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Sportsmen hunt deals at Sportsmen's Show

Hunters are perpetually frustrated when rain or condensation fogs up the expensive scopes atop their deer- and elk-hunting rifles, and Dave Smith has a deal for them.

Smith's Tigard-based company, called Northwest Scope Shield, makes neoprene scope covers that he markets for the deal-conscious shooters attending outdoors shows throughout the region.

The cost is $13 for one, $24 for two, and $11 apiece for three or more. That's the show cost, and Smith has had no shortage of interest or sales on this winter's circuit, despite economic scares.

"The economy is bad and people are having hard times with it," Smith says. "But it doesn't mean they'll stop spending money. If they find value, they'll buy."

Smith expects to see thousands more bargain-hunters looking for a recession respite during this weekend's Jackson County Sportsmen's and Outdoor Recreation Show at the Jackson County Expo.

The ninth annual show, which typically draws about 13,000 people, opens Friday and runs through Sunday.

The headline attraction this year is the World's Greatest Predators Show, featuring a 400-pound Bengal tiger, a leopard and other predators in a show that is free with admission.

First-time features this year are a 30-foot display featuring skin-mounted chinook salmon, a Legends of Columbia Blacktail mount display that includes five world-record sets of antlers, as well as horse- and mule-packing seminars.

The show also sports a running series of how-to seminars on everything from trout, steelhead and fall chinook salmon fishing to crabbing and predator calling.

More than 100 vendors of outdoor and recreational sports gear and equipment will be on hand.

Medford is the third and final stop on the show's tour through Oregon, with stops earlier in Eugene and last weekend in Roseburg.

Show producer Joe Pate says vendors came into the show series expecting the dropping economy and wilting job market to trigger downturns at the turnstiles and in sales. Many vendors likewise have cut back on their display sizes to curb expenses, Pate says.

But the region's outdoor enthusiasts continue to sport that if-you-show-it-they-will-come attitude, with attendance steady in Eugene and up more than 10 percent in Roseburg, where more than 2,000 people attended.

"(Vendors) have been very surprised at how well they did," Pate says. "Attendance has been booming. And I'm amazed at how many people come every year. I think it's become a celebrated annual event."

Water World of Medford will have one of the larger displays at this weekend's show, which is the only one of Pate's ExpoSure productions the company attends.

The boat business has taken its hits with the recession. Now boat dealers are in stiff competition with each other and with other facets of the outdoors industry looking to tap into the smaller group of residents with money to spend on top-end gear.

"We just like to put our product in front of as many people as we can," Water World owner Ted Dole says. "The people who can spend money now can sure cut a good deal. Hopefully we'll convince them to buy a boat instead of something else."

Smith's secret for success at shows like this is to have a little something for everyone.

Along with his neoprene scope covers, he sells items ranging from binocular covers to hunting and fishing accessories. He carries a line of knives all the way down to small pocket ones.

The most expensive thing he carries is a high-end backpack, with a show price of $125.

"I try to find things of value for people to add to their collections of equipment," Smith says.

Smith called the Roseburg show "terrific" and said he expects to see many thousands of Rogue Valley residents walking past his booth this week with an eye out for good deals.

"They're willing to spend the money if they find good value," Smith says. "That's what I've seen in Eugene and Roseburg, and that's what I hope to see in Medford."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.