OK, so it’s like an oven outside, and has been for weeks, seemingly with it set on “high” during the day and “hold warm” at night. On the news, they talk about record days of 95-plus and 100-plus, and kick around heat indexes of 110 and up.

Yet, beginning on Friday, for an estimated 30,000 Mississippians, their focus will shift to the upcoming hunting season.

That’s the impact the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Extravaganza has on sportsmen and women, who visit the three-day show at the Trade Mart in Jackson. It is the unofficial start to the hunting season.

“It’s wall to wall hunting, with a little fishing thrown in, and if the mounts in the Big Buck Contest don’t get you in the mood, then the hundreds of exhibitor booths with the latest in equipment will,” said Gary Anderson, who like many Mississippians don’t have enough fingers — and toes, too, for some — to county how many times they’ve been to the event. 

“I know this for sure, it puts me more in the mood to be down at the deer camp on work days in this heat than before the Extravaganza.”

The 29th annual Extravaganza opens Friday (July 31) and runs through Sunday at the Trade Mart at the Fairgrounds in Jackson. Based on averages, about 30,000 visitors will attend the consumer show, which features nearly 200 exhibitors, kid’s events, seminars and the best deer from last year.

“I could tell you I get that first taste back in July when we have our first few work days at deer camp, but that’s a torture with an aftertaste I’d just as soon not revisit,” said Dwight Quayle of Terry, an annual visitor since the event’s early days. “The Extravaganza is where our family of hunters gets the first feel that hunting season is just around the corner.” 

The event is certainly the highlight of what otherwise, in the steamy Dog Days of Summer, is a down time for outdoorsmen in Mississippi. 

A couple of strolls down the crowded aisles — especially in the area around the Mississippi Big Buck Contest display — is all it takes to get the hunting juices figuratively flowing...

... or literally dripping down the chin. Wait! What?

“One of the things I’ve come to love about the Extravaganza is finding all the local venison processors and sampling their many varieties of deer sausage,” said Billy Ford of Brandon. “Seems like there’s one every other aisle or two. You know when you get near one because, one, you can smell it, and two, traffic backs up to a standstill.”

Home to Mississippi’s official Big Buck Contest, the Extravaganza is a consumer show, featuring nearly 200 exhibitors, most selling outdoor equipment, accessories and even guided trips, built around the impressive deer mounts.

This year, there’s a heavy influence of outdoor television programming, with cast members from several popular shows including Bone Collectors, Swamp People, 30 Miles Out, Gone Huntin’, Spartan Outdoors and Real South Outdoors. 

“Yeah, but we all know who the big stars are going to be, and that will be the big racks at the Big Buck Contest display,” Ford said. “They could bring in any TV or movie stars, and unless they show up in bikinis, the bucks would still be the big attraction.

“I always like to come with my boys and my wife and stroll the aisles and see if there’s any new gadgets or clothing we may need, or even find a good deal on a stand or two. But honestly, we always end up at the Big Buck display. As a matter of fact, going in, our general rule is that if we get separated that’s where we meet up.”

The display is assured an impressive wall, just based on the bucks entered in the annual Big Buck Contest, which is open only to deer killed in the 2014-15 season. But, since the event also serves as an official scoring session for the Magnolia Records Program, deer killed in any season in Mississippi can be brought for scoring.

Bucks can be entered between 3 and 9 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday. Bucks must remain at the show until 3 p.m. Sunday. There is no cost to enter the Big Buck Contest or have a buck scored in the Magnolia Records Program, and each person entering a deer will be presented with a free one-day pass to the show.

For more information on the 29th annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza and the Mississippi Big Buck Contest, visit the sponsoring Mississippi Wildlife Federation online at mswildlife.org.

Big Buck Contest Factoid  

• All white-tailed deer taken legally within Mississippi during any prior hunting season are eligible to participate in the Magnolia Records Program. Only those deer taken during the 2014-2015 hunting season are eligible to participate in the Big Buck Contest. 

• Mount must be registered under the name of the hunter who took and recovered the deer. Mounts not registered under the name of the hunter will be disqualified.

• Mounts must be brought to the Trade Mart between 3 and 9 p.m., Friday, July 31, or between 9 a.m. and noon Saturday, Aug. 1. Mounts may be removed only between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2

• The scorers will determine typical and non-typical classes during the scoring process. The minimal score for the purpose of the Magnolia Records Program is 125 typical, 155 non-typical

• When you register you will be given a receipt at the show. That receipt will allow you to pick up your mount on Sunday, Aug. 2nd, between 3:30 and 5 p.m.

• All entrants of the Magnolia Records Program and the Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza’s Big Buck Contest will receive a Certificate of Participation and will be entered into a drawing for a $300 cash prize. Winners of the Big Buck Contest will receive a ribbon, a certificate and will be photographed to be included in MWF’s magazine, Mississippi Wildlife. Announcement of the Big Buck Contest winners, gift certificate winner and cash-drawing winner will be held on stage, Sunday at 4 p.m.

• If the deer has been officially scored by Boone & Crockett, Longhunters, Pope & Young or Magnolia Records Program, please denote the score on the registration form and bring the official score record with your mount to the show. 

Extravaganza Factoid

What: 29th annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza, presented by the Mississippi Wildlife Federation

When: Friday, July 31, 3-9 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 1, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Mississippi Fairgrounds Trade Mart

How much: Daily Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-12 (free on Friday). Weekend passes $20.