Officially, it is known as the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Extravaganza.
Unofficially, it is the traditional kickoff of the hunting season.
It’s a role the “Ganza” has played most of the past 30 years, drawing an annual crowd of about 30,000 people to the Trade Mart in Jackson during the first weekend in August. The 2017 and 31st annual Extravaganza is Aug. 4-6.
Home to Mississippi’s official Big Buck Contest, the event is a consumer show that features nearly 200 exhibitors, most selling outdoor equipment, accessories and even guided hunting and fishing trips.
“I know it’s been said a million times, but the Extravaganza is the opening of hunting season, has been for at least two decades,” said Brian Turner, 51, of Simpson County, who claims he has missed only one Ganza in 25 years. “Well, I had a good excuse. My son and best hunting partner, Eric, was born during the 2001 Extravaganza.
“Interesting story, I couldn’t make the Extravaganza but I wanted to get a new ladder stand and heard they were going to have a good deal on it. I sent my friend and he got the stand, and they took pictures of all the deer so it was like I was there.”
Turner said he now brings Eric to the show each year, and they make a day or weekend of it.
“We drive up on Saturday morning, have an early lunch and then spend all day at the Trade Mart,” he said. “We always get a room in Jackson and then go to dinner at the Mayflower, and, if we haven’t had enough, we go back to the Extravaganza again on Sunday before we go home. Some years we’ve gone early enough on Saturday to go to the Natural Science Museum. When Eric was young, he loved to go look at the aquariums.
“Of course, the highlight is the Big Buck Contest and display. Eric entered a buck when he was 12 and got his first 8-point, but didn’t win anything. We spend a couple of hours wandering through that aisle with the deer comparing the bucks with what we see at camp. I can’t tell you how often we’ve seen a deer that looked similar to one we’d seen, only to find it came from hundreds of miles away.”
The buck display is the show’s biggest attraction each year, but in 2017 it will get a challenge from an appearance from one of the outdoor world’s biggest TV stars and accomplished sportsmen: Jim Shockey. Shockey will speak Saturday at noon and 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., and will be at the Primos Hunting Game Calls booth on Saturday and Sunday.
Show coordinator Melanie Starnes of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation said the Ganza has expanded from the Trade Mart into the neighboring Mississippi Equine Center at the Fairgrounds, and several events are scheduled.
“The Mississippi Bowhunters Association will have its Deep South Safari archery competition there throughout the weekend,” Starnes said. “On Saturday, there will be a sanctioned Regional and State Duck Calling Contest with the regional starting at 11 a.m., followed immediately by the state contest.
“Another feature will be at 6:30 Saturday night called Boots & Bling, a fundraising party or hoedown to support Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation. It’ll have live music, dancing, barbecue and beer.”
Show hours are 2-8 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 daily for adults, or a weekend pass for $20. All kids 12 and under get in free on Friday, otherwise it’s $5 for kids ages 6-12 and free for kids 5 and under on Saturday and Sunday.
For more information on all events, including the rules for the Big Buck Contest, visit the Mississippi Wildlife Federation online at mswildlife.org.