Observation The Eighth Annual Deer and Turkey Exposition, Feb. 18-20 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, represented to its visitors the unique opportunity to not only catch up on the latest advances in hunting deer and turkeys, but to overhear some of the best conversation snippets around. Illustration by Penelope Dullaghan The highlight had to be the mother trying to comfort her daughter, who was convinced that one of the deer heads on display was staring at her. She told her daughter, “It’s stuffed, Krissy, just like everything else here.”

I checked, and Krissy had a point — those marble eyes do seem to follow you down the aisles.

But there was lots more to see besides frightened children. There were turkey-calling devices spread out on a table, behind which a quiet young man smiled politely as each passer-by tried it out, scraping the point of the little stick against the textured disc. It really does kind of sound like a turkey, even if it does feel a lot like nails on a chalkboard.

There were folks toting around disembodied deer heads, gripping them by the antler-bases so the noses bobbed as they walked.

There were action-packed hunting DVDs for sale, looping on overhead monitors and featuring footage of people chasing animals through forests, all set to thrash-metal music.

There was an elk, a live elk, trapped in a huge cage on wheels. He was lying down with his legs folded under him in the hay, staring down at the floor of his trailer while people pointed and stared at him. “Rent My Elk,” read the sticker on the bumper.

Chris Clark, treasurer/membership secretary of the Indiana Hunter Education Association, said the big news this year was the increase in events geared toward kids. Youngsters in attendance could participate in the shooting gallery — great for burgeoning bowhunters or anybody who really has it in for bales of straw — as well as an attraction called the gallows, which I skipped.

To an outsider, the IHEA booth was probably the most puzzling. Much more than the standard-issue burly men in camouflage caps and T-shirts suggesting we “Git ’R Done,” what caught me by surprise and stuck in my mind was the organization and its kind-faced volunteers, each dedicated to “promoting high-quality instruction in every Hunter Education class taught in Indiana.”

They seemed normal. I had a conversation with one of them, even, and she looked into my eyes with such honesty and conviction that I actually squirmed a little, unnerved by the openness in her expression. And then I go to the Web site and there she is, smiling, helpful, with an 8- or 9-year-old girl on her lap, steadying the girl’s tiny fingers on the trigger of a pump-action shotgun.

I don’t understand. But I went, and I saw some stuff, and I tried to make sense of it. I saw little kids gaping at the hunting videos and I saw them lined up at the shooting gallery. I saw them holding their parents’ hands, toddling along amidst the heads and the camouflage and the sale-priced bottles of scented deer piss, happy to be there. I only saw one, though, who reminded me of me, and she was hiding her head in her mom’s coat, scared, because nobody else seemed to notice that all the animals were missing bodies.

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