ROANOKE — The grounds of Stonewall Jackson State Park are quiet now, but in a couple of weeks they’ll swarm with people.
Thousands of West Virginians will converge on the park for the state’s National Hunting and Fishing Days Celebration. The annual event, scheduled for Sept. 23-24, will feature nationally known outdoor entertainers, demonstrations of sporting skills, youth activities and outdoor-goods vendors.
Kayla Donathan, who coordinates the event for the Division of Natural Resources, said this year’s celebration should enjoy good attendance because it won’t have to compete with the Mountain State’s obsession with college football.
“Both West Virginia University and Marshall University have ‘away’ games that weekend,” she said. “That’s great, because when they’re at home they pull away a lot of people.”
The annual celebration, now in its 30th year, historically has stuck with a tried-and-true formula: Bring in a couple of headliners, a ton of local experts, and have a lot of things for visitors to do.
This year’s event will follow that formula. The headliners for the 2016 celebration will be back this year, as will many of the presenters.
Byron Ferguson, billed as “The Master of the Longbow,” will return for the eighth time. Often featured on television’s “Impossible Shots” program, Ferguson will perform a pair of hour-long trick-shot archery exhibitions on each of the event’s two days.
Neal James, the popular star of the “Call of the Wildman” show on TV’s Animal Planet, will be on hand to meet and greet fans, and possibly even play a little banjo for them.
Tom Bechdel, an expert on coyote calling and hunting, will give one-hour seminars on those subjects each day of the celebration. The Brothers of the Woods Outdoors, a Jane Lew-based outdoor production company, will give one-hour presentations each day on how to get started filming hunts.
One of the celebration’s major events will be a little different this year. The bass tournament, which in the past was held on both days, will be held on one day only. “It will run from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on [Sept. 24],” Donathan explained.
Young people will be able to try their hand at the Outdoor Youth Challenge. Participants, who can range in age from 6 to 18, are given cards with a list of activities printed on them. Activities include .22 rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, skeet and archery shooting; boating; fishing, fly fishing and casting; tree stand safety; deer skinning, fish filleting and squirrel skinning; and nature-related activities such as fish and wildlife identification and touching a live snake.
All participants get a t-shirt and are eligible for prizes. In addition, young people age 11 to 18 may take part in the Youth Challenge, a test of hunting and fishing skills.
There are five scored events — casting for accuracy, .22 rifle shooting, shotgun shooting, muzzleloader shooting and archery. Youths from age 11 to 14 compete in the junior division, and youths from age 15 to 18 compete in the senior division.
Donathan said every young person who completes the challenge will be eligible for a drawing to win one of two lifetime hunting and fishing licenses from the DNR.
Other popular seminars include presentations about bird dogs and squirrel dogs, tree-stand safety, coyote calling and hunting, venison preparation, hunting waterfowl with dogs, a live birds-of-prey show and an exhibition that features many of West Virginia’s snake species.
Admission to the show is $6 per adult. The admission charge includes the fee to enter the Stonewall Jackson Park grounds. Children under age 15 are admitted free.