The Hunter Games

Blood-tracking lights. Taxidermy. Exotic game stews. Welcome to the annual Western Virginia Sport Show.

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Steve Tuttle

If Jed Clampett were shootin' at some food today, he wouldn't have missed his target, so there would have been no bubblin' crude, and he never would have up and moved to Beverly. (Hills, that is.) Today Jed would have been dressed head to toe in the latest varmint-tricking camo, sitting high in the pines in a lightweight portable tree stand, and slathered in chemicals that hide his human scent. If it was getting dark and the wounded critter scurried off, Jed could just break out his LED green flashlight specially designed to illuminate blood and track him down.

I know this to be true because last weekend I checked out all of the latest in hunting equipment and gear at the 25th Anniversary Western Virginia Sport Show in Staunton near my childhood home. After spending a couple of hours taking it all in with my 14-year-old son, Joseph, and my brother Chris and his nine-year-old son, Will, I have a simple message for you squirrels and possums: "Run!"

The show was packed, and nearly 9,000 attendees didn't mind forking over $9 a head for tickets over the course of the show. That's because it was fantastic. It was like visiting an amped-up Bass Pro Shops store, only with live bears and not so much catfish bait. The beasts performed in a Spartacus-style mini stadium, but without all of the nudity and violence of the television show. Well, okay, the bears were naked, but they weren't violent.

Their trainers wore buffalo-plaid, and Fred and Ginger -- two enormous European brown bears -- put on a great act for the standing-room-only crowd. I really enjoyed the show, but I can't deny that I was bothered by the fact that they didn't hire American bears. And I loved watching the smiling faces of the little children as they took it all in and dreamed of growing up to kill a bear themselves one day.

There were some lions and tigers at the show too, but they were dead. Also on display was half a giraffe -- the top half -- which I stared at for quite some time. "Where's the rest of me?" I imagined him crying. And, by the way, where is the rest of him? Is there another hunting show somewhere with the other half awkwardly splayed like when giraffes drink water on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom?

Everywhere you turned, there was another display of beautiful taxidermy, including a small stuffed albino buck with brown spots that had a mythical jackalope quality about it. Albino deer are extremely rare, so if you're ever lucky enough to find one in the wild I think it's best to kill it and put it on display so everyone else can enjoy it, too. What kind of American would you be if you allowed it to roam for years unobserved by other human eyes? If I were ever lucky enough to get a shot at an albino stag I would put his stuffed carcass in my living room and call him "Moby Deer," where every day he would serve as a constant reminder of my inability to resist a cheap joke.

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The taxidermy -- and there was a lot -- was incredibly lifelike, particularly at Craigsville, Virginia's Ron Sprouse Taxidermy Studio booth, where several turkey gobblers looked more lifelike on display than they look in the wild.

But it was the hunting gadgets that brought me to the show. Hunting technology has long been an obsession of mine, and it seems that every year the equipment gets more sophisticated. Take the description of the accessories for the new bow called "Velocity" made by the Parker company from Mint Spring, Virginia, for example: "3 Pin Fiber Optic Sights, Whisker Biscuit and Hostage Arrow Rests, an Angled Peep Sight, Nock Point, and a premium 4 arrow Quick Detach Quiver pre-installed." I have no idea what any of that means, but I'll bet good money the deer won't like a "Whisker Biscuit" one bit.

I haven't field-tested most of the latest gadgets, because I don't hunt as frequently as I'd like these days. Mostly I'm stuck living vicariously through devoted hunters like my brother, my dad, and Elmer Fudd. I don't get out in the woods much because I live in Washington, D.C., and write for a living, but they do because they're men.

When I rolled into the show parking lot in my tiny stick-shift Hyundai Accent I was immediately engulfed by row after row of gi-normous F-150s and Dodge Ram trucks. The good news was it was easy to find my car when we left. Up in suburban D.C., if a guy drives around in a big truck like that it's because he's compensating for something. The most manly thing he'll do in it is go to Home Depot to take back the tile saw he rented in that aborted attempt to do something himself. Back home in "Real Virginia," if a guy drives an F-150 it means he needs it to carry home all of the animals he's about to make dead.(Also, he can use it to drive up to D.C. and in a couple of hours knock out that tile job you botched.)

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Steve Tuttle is the author of College Will Ruin That Boy. He is a former columnist and senior writer for Newsweek.

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