After a few years of growing pains in the mid 80s, the Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza became firmly entrenched as the state’s traditional beginning of the hunting season.

Known briefly as Ganza, the event turns 30 with its 2016 run Friday through Sunday at the Mississippi Trade Mart.

Whether one goes to view and/or buy the latest in outdoor equipment and accessories, to people watch or see old acquaintances, or simply to see the best deer racks taken during the previous season, it’s impossible to leave the Ganza without the hunting spirit. 

“No doubt about it, it is like a dose of Granny’s tonic,” Jimmy Thomas of Jackson said, referencing the old TV show The Beverly Hillbillies. “She had her distilled spirits to give her a boost; we have the Extravaganza. As soon as you walk into the Trade Mart, the sights and sounds just say hunting.

“It is as close to a cure for the long off-season, no-hunting blues as you can have without being in the woods.” 

Ganza XXX should be no different, except there is more of it. Friday’s starting time has been moved up three hours to 2 p.m. It’s a good thing, too, since this year’s event has added several new attractions.

Would you believe sharks? Yep, they’re coming. Haai Shark Encounters will have an array of live sharks in its traveling tank, with divers that interact with the fish and narrate the show while in the water. 

Special guests will include TV personalities David Blanton of Realtree Outdoors and Monster Bucks, and Swamp People’s Gator Queen Liz Choate and husband Justin Choate.

Over 200 exhibitors from all over North America, including Canada, will have booths selling equipment, booking guided trips and even offering sausage samples from local processors. 

“Two ways to know you are near a processor with sausage, there’s a roadblock and there’s the aroma,” Thomas said. “There was one processor there who hooked me with the jalapeno-pepper jack cheese sausage. I took three deer there last season just to fill my freezer. We ate the last pack last weekend (June).”

Local and national conservation groups, wildlife agencies and other organizations offer drawings for items such as guns and guided hunting and fishing trips.

Show hours are 2-8 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Friday is kids day when children aged 12 and under get in free. Otherwise ticket prices are $10 daily or a three-day show pass for $20 for adults, children ages 6-12 $5 and kids under 6 get in free. Hunters who enter the Big Buck Contest will receive a free pass to the show.

For more information, visit the Mississippi Wildlife Federation at mswildlife.org.