By Craig Boddington
Recently, I wrote that it seemed odd when our esteemed editor, John Geiger, suggested I might recall my favorite SCI Convention.
Out of 40-plus, they run together in my beleaguered brain. To this point, they all were either in Las Vegas or Reno. True, they are different cities, but behind the closed doors of sterile convention centers and in the bright lights of casinos, it’s tough to differentiate them. Naturally, Geiger made that recommendation before we went to Nashville.
Now the answer comes easy. For all of us who have been to multiple conventions, it’s difficult to exceed the awe and wonder when we walk in the door for the first time; seeing the great taxidermy, amazing artwork, all the outfitters and so many hunters all in one place. Otherwise, the answer is now crystal-clear: SCI’s first Convention in Nashville, Feb. 22-25, 2023, sets a new bar that’s going to be tough to beat.
In the March edition of Safari Times, I’m sure you read all the numbers: Attendance and revenue records and unprecedented banquet sellouts. I haven’t yet seen any numbers. As of the time of this writing, the Convention ended a day ago, and I haven’t even departed Nashville. While the memory is fresh, let me tell you why I rate this as such an awesome Convention.
After 50 years in gaming towns, some of us were worried. I was not. I’ve been to Nashville and love it. I also understood the location and demographics, as did our SCI leadership: Nashville is right in the middle of 7.5 million licensed hunters, and it’s within practical driving distance of half of SCI’s total membership.
So, I figured Nashville would work. Even so, it’s scary to venture into unknown territory. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for the final bell to know that it worked.
Only a few hours after the doors opened on the first day, I knew SCI was hitting a home run in Nashville. I was just about to start my buffalo seminar with maybe a hundred people in the room. Then I had a rare flash of brilliance. I asked, “How many of you folks are attending your first SCI Convention?”
Two-thirds of the room raised their hands! No more worries. No matter what the numbers say or don’t say, I knew we had a winner!
Throughout the Convention, standing in our booth, we asked folks where they were from, and if they drove or flew. Of course, people were from all over but, as I’d expected, it seemed that a lot of folks drove to Nashville, and not just from a small circle around Tennessee.
Multiple members we talked to drove from Florida and Texas; and from the Midwest and Northeast: Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and New England. The list went on and on.
The crowd was also different with more young folks and more families. When it was in Nevada, fewer people could easily drive, so it was difficult to bring kids to the Silver State.
In Nashville, as an exhibitor, I liked having everyone in just one big rectangular hall. It seemed fair and equal. There was no “bad booth placement” in the entire room. There will always be errors, but the printed directory was simple and clear. The SCI Convention smartphone app was also effective and easy to use.
I had been warned that the aisles were narrower this year to get as many exhibitors as possible into one space. Yes, the aisles got crowded now and again. That is unavoidable with so many attendees. It wasn’t a problem though.
The Convention was easy to navigate and well-signed for finding what you were looking for. I would guess the Convention was also a shorter walk from most hotels than in Las Vegas. As a bonus, there was good country music on Broadway, only a short walk away.
I get claustrophobic in convention centers (doesn’t everyone?). Nashville’s Music City Center was unique: From any place in our hall, I could look up, see the sky and check the weather through a big, high window. If that wasn’t enough daylight, the entire lobby and main bar faced windows to the street.
As always, I saw a lot of old friends I haven’t seen for a long time. Not just since last year; in some cases, not for decades. At every Convention, some comrades from the Marines come by to look me up. Now retired nearly 20 years, they go back a long way. Since this Convention was blessed with so many new attendees, I’m certain most of us made new friends.
Whether old or new, we are all there for a variety of reasons. A successful convention is the organization’s lifeblood, the primary fundraiser that allows SCI to be “first for hunters.”
The system relies on the generosity of exhibitors in donating auction items and the generosity of attendees in bidding and buying. As is now traditional, generosity started early with the SCIF and Beretta Conservation Leadership Award Gala, which raised a record $1.1 million for SCI Foundation.
Some of us are there for entertainment at the banquets and clubs. Others were there to shop for hunts, whether at auction or on the floor. Most of us had multiple reasons and purposes. Make no mistake, outfitters are there to sell hunts, and all exhibitors are there to sell — or showcase their products and services.
One thing that is essential to the success of SCI, the Convention and the industry — exhibitors need to be happy. Other than seminars, I stay pretty well chained to my booth these days, so I don’t get around the Convention as much as I once could. However, this year an odd thing happened.
When the floor closed on Friday afternoon, I was completely out of books. This is unprecedented. In the now-decades I’ve had a booth at our Convention, we’ve never before run out. Okay, so maybe I planned poorly and should have had a larger supply, but this exhibitor is very happy.
Since the cupboard was bare, on Saturday I walked around the show and visited with outfitters and friends. At this Convention, every exhibitor I spoke to was happy. Everyone was in agreement: Nashville is a great place for SCI, bringing a new and more enthusiastic crowd than we’ve seen at Convention in many years.
I can’t let everyone off too easy. We can always improve. One of the most daunting things for exhibitors is moving into an unfamiliar convention center. Marshaling for setup was messy, slow and frustrating. Moving out at the end was, if anything, even worse.
After the show closes, we need about two hours to pack up our booth, which goes into K&K Outfitters’ trailer, along with their booth materials. Kendall Kelso sat in his vehicle for an agonizing nine hours before, at midnight, we were finally allowed to load out our booths.
Fortunately, such things are not an issue to our attendees. More fortunately, both SCI and Nashville have a year to evaluate problems and figure out how to do even better next year. Because there will be a next year in Nashville.
If you missed this Convention, I’m sorry for you — it was that good, and that much fun. But don’t fret too much. Instead, plan to join us next year, for SCI’s 52nd Convention in Nashville, Jan. 31 through Feb. 3, 2024. It won’t be just as good. It will be even better. I’m already looking forward to seeing you there!
Col. Craig Boddington is an author, hunter and longtime SCI member. He is Past President of the Los Angeles Chapter, a decorated Marine and C.J. McElroy Award winner.