A Review By Foremost Hunting Pro Staff Member John Bieno
Anticipation was high, after all this wasn’t just any Outdoor Festival, it was the Great Outdoor Festival. I’d been seeing advertisements for weeks. I had also talked to several individuals who had gone to the Festival in previous years. Would it live up to Festivals of previous years? Would it meet my expectations? Read on and I’ll let you know.
The weather was beautiful and the fact that I was spending the time with my son made the day even better. We arrived right before the gates opened. Traffic was light and so were the crowds. I had expected to wait in line for traffic and parking, but we breezed right in and had “rock star” parking (as my son likes to call it).
For those that aren’t familiar with the event, it takes place on the grounds of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Because of the large area and facilities created for the annual Air-venture every year, this is an ideal location for this event. Parking is (relatively) centrally located with the Festival surrounding it on nearly 3 sides. The Festival grounds were broken up into 9 separate “villages”: ATV, Off-Road/4x4, Fishing, Biking/Camping, Archery, Shooting Sports, Conservation, Sporting Dog and Exhibitor Village. You could either travel between the villages on foot or with the use of a shuttle/trolley system that was free of charge.
The ATV Area
We started in the ATV area. I was looking forward to seeing and trying some of the ATVs and new UTVs that have been gaining in popularity. There were models from Kawasaki, Honda, Polaris and John Deere to name a few. The approval process was brutally long (each manufacturer made you fill out the same, exact form) which was followed by a requirement that all testers must wear a set of coveralls, boots, gloves, goggles and a helmet. It seemed really excessive since we were riding on a closed course, at controlled speeds, under constant supervision at….an airport. I love lawyers. I’m impressed with the advancements that these vehicles have made over the last 10 years. The level of comfort and technology is finally on par with the reliability. In my opinion, this makes for a great utility vehicle with a high fun factor. I did come away form the Festival with this impression; UTVs are an absolute hoot. These things have a top speed of nearly 50mph, but you feel like you’re going twice that. A word of advice: make sure that if you buy one of these that you have your insurance premiums paid and a life insurance policy set-up. These things will bring out the mud throwin’, rock jumpin’ speed lovin’ kid in all of us. The Teryx 750 from Kawasaki was particularly nice. Quick, easy to steer, relatively comfortable and did I mention, quick. On the ATV side, the Polaris Sportsman XP 850 and Honda Rincon were my vote for all around fun/utility vehicles. Hey, I knew I wasn’t going to be writing a check for one of these so price wasn’t an issue for me.
The Biking And Camping Exibits
Next we walked through the exhibitors’ area on our way to Biking and Camping. There were 2 large aircraft hangers, as well as the areas immediately in and around them, filled with exhibitors. On display (and for sale at most of them) was everything from rechargeable flashlights to furniture to clothing to dog supplies to outfitters to…well you get the idea. Although there was more than a fair share of “questionable” products and services being hawked, the vast majority were high quality from both regional and international companies. One of my favorites was the Jack Links display. They had brought in a custom International Pick-up truck (nope no typo on this one, this was a semi with a truck bed) that played a continuous loop of the “Messin with Sasquatch” commercials on a series of flat screen TV’s with a suped up stereo system. Some other exhibitors that had booths worth mentioning were: Midwestern Shooters Supply, Federal Ammunition, Northland Dog Supply and EAR Inc. An exhibitor that would have been better off not paying for a booth was Beretta. So that there is no misunderstanding here, I love Beretta firearms, I own two of them. I have the belief that if you are going to pay to have a double size booth, at a major outdoor festival you need to do a few things: 1. Have more than one person manning the booth. 2. Make sure these people want to be there (or are at least are compensated for acting like they want to be there). 3. Answer questions for individuals who are interested in your firearms, company and/or products and finally. 4. Have information to be handed out by said interested parties. I hope that there is no confusion on my misunderstanding about the lackadaisical job that Beretta did.
The biking and camping village unfortunately turned out to be a bust in my opinion. I will be up front on this topic too by saying that I don’t enjoy camping. With that being said, the camping section was nearly non-existent and seemed supplemented with booths from the conservation village (which bleed right into this area). Speaking of the conservation village, it was so small that it seemed non-existent. The bike section was in my opinion: weak, at best. There was a nice test track for people to try out bikes, but there were only one or two brands of bikes available. To add to this, each manufacturer only brought a couple of bikes in a couple of sizes. The individuals running the bike area would choose which bike you got to ride on the course. They were doing the best they could with what they had. My son had hoped to test out the new mountain bikes from several different manufacturers. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.
The Archery Area
Next was Archery. This section also wasn’t overly supported by manufacturers and sponsors. There were 3 small booths for bows and bow hunting equipment along with a large area for neophytes to shoot a few arrows at a target. I’m not a bow hunter, but I was surprised with the lack of product and potential that this area could have tapped into in our deer hunting crazy area. I was however, very pleased with the shooting demo area. As I mentioned, I don’t shoot bow and the simple demonstration area was fun for a person of my abilities to test out a compound bow in a low pressure setting.
The Shooting Village
The shooting sports village was the highlight of the trip for me. Not only because I got to sample some of the best guns that I may never own, but because it was where the exhibitors seemed the most apt to talk about the festival. There were several shotguns, rifles and handguns from Winchester, Benelli, Beretta, Browning, Tika, Glock and Ruger to choose from. You had to purchase tickets to shoot so it limited the amount of guns you could fire to the thickness of your wallet. Unfortunately, after buying lunch, my wallet wasn’t nearly as thick as it had been. I did have the opportunity to talk with some of the exhibitors in this area and they mentioned that the Festival had been dealt a blow when Mossberg, Remington and Dodge all decided to pull out of the event within the last month or two. For those that may not remember, Ducks Unlimited decided to pull their support shortly after the end of last years Festival. The exhibitors felt that maybe because of the lack of support, from such a national entity as DU, attendance was really light from previous years. I didn’t seem to mind since I had noticed there weren’t any long lines or major crowds to have to deal with. I have to think that without the major national sponsors, some of the lesser players probably felt it wasn’t going to be worth their time to come to the Festival. As far as what I liked in this village; if you have the money and the inclination, I can highly recommend the Benelli, Super Black Eagle II and the Beretta, Extrema 2. My word, these guns nearly shot targets themselves. I put 10 rounds through each of them and with each shot, I had to remind myself that I was shooting a 12ga not a .410. These are two super, super shotguns that are a treat to shoot all day. On the flipside of that coin, don’t buy a Benelli, Ultra Light. I was kicked lighter when I did a stint as a rodeo clown. 10 rounds through this mule and I was considering taking up bow hunting. Somewhere in between is the Browning, Cynergy. Some people can’t get past the very modern looks, but I think it’s a really nice looking gun. The low profile receiver and clean lines are wonderful. The field version should appeal to a broader spectrum of hunters for its more classic styling. The short review is that the kick is fine and it points a target well.
Fishing, Off Road and Sporting Dogs
With a smile on my face from ear to ear we hopped on the trolley and rode over to the next area of the Festival. This was the area which contained the fishing, off-road/4x4 and sporting dog villages. Unfortunately the smile was quickly removed from my face when there were only 3 or 4 booths for sporting dog equipment. I had been looking forward to this area to see what was new for my trusty, hunting partner. I did get a closer look at the “new” collars from Tri-Tronics. Although the G3 units are a really nice size and have great ergonomics, the cheap plastic parts could bring their “bulletproof” reputation down a couple of notches. The upside to my time spent at the TT booth was that I found that you can trade in your old collar for a new one. For this trade, they will give you a 35% credit for your old collar towards the purchase of the new one. I’ve got an old TT that I’ve loaned to a friend and seriously thinking about taking TT up on their program. The Dockdogs section was active but not as active as I think they had hoped. The stands were nearly empty and the participant level wasn’t very high. The only vehicle for the off-road/4x4 section was Toyota. Not bad since they have a great product, but tough to compare it to anybody else when there isn’t anyone else there to compare to. The fishing demonstration was done in a large kiddie pool, and the fly fishing only had one instructor. The longest line we encountered was for the canoes and kayaks. Not having much zip for paddling at this point, neither my son nor I wanted to wait. Plus we both knew that we could do this very same thing at the local paddle shop back home without the wait.
Overall, it was a great experience. I had the opportunity to test vehicles, ATVs, UTVs, bows, shotguns, rifles, bikes, etc. that I would normally not have been able to do. Especially under conditions that wouldn’t normally be available for me to test them on. I also was made aware of guides, hunting equipment and products that I might have otherwise passed over. I’m glad that I went, but I don’t know that I would go every year. I would certainly go every few years if the level of sponsors stays the same or increases. I have to give a great deal of credit to the people behind the festival for not throwing in the towel as sponsors started pulling out. The facilities and the organization are there to handle a major event. I hope that they get an infusion of sponsors next year to bring the event to the level that it has been in years past. If you have the chance to go next year; do it. If you have the chance to go next year with family and friends; definitely do it.
Here is another video shot by a Visitor to the DU Great Out Doors Fest in 2007 When Ducks Unlimited Was A Event Sponsor: