 12, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on August 13, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on August 14, at NRG Center, One NRG Parkway, 800-800-3207, ttha.com/hunters-extravaganza. Free to $15.