Highland Wildlife Expo draws big crowd Thursday night

Published 12:01 am Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mississippi Department of Wild Life Fisheries and Parks’ Randy Cooley, left, and Steve Smith talk out hunting and fishing regulations Thursday evening during the Highland Wildlife Expo at the Vidalia Convention Center. (Eric Shelton \ The Natchez Democrat)

VIDALIA — All the sites, sounds and smells of the outdoors gathered in the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center Thursday night and attracted approximately 1,100 outdoor enthusiasts to the fifth annual Highland Wildlife Expo.

The event was hosted by Highland Baptist Church, and the Rev. Paul Southerland said the event exceeded his expectations.

“In the days leading up I had a lot of folks tell me that there was a Mississippi State/LSU football game on, junior high football games and a soccer game that afternoon, and we weren’t going to have a very big attendance,” Southerland said. “I told them, ‘It’s one of those God things, and I’ll let Him take care of that. If he wants us to have a good attendance we’ll have it in spite of the football game.’

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“Well I’m praising God for the game being on TV, because if we had anymore people we couldn’t handle them.”

Southerland said the goal of the event was to provide fun and fellowship for the community while also spreading the gospel.

“We were tickled to death (with the event),” Southerland said. “All these folks came in by the droves for free food, free entertainment, fellowship and a spiritual message. Only in America can you get all that.”

The event featured guest speaker Jimmy Sites of the hunting show Spiritual Outdoor Adventures who intertwined a story about hunting a wise buck with a spiritual message.

“Jimmy Sites tied in hunting with the gospel in a unique way, and everybody was very attentive and responding to his message,” Southerland said.

Sites said he wanted to provide a message that would stick with his audience Thursday night.

“To boil it down, first of all we all need to be aware that Satan is a very deadly hunter using the strategy of deception to kill us,” he said. “But God is even more effective in bringing life back to us and beating Satan at his own game by offering us the blood of his own son.”

Sites said he has done many wildlife events, but the Highland event is unique because of its size, location and the fact that it is free to the public.

“Having (the event) in a neutral location (outside of church) and offering so many give-aways and free food is a huge strategy,” he said. “I like the way the church is thinking outside the box. In my opinion, these guys are trend-setters.”

The expo featured approximately 35 vendors that displayed a variety of outdoor products and services.

One of the most popular booths was that of Myra and George McAllister from Baton Rouge.

George is a gun collector and his display Thursday night featured guns from the Civil War that have actually been verified as Union weapons, he said.

“All of these guns were issued to Union troops,” he said. “Every model of Remington used in the Civil War (is here). All of these were issued and used in the Civil War.”

George said he and Myra have even done research to identify the owners of two of the Remington pistols.

The couple used documents in the National Archives to search for the serial number of the gun and cross-reference that with documents indicating whom the gun was issued to. The couple also found the two soldiers’ enlistment cards, census records and company records.

“Years go into the research,” George said. “It helps tremendously if your wife is a cracker-jack genealogist and will bear with you. She’s done most of this research.”

Southerland said one of his favorite displays was that of Port Gibson native Woodie Cain.

Cain makes his own duck calls, and he had several on display Thursday night.

“I started making duck calls because every time we would go somewhere I would see a duck call that I wanted,” he said. “After I got about 70 we’d go somewhere and, I’d see one I liked and my wife would say, ‘Do you want it or need it?’

“I would said, ‘Well I want it, it ain’t like I need it. I have enough of them.’ So I just quit buying them and started making my own.”

Many guests said they enjoyed the family-oriented atmosphere of the event, and they were glad there was also a section for children to participate in their own activities.

“In our children’s section we had like 80 to 100 kids,” Southerland said. “They built bird houses and things like that. It was a fantastic success.”

Abbey Segrest said she enjoyed attending the event with her husband Robert and 3-year-old son Ben.

“There’s a lot of stuff for kids to do,” she said. “I didn’t know how he would do, but he likes it. The snake (booth was his favorite) surprisingly. It wasn’t my favorite, but he liked it.”

Southerland said it was the second-largest event the conference center has hosted.