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Great American Outdoor Show is in Harrisburg, and it is Fantastic

The Great American Outdoor Show, which used to be called the Eastern Outdoor Show until the former promoter turned anti-gun and tried to block vendors from showcasing their modern sporting rifles, is on and happening in Harrisburg through Sunday.

I have been volunteering a bit for the PA Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, not nearly as much as I have in the past, but still contributing and selling raffle tickets to friendly people who visit the booth.

Last year the Federation raffled off a Bushmaster AR-15, and this year we are just doing cash.  Right now the pot is a few thousand dollars, and by the time the raffle is drawn it’ll be much more.  Some of the proceeds go to support the Federation, so it’s a good cause.

I stopped in to visit the Unified Sportsmen booth the other day, but the person I sought was not there and the volunteers were just leaving, but I am looking forward to hearing their perspective on sportsmen’s issues.

The River’s Edge canoe and kayak sales by Neill and Evelyn Andritz  sold me on a Hobie kayak.  But let me tell you, these kayaks today are not your Nanuk of the North kayaks of old.  My friends, these things might as well be on the space shuttle for when our guys find water on Mars, because they are nothing like the sloppy, floppy, tipsy, floating death traps we used to squeeze ourselves into.  Today’s Hobie kayak is a blended hybrid, using the best qualities of canoes, surf boards, and kayaks to bring small-craft fishing into the 22nd century.  The Mirage Pro Angler 14 and the Mirage Outback were the two I had to choose between in the end, but being a “Big Guy” means that the 600-pound capacity of the Mirage Pro Angler is a must-have.

And beyond the fat-guy-and-all-his-gear capacity, the technical bells and whistles are amazing.  Stand-up stabilizing bars, leg-driven flipper drives that look and power like an orca tail, bait coolers, adjustable seats that would be at home in a Maserati, sleek rudder controls you can use with your elbow, hand, or foot, storage lockers running the full length for stashing kit so big you can harpoon the shark of your dreams, rod holders everywhere, holes for masts, and so on.

And all this above is about just one vendor with two small self-powered boats I liked in the Farm Show complex that is loaded to the gills with gear, knives, guns, outfitters from around the world, specialty clothing and footwear, trophy services, archery gear so sophisticated I feel like I am Stone Age when I handle it, RVs, ATVs, camping gear, bug-out survival gear, and so on and on for much more.

The Great American Outdoor Show is worth visiting if for no other reason than to say you went and witnessed one of the wonders of the world.  It is the biggest show of its kind in the world, and even if our new governor, Tom Wolf, isn’t interested in attending (incredibly that is true), you definitely should.

The word “tactical” – overused, kind of

By Josh First

Have you seen the word “tactical” used lately?

The word appears everywhere, and is growing in prominence across the retail world.

Although “tactical” is a word that denotes, or really connotes military tactics, and was once reserved to the sole use of the United States Military combat units or the dangerously armed forces they faced, this word now imputes some special meaning, martial ability, and toughness to anything that wears it on the label.

There are tactical knives, vests, rifles, pistols, and the many accoutrements that go with these items.  There seem to be tactical diapers, tactical coffee mugs, and tactical pens.  OK, there are to my knowledge no tactical diapers or coffee mugs, but it is true that someone will or already is onto these items.  Actually, there are tactical pens meant for self defense, but whether or not they have actual value for military tactics is a questionable claim.

For another true example of the oddly named, there are tactical shirts.  No lie, there are “tactical shirts” dedicated to more easily accessing one’s concealed pistol.

Is it really so difficult to just wear a regular old LL Bean button down short sleeve Pima cotton Oxford?  Is a shirt with confusing numbers of magnum zipper pulls in sensitive places really, truly a better shirt than the LL Bean?  Does it really make you a tougher guy or gal?  Do our combat forces wear these shirts? No?

As if it isn’t odd enough to call a shirt or a vest “tactical,” we now have tactical airguns, I kid you not.  The Crosman TR77 looks like a Star Trek photon shooter that makes bad guys vaporize painlessly, but it is claimed by its maker to have some sort of tactical application.

As if!

Air guns pack all the wallop of a good slap to the head, albeit with more concentrated force.  Certainly some shoot pellets that can penetrate your flesh, and perhaps even your temple.  But if I were a law enforcement officer engaged in a really deadly standoff with a violent, dangerous bad guy, a freakin airgun is the last thing I’d want in my hands.  My tactic in that situation would be to run away, fast.

So obviously the word “tactical” is being, ummm, stretched in meaning a bit these days.

But for whatever reason, this word increasingly resonates with the American public, and it may be a result of the hyper-militarization of our local police forces.  Plenty has been written in recent months about how the legendary bumbling Officer Barney Fife became the sinister looking, crewcut-and-armor-wearing badass kicking down grandma’s door in East Succotash, America. SWAT teams in East Succotash, America, are not necessary, and it is a serious issue, because Americans have a natural aversion to government force applied to them.

No doubt about it, America’s local police are in an arms race with…hmmmm… either themselves, far-off international military forces, or possibly, probably, you.

That’s right, there is plenty of evidence indicating that the massive investment in military grade hardware and hard attitude at the local police level is translating into a natural citizen reaction, apparently in preparation for inevitable urban combat with the very people once sworn to protect us.  And so we have an increasing “if-they-have-it, we-need-it, too,” civilian reach for all things tactical.  Tactical now seems to mean “I am ready for combat,” an American attitude that is both refreshing and alarming.

Alarming indeed.  Why are we afraid of our own local police forces?  When did that happen? And, come to think of it, why did the local Harrisburg cop try to stare me down last year, on my own street, when I cheerfully said hello to him while walking on our sidewalk with my small son in hand?  Was he employing some anti-citizen ‘tactic’?  Sure felt that way to me, the law-abiding taxpayer underwriting that guy’s paycheck and tough guy attitude.

However, instead of meeting fire with fire, and buying a black bulletproof vest with webbing and the ubiquitous variation of a skull-and-crossbones trademark label, I think I will for now reach for my ‘tactical pen’ and write about my uncomfortable encounter, thereby defeating that officer’s ungainly attempt to bring implied force into what should have been a friendly exchange between equals.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye…step back in time

Last Sunday was the Maple Festival at Fort Hunter, here in Harrisburg.  Today and tomorrow is the Honorable Company of Horners at the US Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, PA.  If you enjoy mingling with people dressed as if they just emerged from a 1770s time machine, this is the event to go to this weekend.  Flintlock rifles, lots of modern and antique powder horns and various accoutrements like knives, tomahawks, etc.  I find this sort of diversion from politics, work, and politicking refreshing.  Maybe you will, too.

Some observations on knives sold at the Great American Outdoor Show

Knife production is reaching an apex, it appears. Never before in one place have I seen so many higher quality production knives as I have seen at the Great American Outdoor Show. Many booths selling hundreds and hundreds of better quality folding knives, with some custom and semi-custom knife sellers sprinkled around.

Oddly, you can’t find a sharpening stone in the entire Farm Show complex to save your blade’s life. No one is selling sharpening stones. Blades out the wazoo, yes. Ways to keep them functioning, no. Whether it is a sign of the throw-away society meeting Pleistocene Man, or too much optimism about modern steels’ edge retention capability, it is an odd sign indeed.

Once the purview of expensive custom knives, Damascus blades are now ubiquitous, although most are probably made in Pakistan and India, so their quality cannot be real high, and you’ve got no idea of their cadmium, arsenic, or lead content, either, although I am willing to bet these blades are positively toxic to human health. They do look nice, though.

[Damascus steel is a mix of different types of metals that when folded over and over and then hammered out reveal an appealing variety of patterns. Because metal types used in Damascus steel vary widely, quality varies widely. I use only Alabama Damascus in my knives]

Clearly, there is a bleeding over from the custom knife market into the high production market, where quality used to suffer badly. Knife buying Americans evidently have improved tastes and higher expectations for their over-the-counter knives. That’s a good thing. But do they have to be made in those rainbow colors? They hurt my eyes. Camo handles are humorous – drop your knife, never find your knife, lose your knife. Maybe those rainbow colored handles work, after all.

One other observation is the high number of bug-out bags being made. Man, Americans seem ready for the apocalypse. After seeing so many of these grab-and-run packs, I now realize that I need one, too. No, my oh-so-1970s Kelty backpacks do not seem up to snuff, even though they have served me well on rugged wilderness trips for many years. Nope, camo is de rigeur here, too.

Come on by the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs booth and buy a raffle ticket for our Bushmaster AR-15 M4. Just ten bucks gets you a lot closer to having your bug-out bag fully equipped with a state-of-the-art rifle.

Good show! JRJ Knives sells out at Great American Outdoor Show

Want the sign of a good show?  Watch the vendors sell out of their items only a couple of days in.

JRJ knives of New Buffalo is my go-to source for top of the line custom knives. John uses ATS-34 steel and stock removal (with a little welding and hammering now and then) to make any knife you want or need. He and I have several knife projects under way, mostly using Alabama Damascus steel and hippo tooth, and although the wait can be longer than you’d like, the results are always better than you could have imagined. JRJ makes high quality knives.

Well, last Sunday I stopped in at the JRJ Knives booth at the Great American Outdoor Show, and John was nowhere to be seen. He was back at the shop, his wife Jodi said, because they had sold out of nearly all their knives.  That is, they had sold more knives in the first 24 hours of the show than they expected to sell during the entire week.

Today I was shopping around for old fashioned whet stones.  You know, the old fine-grained novaculite Arkansas sharpening stones that were once a staple in every American kitchen.  You’d expect to find lots of them for sale at the Great American Outdoors Show, especially given how many knife vendors there are.  Nary a one, oddly.  Either modern newfangled steels have become self-sharpening, or even rugged outdoorsmen no longer sharpen their own knives.  Something odd is afoot. One knife vendor said that he had sold out of all of his premium knives, and had to order more; he hoped they would arrive by tomorrow.

But back to the main point here: All this selling out of items in a day or two is a good show.  So far, it is a big success.  If you haven’t yet visited, you should.  It has a whole new look, feel, and energy.  And yes, there are AR15s on display everywhere.

New Sportsmen’s Show – Carlisle, PA – March 21-24

The recent demise of the 58-year annual Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show left both a hole in the fabric of the outdoors community, and also an opportunity for some enterprising people to pull it all back together. Nature abhors a vacuum, and into this one poured the good and capitalistic intentions of many veteran outdoorsmen.

Dozens of small groups of people have quickly seen the opportunity, and worked to create a show that will give them momentum for next year, and then the years after.

One such show is being billed as the “American Outdoorsman Sport Show,” organized by a radio station, WQLV 98.9 FM (www.aosshow.com), and it is being held from March 21-24 at the Carlisle Expo Center, 100 K Street, Carlisle, PA.

I know about this because JRJ Knives will be there (www.jrjknives.com). John Johnson of JRJ makes knives every bit as rugged and beautiful as the top-billed makers, but at a third to half the price. I try to purchase at least one every year; many I give away as gifts. John’s self-defense fixed blades are worn by an Israeli general and an Israeli colonel who sees combat every week, as well as sportsmen around the nation. Because he uses ATS34 steel combined with his exceptional skill, John’s knives are often far stronger than the “best” knives being marketed for survival, hand-to-hand combat, etc. In fact, I cook with one of the custom, unique large hunting knives he recently made for me. It is scary sharp, holds an edge forever, and is easy to resharpen.

So get on down to the Carlisle Expo Center this March 21-24, and buy yourself a JRJ knife and peruse some of the other vendors, including Cody Calls and Ducky’s Boats.