The 31st State of Maine Sportsman’s Show kicks off at 1 p.m. Friday and runs through 5 p.m. Sunday at the Augusta Civic Center. It is the largest outdoors show of its kind in Maine and a rite of spring that harkens back to 1980.

The first Sportsman’s Show took place at the Augusta Armory, but it needed a larger building. The event was moved to the Augusta Civic Center and has been there since 1981. What a history …

A common comment about this show reaches my ears more than once each year. Folks say that the lineup of events, shows, seminars and booths in the auditorium and surrounding rooms seldom adds anything new each spring, an unfair accusation.

I know for a fact the lineup changes because I have a small hand in helping with the show, which puts me in direct contact with the schedules and everything else that goes on during this weekend.

I dabble in oil painting, so I also volunteer as a judge for the outdoors art contest. This gives me the opportunity to spend Friday morning with David Footer, evaluating the art — mostly oils, acrylics and watercolors.

Both of us take the task seriously, so seriously that the job gives me a nervous stomach. I worry about shortchanging a genuine artist.

My judging job also gives me a chance to bump into many exhibitors who pass through the exhibit before the show opens Friday afternoon.

It may be true that lots of businesses and nonprofit organizations come year after year, a testimonial that the Sportsman’s Show offers participants a measurable increase in business and members.

The Maine Spaniel Field Trial Club, North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, Maine Bowhunters Association, Kennebec Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited and DeLorme jump to mind as perennial exhibitors. If one of the five groups didn’t show up, I’d be shocked, because they have been coming as far back as I can remember.

“This April, show goers will find two unbelievably exciting new offerings,” said Harry Vanderweide, the show’s co-director. “L.L. Bean will be giving away 10 fishing outfits as door prizes, and Guyette & Schmidt, Inc., the company that sold the highest-priced duck decoy ever, will display waterfowl decoys and other antique sporting collectibles.”

Those are just two of many additions for the 2011 show, which includes 100 seminars and stage events, 130 booths in the auditorium and myriad exhibits in rooms around the main floor.

Besides an equipment display in the auditorium, L.L. Bean presents 34 seminars on such topics as how to become a better wing-shot and how to read water and decipher what fish want. An outdoors option gives anglers a chance to cast the company’s new Silver Ghost fly rods, too.

ATV Maine has set up a course in the parking lot, where children 8 to 16 get to drive an ATV after basic safety instruction. Exhibits include the Maine Taxidermist Association with a mountain of mounts, Harold Porter with his antique collection of outdoor gear, Joe Saltalamachia with big-buck-hunting seminars, wood-carving contest and so much more. (Taxidermy and carving displays generate lines.)

Audience participants can get a schedule from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine as they walk into the auditorium. No one can see everything in the three days of the show, as the schedule will illustrate.

One attraction of this show is seeing old friends year after year and also running into folks I haven’t seen for decades. Other members of the audience tell me the same thing, and often enough, many people at the show feel like old friends, even though this is the only place I ever bump into them. After 31 years, though, that’s a long association.

The way the calendar falls each year can hurt this show’s attendance, and this year will be one of them. The traditional open-water fishing season opens on April Fool’s Day, and many folks prefer fishing to show going.

Every year, I always, always fish on April 1, if only for two or three hours. It’s easy enough in a three-day period to fish and still see the show, though.

Show times are 1 to 7 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission at the door is $7 for adults, $4 for kids 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and younger.

For me, a Maine spring hasn’t sprung until I attend to this impressive outdoors show.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

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