NRA-led Great American Outdoor Show opens Saturday at state Farm Show Complex

01.30.14 | Bob Price

The National Rifle Association's Great American Outdoor Show is set to run Feb. 1-9 at the state Farm Show Complex on Cameron Street.

"We're incredibly excited about the whole thing," said Lars Dalseide, NRA media relations manager.

For those of you who attended the old Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show over the three decades it ran, you're not likely to notice a tremendous difference in the NRA's event.

It's still a nine-day show at the Farm Show Complex at the beginning of February that's focused on hunting, fishing, shooting, camping, boating and related activities.

There will be big-name outdoor celebrities on hand to talk shop, such as Lee & Tiffany Lakosky, hosts of The Crush television show, Bone Collector front-man Michael Waddell and legendary bass angler Roland Martin.

A full slate of contests are scheduled, including duck and goose calling, a 3-D archery tournament and a taxidermy competition.

And, of course, you'll find scads of hunting and fishing outfitters hawking everything from elk hunts in New Mexico to salmon fishing excursions in Alaska.

Alongside those vendors will be companies selling all of the latest and greatest outdoor and shooting equipment, clothing and artwork.

All of the above were staples of the old Eastern show.

Of course, we all know by now that show was called off last year, following a flap over certain semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

After the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in which a gunman used an AR-style, semiautomatic rifle to kill 26 children and adults, Eastern show organizer Reed Exhibitions in early January announced it was banning the sale and display of AR guns and high-capacity magazines.

That announcement prompted a massive boycott by show vendors and celebrities, who vowed not to attend the event as a demonstration of support for the Second Amendment.

Ultimately, Reed was forced to cancel the show, leaving an $88-million hole in the economy.

The NRA then swooped in to launch its own show this year in place of the Eastern event.

And AR-style guns and high-capacity magazines, along with all other legal firearms and accessories, are welcome at the Great American Outdoor Show.

Firearms can be sold at the show, but customers can't leave the building with them, according to Dalseide.

They will be required to pick them up off site, he said, like at the stores from which they made their purchases.

Dalseide said the NRA's show organizers are hoping to draw at least 200,000 people to the inaugural event.

"That's our target, but if we get more — even better," he said.

Reed always was tight-lipped about how many people attended its show.

But Dalseide said some of the people the NRA hired to work on its show formerly worked for Reed, and so they were the ones to set this year's attendance goal of 200,000.

It's true the Great American Outdoor Show mirrors the Eastern show in many respects, said Rick Dunlap, spokesman for the Hershey Harrisburg Visitors Bureau.

"But it is a new promoter, so you can't say right out that it will have the same draw," he said.

As one indicator of how the new show is being received, Dunlap said advance hotel bookings in the region are on par with those booked for the Eastern show.

"We're right there where we usually were," he said.

One thing show attendees will notice that's different about the Great American Outdoor Show is the addition of a new slate of seminars aimed at self defense with a firearm.

Sprinkled in amidst the usual hunting, fishing and wild-game cooking seminars, are presentations by NRA instructors on a variety of personal protection topics.