The Column, No. 43:
Safari Club International Convention 2009
By Jim and Mary Clary
Many hunters, including this one, believed for years that the Safari Club International was an organization exclusively for the well heeled and elite of the shooting community. After attending the convention this past month, chatting with fellow hunters and outfitters, I have changed my view. I believe that every hunter in this country should join SCI and attend the SCI convention at least once in their lifetime and more often if they can spare the time.
The NRA fights for gun rights worldwide and the SCI fights for the rights of hunters worldwide. Additionally, SCI is the only organization that is truly global with its programs to promote wildlife conservation and scientific game management. The annual SCI convention was held in Reno Nevada from January 21 – 24. Because of the exorbitant airfares from Albuquerque to Reno, Mary and I chose to drive. Not exactly environmentally friendly driving 1,000 miles in a GMC diesel dually, but it sure was comfortable and a lot less expensive than flying. Lots of snacks, good music on the XM radio and plenty of scenery for my camera along the way.
We arranged in advance to stay at Boomtown Hotel and Casino on the edge of Reno (approximately 9 miles from the convention center). A few folks might question that decision, as there was no shuttle from our hotel to the convention; however, the extra benefits of Boomtown far outweighed the value of a shuttle. First, the beds at Boomtown were absolutely the most comfortable that I have ever enjoyed at any hotel in the U.S. and that is saying a lot. Second, the price was considerably less than the hotels downtown and coupled with the fact that a huge Cabela’s is right next door, what’s not to like?
I celebrated my 70th birthday at Cassidy’s restaurant inside the Casino with a superb prime rib, baked potato and sautéed mushrooms. Our hostess, Monique, made sure that everything was perfect. (She does that for every customer.) More than once, she came over to our table to see if there was anything else we needed and asked if everything was to our satisfaction. I haven’t had that kind of treatment in more years than I can count. After dinner, Mary and I went out into the slot machine area for a smoke (yep, still addicted) and coffee. After the first day, the cocktail hostesses knew we were coffee drinkers and kept our cups full. In fact, whenever we showed up in the slot area for a smoke, they brought us free coffee.
The service and hospitality of the folks at Boomtown reminded me of what the old Binion’s Horseshoe was like in Las Vegas over forty years ago. We don’t know about the other casinos in Reno and have no desire to find out. When we return to Reno next year for the 2010 SCI convention, we will be at Boomtown.
Okay, enough about our accommodations, on to the convention. We arrived at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center the morning of the 21st and headed to the pressroom for check-in. Nelson Freeman, Public Relations Officer for SCI, must have been a logistics specialist in a prior life. Everything was perfectly organized. There were tables with pamphlets on the financial contributions that hunters make to the economies of each state, others describing and listing the daily events of the convention and computers with internet connections and, of course, lots of coffee and snacks.
With layout maps of the convention booths (well over a thousand) in hand, we set out on what can only be described as an adventure. At my age, not a whole lot impresses me, but when we entered the first exhibit hall, I stood there in awe for several moments. Not since the World’s Fair in 1967 in Montreal, Canada have I seen so many exhibits and displays. You name it, and if it had to do with hunting, shooting or wildlife conservation, IT WAS THERE!
All of the major corporate and custom gun makers from around the world were there. More than seventy-five of them, including Holland & Holland, the UK company that has been making superb shotguns and rifles for over 100 years. We stopped several times at their booth to marvel at the workmanship of their firearms, which were obviously out of our price range ($117,000 and up). However, we did have an opportunity to look at their clothing line. Yep, they make an entire line of clothing, under the design direction of Niels van Rooyen. We had the pleasure of making his acquaintance and chatting with him several times. We may not be able to buy an H&H shotgun, but we sure plan to look into their clothing. Niels has designed clothes for dress and casual wear for men and women, as well as hunting outfits. If I had a choice of three or four suits or coats from the sweat shops of Asia or one outfit from H&H, I would choose Niels’ without hesitation.
There were outfitters from every continent on the planet. A major advantage of the SCI convention is that you have the opportunity to talk with the outfitters, face to face, (and sometimes the PH – professional hunter) and book a hunt right there at the convention. You pick the kind of hunt, and it included Kodiak bears in Alaska, Red Stag in New Zealand, Whitetails in Texas and, of course, safaris from just about every country in Africa. With only one exception, all of the outfitters were cordial, friendly and easy going. That exception, I am embarrassed to say, was from my own state of New Mexico. The South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders were especially warm. Even when they found out that we were not going to book a hunt, they took the time to talk about their countries and the hunting there. Smart folks, because they obviously know that we would remember them in the future, if we did decide to book a hunting package.
The taxidermist’s exhibits were awesome. Animal Artistry of Reno, Nevada, was there with a large number of their mounts scattered throughout the convention center. You could not go down any aisle without seeing one of their displays. You have to marvel at the talent of those folks, given the variety of their mounts. We got some neat ideas as to how we want some our future trophies mounted from the exhibitors. We also had the opportunity to chat with Ray Hatfield, owner and chief taxidermist from Nature’s Design, Cody Wyoming. His mounts are truly exceptional and appear to be looking right at you. It is a bit frightening when you see one of his Cape buffalo staring at you with those coal black eyes, close up and personal. Our taxidermist, Neil Thompson of Afrigame, Los Lunas, New Mexico, formerly of Zambia and South Africa, could not make the trip this year due to the arrival of several large African orders. As such, we had to wait to have coffee with Neil until we returned to New Mexico.
While on the topic of trophies, we would be remiss if we did not discuss the record keeping and scoring system of SCI. It is the most used system in the world and unlike other organizations; SCI recognizes typical and non-typical, as well as free range and estate animals. Further, there are NO deductions enforced for asymmetry as with other systems. Given those criteria, the SCI scoring system is absolutely the fairest in the world. However, more important than the trophy aspects of the SCI Record Book is the archive it represents of nearly 150,000 entries from around the world. This database is the largest of its kind (horn and antler measurements) and is critical to wildlife scientists in support of their research on conservation and distribution of animal populations across the globe. This is just one example of SCI in partnership with scientists and wildlife managers worldwide.
A discussion of the convention would not be complete without mentioning the daily silent auctions. There were knives, jewelry, artworks, rifles and hunting packages of every variety up for grabs. All you had to do was submit your bid and wait for the results. We were so busy visiting the booths in the convention halls that we forgot to place any bids. That was dumb, but we won’t miss out next year.
Finally, the “shopping booths.” You name it, and if it was outdoors related, it could be found at the convention. Custom knives and rifles from the best makers in the world and clothing . . . Boyd’s was our first stop, as they usually sell out of the best stuff the first day. Contrary to common opinion, prices were not jacked up for the convention. In fact, there were many bargains to be had, official SCI hunting knives for under $30, hats from $10 - $15 and tee shirts of every description. For those with deeper pockets, furriers were there with wraps that would make a fashion designer drool. If you are now getting the idea that this convention is an absolutely MUST SEE, you are right. Even if you don’t spend a dime (which is hard to do), the experience is one that will stay with you until next year’s convention. We could go on and on, but you should have the idea. The SCI annual convention is an incredible experience and if we have one regret, it is that we waited so long to attend. However, that won’t happen again, as we are already planning on next year. Until next time, be safe, shoot straight and enjoy life!
Copyright 2009 by Jim Clary. All rights reserved.