Strolling through the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention is like picking a path through the jungle.
A male lion’s frozen roar is so lifelike you have to look twice. Huge prize tarpons perch atop pedestals. Glossy photos of proud hunters with trophy water buffalo pop up between flashy fishing knives and gleaming shotguns.
And if you’ve ever had the urge to hunt or photograph wildlife in any corner of this world, chances are, there’s a trip for sale here to take you there.
“This is basically an outdoorsman’s marketplace and it’s probably the premier one in the world,” said Ben Carter, Executive Director of the Dallas Safari Club. “A guy from anyplace in the world can come here and find any kind of outdoor experience that he wants to have.”
Carter says this event has grown so large, that if you looked at every exhibit and visited each vendor, you’d walk close to four miles.
If a stuffed cheetah lunging for a gazelle isn’t your cup of tea, this event might make you squeamish. But Carter says the Dallas Safari Club believes hunting, when done legally and with respect, is a part of our heritage.
“When we came here, there wasn’t a 7-11 there wasn’t a grocery store around the corner; the way that people survived when they landed in North America was to hunt,” Carter said. “It’s a tradition that we’ve had and it’s from generation to generation and we don’t want to lose that.”
But not everyone at the convention is an experienced hunter. Michelle Garcia and her two boys are in town from Waco for a Cub Scout campout and thought they’d check things out. While very interested in the displays, Garcia says her children feel a little conflicted.
“On the way over here, David, my 8-year-old said that he really wanted to go, but he didn’t like the fact that they killed the animals,” Garcia said.
Then there’s another group of convention rookies, the Martin family. They live just North of Dallas and enjoy deer hunting, but 11 year-old Micah admits for him, it’s not necessarily about what you shoot and kill.
“We get time together in the outdoors and still if we don’t shoot anything it is still time in the great outdoors and spending time with each other,” he said.
In the wake of tragedies like the mass shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary, organizers and attendees are aware of how polarizing an issue gun control is. But the Safari Club’s Carter says when it comes to firearms; the goal is preserving hunter’s rights.
“Unfortunately there are bad people out there that do bad things and it’s all illegal. We believe in the second amendment. Our area of concern is hunting and conservation and the outdoors,” Carter says.
There’s more irony here. Amid all these animals that have been shot and stuffed, the Dallas Safari Club touts its conservation efforts. Among them preserving antelope in West Texas and stopping rhino-poaching in Africa.
Last year’s Safari Club Convention grossed 5 million dollars, Carter says. And as people stampede the Dallas Convention Center, it’s not hard to see why.
The Dallas Safari Club Convention continues through Sunday.