COLUMBIA — An assortment of vendors selling items such as camouflage clothing and duck calls lined the walls of the showroom at the Boone County Fairgrounds. No space at the Missouri Deer Classic was left unoccupied — unlike last year's show.
The new chairman of the Missouri Deer Classic, Ron Roper, said the show's overall appearance has really declined in the past couple of years because of the state of the economy. The number of vendors slowly decreased and less people turned out for the show.
For nearly a decade, Roper has attended the Missouri Deer Classic and considers it to be almost like a family reunion. His aunt founded and operated the show until five years ago, when it was put under new management. It was then, he said, that the show began to decline.
"I really loved the show, and it really meant a lot to me," he said. "I didn't want to see it go."
Roper jumped at the chance to coordinate the Missouri Deer Classic this year, making his first priority to increase the number of vendors in hopes of attracting a bigger crowd.
Roper then secured entertainers for the show: a 1,500-pound bear and his trainer educating the public about bears; television personalities presenting seminars on hunting and outdoor topics; a country singer performing a live concert and others.
Event staff member Michelle Albrecht said Roper has been on the phone the last seven months trying to get vendors to come. As a result, attendance is up, she said. Attendance is usually around 5,000 over the weekend, but this year reached between 7,000 and 8,000 according to Roper.
Along with vendors, not-for-profit organizations were in attendance. The mid-Missouri chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation distributed information about their mission to enhance and protect wildlife habitat.
Chairman Mike Gibson said he noticed the improvements to the Missouri Deer Classic as well. Last year, there were only half as many vendors, he said.
The Missouri Department of Conservation used the opportunity to pass out information on hunting seasons and recent updates to regulations, such as limits on fish harvesting. Jason Sumners, a deer biologist who works for the department, said they talked to several hundred people this weekend.
"As far as hitting a big target of hunters, this is a great event for us," Sumners said.