It's a sign of hunting seasons approaching on the calendar, the annual late-summer harbinger of fall as tens of thousands of Texas hunters gather for the ever-popular Hunters Extravaganza shows.
But not this year, not in the age of the coronavirus as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused yet another cancelation in the outdoors world.
That came in recent days as the Texas Trophy Hunters Association announced the cancelation of its late summer shows for the first time ever.
Originally scheduled for August dates in Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth, the shows usually draw approximately 55,000 at each venue, according to a news release from TTHA. But that won't happen now due to the ongoing pandemic.
"For 44 consecutive years we have taken pride in helping Texas hunters prepare for the upcoming hunting season by providing access to the newest and best hunting and outdoors products on the market," said TTHA president and CEO Dave Keith in a news release posted to the group's website.
"However, ongoing communication with the host venues revealed that the scheduled 2020 shows would not be feasible under the current conditions."
Those conditions in recent weeks include a surge in coronavirus infection numbers and a significant uptick in hospitalizations around the state. With mask-wearing mandates in place and rumors of other possible virus-control measures flying daily on social-media feeds, the TTHA leadership decided that a large gathering of hunters just wasn't possible right now despite the more than four decades of tradition.
"We know that our tremendous attendees and vendors understand how difficult it is for us to make this decision," said Keith. "We share their disappointment. Although we have been forced to miss this year, the 2021 schedule is locked and loaded. We promise to be back, bigger and stronger."
Keith provided an even deeper look at the gut-wrenching process of show cancelation in a letter penned to TTHA members and posted on the organization’s website.
"The TTHA team normally spends the majority of our time from March to July working at a frenzied pace signing up exhibitors, planning our marketing strategies, and finalizing show details for our Hunters Extravaganzas," he stated. "This team just about lives for these shows (which we affectionately refer to with the shortened name of “HX”)."
When Texas started opening back up a few weeks ago, the hope was for the Extravaganza shows to go on as scheduled. But as stable virus trends gave way to increasing numbers, Keith said that the group exhausted all available options before eventually pulling the plug.
"In mid-March, we all assumed this would blow over in a couple of weeks, but weeks stretched into months as we watched the pandemic rise and then appear to begin to wane," he stated in his online letter. "In early June, though, after 2 ½ months of lockdown, Governor Abbott issued a declaration that seemingly opened the door again for us to move forward with HX.
"We hit it with a vengeance, intent on getting the Granddaddy of All Hunting Shows ready for you, the Trophy Hunter Nation."
But then came the COVID-19 resurgence this summer.
"The apparent decline of the virus, however, was short-lived," stated Keith. "By the end of June, our hopes for HX in 2020 were dashed again by limitations imposed by the venues and state and local officials due to rapidly deteriorating conditions caused by the virus.
"We spent several agonizing days analyzing our options, searching for any possible way we could do even one of the three shows. With all possible options exhausted, we finally made the call. For the first time in 44 years, the HX's for 2020 were canceled."
While much of the daily news about the virus seems politicized in one way or another, Keith said politics had nothing to do with the 2020 show cancelations.
"This wasn't bowing to political pressure, as a few folks have suggested," he noted in his letter. "This decision was strictly a business decision – if there had been a way to make it work, we definitely would have proceeded."
With the current year’s shows now canceled, Keith said that he and the folks at TTHA are already looking ahead to the 2021 Hunters Extravaganza shows across Texas. Those shows are the Aug. 6-8 event in Houston at the NRG Center, the Aug. 13-15 event in Fort Worth at the Fort Worth Convention Center, and the Aug. 20-22 event in San Antonio at the Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall.
In the meantime, Keith asked those who are not members to consider joining his organization in the wake of show cancelations. And he appealed to hunters across the Lone Star State to do what they can to support the numerous small businesses in Texas that support the hunting industry.
And when fall finally arrives, he said it's time to get outdoors and go hunting.
"(I) don't think I've ever been looking forward to a hunting season as much as I am this one," said Keith, echoing the thoughts of thousands across his state. "I need to hit the deer stand and do some social distancing that’s a lot more fun!"