It’s Showtime!

The Texas Trophy Hunters Extravaganzas kicking off statewide.

Deer hunters are among the world’s best storytellers. I’ve heard some great ones over the years. One of the most memorable dates back more than a decade ago when I shared a phone conversation with Jennie Crowder of San Antonio. Crowder hadn’t connected with a giant buck, but she had seen hundreds of them through her long-time business relationship with Jerry Johnston.

Johnston was, and still is, a hardcore deer hunter. In the mid-1970s he had a dream. His vision was to bring Texas deer hunters together as an association to promote quality deer management practices and ultimately feed fuel to grow the economic cash cow that deer hunting has become in the Lone Star state.

Out of a job at the time, Crowder said she was browsing the want ads in the local newspaper one day back in 1976. She came across a three-liner in the classifieds that grabbed her attention. It read like this:

“Wanted: Girl Friday who likes to hunt.”

Crowder was passionate about hunting, but she was more interested in finding a steady job to help pay the bills. Curiosity piqued, she called the accompanying phone number to inquire about the intriguing ad. The man who answered the phone told her he was planning to start a magazine geared towards Texas deer hunting, and that he needed someone with a feel for the sport to help run the office.

Their conversation ended with Crowder getting an invite for an interview. The meeting turned out unlike any she’d experienced before it. When she showed up at the office—a one-room mobile trailer—the man who had placed the ad didn’t greet her with a job application or quiz her about her work history. Instead, he pitched an interesting question.

“He asked me if I knew what a sendero is,” Crowder recalled. She replied yes and he asked her to define it. “When I told him, he hired me on the spot,” she said.

Not surprisingly, the guy asking the questions wasn’t wearing a suit and tie. Blue jeans, boots, camo shirts and cowboy hats are more Johnston’s style. A self-proclaimed redneck who never graduated high school, Johnston has done for Texas deer hunting what Ray Scott did for the sport of competitive bass fishing when he founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society in 1968, just on a smaller scale.

Though Johnston’s dream hasn’t grown to the enormity that Scott’s did, it has evolved into a well-known, membership-only outfit comprised of thousands of faithful followers who take their hunting very seriously. Most are firm believers in letting young deer walk. They share an intimate passion for whitetail bucks with large antlers.

The magazine Johnston and Crowder started as a team has since morphed into a bi-monthly journal that is the signature publication of the Texas Trophy Hunters Association, a near cult-like organization comprised of thousands of members. Fittingly, TTHA calls itself the “Voice of Texas Hunting.” The trademark slogan gets new life in each issue of The Journal of the Texas Trophy Hunters. The colorful magazine is packed with all sorts of information about hunting, much of it written by everyday hunters eager to share their success stories with others.

Each cover bears the famous TTHA logo—a European-style likeness of an impressive 12-point buck with wide antlers and matching drop tines. Crowder said she watched Johnston whittle the original logo within the walls of their tiny office using a pocketknife and block of hard wax. In addition to the magazine, TTHA also has an exciting television show that takes viewers to some of the best whitetail country in North America. The popular program has been blending compelling storytelling with incredible hunting footage since 1998. It has won more than a dozen awards of excellence, including a Golden Moose Award—the Outdoor Channel’s version of an Academy Award.

Johnston also is the founder of Texas’ longest-standing hunting trade show, the TTHA Hunters Extravaganza. Well-known as the granddaddy of hunting shows, the Hunters Extravaganza is actually a series of large-scale exhibits dedicated exclusively to hunting. The first one originated in San Antonio in 1976. It has since expanded to include other popular venues in Houston and
Fort Worth that give hundreds of industry vendors the opportunity to show off their latest wares to the hunting public and make some sales in the process.

Not surprisingly, attendance is always brisk when a TTHA Hunters Extravaganza show comes to town. The shows are almost always held during August, when hunter appetites are whetted by thoughts of another long line of hunting seasons that are fast approaching. It’s a great opportunity for sportsmen to book a hunting trip with an outfitter or find some bargains on gear while browsing the latest and greatest in hunting blinds, deer feeders, ATVs, apparel, firearms, knives and optics under the same roof. And those roofs are big.

The upcoming Houston show is set for Aug. 2-4 at the NRG Center. The show then heads to the Fort Worth Convention Center on Aug. 9-11 before winding down on Aug. 16-18 at the Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall in San Antonio.

Crowder has long since retired from her position as TTHA show coordinator/advertising director, but her successor Christina Pittman says the annual shows continue to generate plenty of buzz with outdoors types of all kinds, particularly those who hunt deer. Pittman says the three-day shows usually draw a combined attendance of around 55,000.

“The Fort Worth show is usually the biggest with an attendance of around 18,000-20,000 people, but Houston isn’t far behind,” she said. “Those two shows are usually neck-and neck.” While vendor booths are big attractions at the traveling trade shows, there is always plenty of other entertainment to draw a crowd.

In addition to big buck contest entries, free to TTHA members, the upcoming show schedule includes seminars by Dr. James Kroll. There also will be a live display of alligators run by Gary Saurage, owner of Gator Country in Beaumont. An old Hunters Extravaganza staple is Joe Martin’s Snakes of Texas display, which includes dozens of rattlesnakes and handling sessions performed by the veteran snake handler from San Antonio.

New to the Hunters Extravaganza summer menu is the “Locked & Loaded Giveaway”—a series of random draws that will give TTHA members who attend Hunters Extravaganza events the chance to win a wide variety of cool prizes like rifles, pistols, shotguns, crossbows, feeders, hunts, optics, blinds and much more.

Other attractions include a fish tank for the kids, a mechanical bull, bubble runners, the Hunters Extravaganza Scavenger Hunt and arrow dart game.

With the annual hunting season fast approaching, any one of the upcoming shows would make a good destination for an inexpensive day trip or weekend getaway if you have some free time and are looking for a fun way to spend it. For more information, show schedules and ticket prices, check out ttha.com.

Dillon Brown

Native Texan with an affinity for bowhunting, camping, and kayaking.

This article originally appears at Texas Trophy Hunters

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