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This winter won’t seem like winter without the Hunt Show.

We knew last fall that the 2021 West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show had been canceled, but now the reality of it is starting to set in.

If the show had survived the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have begun on Jan. 22. Thousands of West Virginians would have made their annual pilgrimage to the event held since 1987 at the Charleston Convention Center and Coliseum.

Alas, it didn’t survive. Organizers knew there was no way to keep people socially distanced, so they called it off. They hope to restart it next year.

If coronavirus vaccines succeed in halting COVID-19’s continued spread, that might just happen. That will depend, of course, on whether local and state government officials give the go-ahead to hold large public events. Optimists believe it can happen; those less optimistic speculate that we might have to keep wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart for as many as two more years.

For the sake of West Virginia’s hunters and anglers, I hope the show returns.

If it doesn’t, I’ll feel like I’ve lost a bit of myself.

I’ve been a regular at the event since its inception. Like many, I came to see it as “a gathering of the outdoor clan.” I walked the floor for hours on end, talking to exhibitors, talking to state officials, and talking to fellow hunters and anglers.

One year — in 1997, the year the Charleston Daily Mail began featuring my stories and columns in a weekly Great Outdoors section — I experienced the show from the exhibitor’s side. I sat in a booth all weekend, giving away free copies of the paper and chatting with anyone who had something to say.

It was tiring, but on the plus side, I discovered how great a resource the show could be for me as a reporter. Many of the people who stopped by to chat had ideas for stories — enough, in fact, to fill two or three pages of a full-sized legal pad.

It took me the better part of the rest of 1997 to work through that treasure trove of ideas. I didn’t man a booth the following year, but by circulating through the show and chatting with as many people as I could, I nailed down enough solid feature ideas to last through what I’ve come to call “the winter doldrums” — those long, cold weeks between the end of December and the beginning of the spring gobbler season.

It was a practice I continued, almost without interruption, through last year. The lone exceptions came in 2007, when I was at home recovering from spine surgery; and 2016, when I was in the hospital being treated for cancer.

As much as I’ll miss collecting this year’s list of potential story ideas to work from, I’ll miss my friends at the show even more — their smiles, their handshakes, their war stories.

I’ll miss hanging out with Glenn Jones and Randy Benear at the West Virginia Hunter Education Association booth, talking hunting and sampling Glenn’s delicious deer jerky.

I’ll miss talking about fly fishing with Ed Hayne, Diana Green, Larry Orr, Randy Hively and the rest of the folks who staff the Ernie Nester Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s booth.

I’ll miss dropping by the Timberline Outfitters booth and catching up with gunsmith Steve Cale. I’ll miss chatting with Daron, Lisa and Elizabeth Dean and finding out what’s new at Elk Springs Resort.

And I’ll certainly miss joking around with Mark Jarrell and Ed Hamrick at the Almost Heaven Archers booth.

There are others, certainly. Too many to mention, in fact.

Suffice to say that many people, male and female, young and old, will miss the Hunt Show, too. Is it too early to look ahead to 2022?

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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