- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala. It takes a while to penetrate the gray matter, but after the fourth huge billboard flashes by along I-65 that defiantly and proudly proclaims, "In God We Trust," you begin to understand that these signs were only recently erected to rebuke a certain California judge who needs to hear a loud and clear message that there is another America out there besides the smug urban beehives he knows and believes he speaks for.
It's an America that is far removed from the know-it-all world of the big metropolises of the East and West. And if the message still hasn't hit home, think of the current behavior of small, but annoyingly loud animal rights groups who insist that recreational hunting is on its way out.
Oh yeah?
Tell that to more then 40,000 men, women and children who flocked to the annual Buckmasters Expo in the Alabama capital's Civic Center a few days ago to participate in a giant celebration of the American hunting tradition.
Good for them and us, but especially good for the founder of the national Buckmasters deer hunting organization, Jackie Bushman.
It was Bushman's idea nine years ago to conduct an exposition, show and entertainment triad that more than anything was designed to teach a gentle lesson, certainly not to make money for him. (The Buckmasters Expo price of admission is one can of food or $1 all of it used to help the needy, certainly not his own bank account.)
"If you believe in something and love it, put something back into it," Bushman says. It's a reference to every deer hunter's responsibility to the sport and his community.
Bushman's "if you build it, they will come" conviction is real. Although the native Alabamian used to earn his keep as a professional tennis player, he does much better now as the Godfather of American deer hunters, providing wonderful outings for terminally ill children and adults during annual Buckmasters Classic events in late winter.
When he's not teaching, cajoling and laughing with the masses at his deer hunting shows, he stars in the highly rated Buckmasters cable TV show. So when Bushman sent out the call to 356,000 dues-paying members, they readily answered as long as there was a chance to get away from home for a few days.
The lure to be here was mighty. Besides every new hunting gadget imaginable, there would also be an astonishing display of the biggest bucks ever shot by hunters, including the two Buckmaster-scored 2002 Golden Laurel winners, beginning with Troy Wilson's non-typical rack monster buck that scored 303 inches. Wilson's awesomely antlered deer was shot with a blackpowder rifle in Kentucky.
Then there was Wayne Zaft's typical antlered buck, an absolute beauty that scored 2057/8. It was taken with a compound bow in Alberta, Canada. Both award winning deer were shot in October, 2001.
To a dyed-in-the-wool deer hunter, these taxidermy-mounted heads represented the holy grail. A quick look at the vehicle tags in the parking lots around the Civic Center told the story. Cars, trucks and SUVs came from Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky and, of course, Alabama, with massive lines soon forming to pay homage to the champion hunters.
Entire families came through the turnstiles, the required admission can of food in their hands, laughing, smiling, waving at total strangers, then flooding the exhibition floor in one continuous wall of camouflaged humanity. Any garb that resembled oak leaves, mottled grays, browns and greens, tree bark in summer or in winter, marsh grass or cat tails it didn't matter. Camouflage was in and if you violated the required dress code, a half-dozen exhibitors who sold nothing but camouflage-patterned clothing, equipment and accessories could alleviate the problem.
Ah, camouflage.
Interested in getting your newborn a set of camouflage baby onesies? Aisle 3, $11.95. Thank you.
Want camouflage bibs or coveralls for babies, older children or really old kids like mom or dad? Right over yonder, by the hot dog stand.
What about camouflage thong swim suits for deer hunter hotties who obviously don't always sit up in a tree? Now add umbrellas, hats, shirts, gloves, jackets, shopping bags, knapsacks, carry-all bags, shoes, pickup trucks (yes, pickup trucks), rifles and shotguns, hunting bows and throw rugs all of them available in leafy or barky camouflage patterns of every type.
Camouflage is in; regular colors are out. The wonder of it all was that hardly anybody suffered serious injuries in that sea of camouflage clothing. I mean, how in the world could people see one another when everybody looked like an oak tree?
Ah, it was glorious to be there, walking through the display areas elbow to elbow, cheek to cheek, pushing, laughing and buying life's necessities: Venison chili mix, venison jerky, earrings that look like antlers (hope the little woman loves them) and, if the money lasts, maybe the latest self-climbing tree stand or a compound bow perhaps even one that bears the Buckmasters logo).
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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