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story.lead_photo.caption The National Wild Turkey Federation has announced its annual convention will be virtual in 2021. Photo by Contributed photo

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) announced its 45th annual Convention and Sport Show will be held virtually in February. This comes on top of numerous other conservation organizations canceling, postponing or shifting conferences to online experiences.

While it is certainly not the same as gathering with like-minded sportsmen in person, supporting these organizations in any way you can during this economically challenging time is critical to present and future conservation efforts.

Each year, the NWTF hosts one of the world's largest celebrations of hunting and habitat conservation in Nashville, Tenn., at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center. The 2020 Convention and Sport Show drew record attendance with more than 57,000 people attending the three-day event.

The NWTF may focus on turkey hunting and habitat, but it crosses over into support for all forms and conservation work. The convention is where many hunters stock up on supplies and obtain new information on hunting tactics and land management. The NWTF convention has grown into the largest consumer show held in Nashville each year.

"The show's scope makes limiting audience sizes and implementing social distancing measures in compliance with government guidelines extremely difficult," NWTF CEO Becky Humphries said. "Even if guidelines change and restrictions are eased by February, it is not feasible for us to quickly adjust an event of this magnitude."

All the details of the convention are not currently set, but the virtual event should still be information packed with opportunities to learn about gear, destinations and conservation initiatives critical to wildlife habitat. Even though it won't include the handshakes and hugs so many of us look forward to when we see our friends during this annual reunion, we all still have a chance to participate in what is available.

"We are confident we can provide a virtual experience that allows us to deliver our message, educate our volunteers and celebrate the spirit of wild turkey hunting and conservation," said Jason Burckhalter, NWTF chief information officer.

I believe I speak for most of us when I say we never expected this upside-down COVID-19 world we've been living in to stretch into 2021, but it has and we have to adapt. Now we are setting our sights on a brighter future with a little more reluctance on committing to when that future will actually arrive.

At least for the NWTF, they are projecting a return to normalcy by 2022.

"This is a one-year pivot, as we manage through the pandemic," Humphries said. "We look forward to returning to Nashville in 2022 for our beloved Convention and Sport Show. In the meantime, we will provide the best online convention experience we can to celebrate our great conservation and hunting heritage successes and all of the volunteers who make it happen."

The virtual convention details are being ironed out now. In the months ahead, NWTF will finalize and release their plans. So far, what plans have been released included partnering with Bass Pro Shops to host some of the event from Johnny Morris' Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield.

With a virtual venue like that, I expect this experience to be worth your participation.

See you down the trail.

III

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected]

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