When does spring come to Maine?
For me, spring begins with the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show at the Augusta Civic Center, and the 34th such event runs from March 28 to March 30 – a weekend full of hundreds of exhibitors, 75 seminars, bow shooting, Laser Shot (firearms training simulator), face painting, Sparky the Clown and a fishing pond for kids.
Folks can attend the extravaganza all weekend and not see it all – particularly the informative seminars. Yes, the show is bigger than it looks.
Camaraderie usually reigns as folks move up and down the aisles, talking to old friends and making new ones, but this year a threat to our hunting heritage will keep this crowd less ebullient than in most other springs. A controversial referendum in Maine’s 2014 November election could end using man-placed baits and dogs for hunting bear.
If the law passes, few folks doubt that the result will cause financial hardships in rural communities that rely on income from bear hunting over man-placed bait and with hounds.
Even people in favor of prohibiting the hunting practices can see the economic downside, but they think the sacrifice is worth what they see as unfair hunting practices. Folks in favor of using bait and dogs counter and say that the methods cannot be too unfair; Maine’s bear herd continues increasing and has for decades.
Not only do owners of lodges and sporting camps, guides and service staff lose financially, but so do owners and workers at convenience stores, restaurants, gift shops and on and on it goes across this state’s bear country.
How well I remember the 1970s, when legendary bear guides like Peter Pray and Don Helstrom were just getting into baiting in a big way. Those two and others like them told me how much the growing sport with bait was helping the North Woods economy. For communities, it was like the Christmas shopping rush. This late-summer money before leaf-peeping season wasn’t coming into woodland hamlets in the previous decade.
Politics concerning the outdoors has always been a part of the Augusta Sportsman’s Show, and this year gubernatorial, congressional and Maine legislative candidates will be on hand to answer questions from the public. Here’s a chance to ask a question that the media might have missed.
This show has perennial favorites returning each year such as the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. This group has shown dog owners what they should really expect from their pets. Many of these dogs at the show are German shorthaired pointers with their souls in their eyes.
When NAVHDA dogs first caught my eye at this event 34 years ago, I was a seasoned bird-dog owner with a chocolate Lab and setter. My dogs were pretty well trained, but these NAVHDA handlers set the bar higher for me. Their dogs are phenomenally well-trained, a fact not lost on me. The Maine Spaniel Field Trial Club will also be there.
L.L. Bean, a show sponsor, has donated a kayak that all attendees have a chance to win. That’s a feel-good move for Bean all right, but this company also has a “bootmobile” for show goers – guaranteed to be a big attraction along with sporting products.
A large room off the auditorium of the Civic Center holds photo, art, carving and sculpture submissions for a contest, and many of them are startling good. Many artists sell their work at the show, too, a great way to pick up a special piece or two to add to a den.
Because old, favorite attractions return to this show each year (like NAVHDA), casual observers often quip that nothing is new – incorrect right to the core. Show workers dig every year to find new draws and occasionally I’m sitting in a room, listening to one of these conversations about the efforts of trying to find new blood for entertainment.
Deer hunting ranks big in Maine, and this year the show has a Trophy Whitetail Symposium with three well-known Maine buck hunters – Joe Saltalamachia, Hal Blood and Lee Shanz. They’ll talk hunting tactics and proven advice.
Other seminars have attracted speakers from all over New England and Canada, including folks from sporting lodges and fishing outfitters. Maine destinations are well-represented, as are exhibits from the state’s outdoor agencies, sportsmen’s clubs, hunting-and-fishing stores, outdoor writers, dock systems, ATVs, forest equipment, firearms and more.
It’s a good day for families as the show offers something for all ages. It runs 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $8 for folks 13 to 64 years old, $6 for kids under 12, active military and seniors. Children under 5 get in free.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be contacted at: