In this 2016 file photo, Grayson Richmond of Birdsacre Sanctuary in Ellsworth displays a barred owl during the 78th Eastern Maine Sportsmen's Show in Orono. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN

Hours after its president announced the cancellation of the Penobscot County Conservation Association’s Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show, which would have been staged next March, a club official said an official decision won’t be made until January at the earliest.

Earlier on Wednesday, a message sent to PCCA members by the club’s president, Barry Burgason, clearly stated that the show would be canceled. However, former show director Woody Higgins said Thursday night that Burgason had misunderstood a report the show committee presented to the board of directors last week. A final decision has not been made, Higgins said.

“It was our mistake [that incorrect information about the show was sent to members and then picked up by the media],” Higgins said. “We screwed up.”

The organization has canceled this year’s Bangor Gun Show, which was set for early September, as well as its traditional hunter safety course.

In a Wednesday message to members of the Brewer-based club, Burgason had explained that the University of Maine, which serves as host for the Sportsmen’s Show, could not confirm dates for that show. It’s normally held in early- to mid-March.

“There have been discussions with the University of Maine about scheduling for the 2021 Sportsmen’s Show,” Burgason said in the message, which was posted on the PCCA Facebook page. “Due to changes in the University schedule and the uncertainty of the COVID situation, they would not be able to confirm dates until sometime in January. Given the uncertainty and the length of time and commitments it takes to organize the show, we have decided that there will be no show in 2021.”

In a subsequent email, Burgason deferred comment and said the BDN should speak to Higgins to get an update on the show’s status.

Higgins said Burgason likely misinterpreted the report that Higgins and others presented to the board last week, after meeting with UMaine officials, and thought that the show would be cancelled, as many other club activities have.

“I don’t want to [blame] Barry, because we cancelled so much stuff,” Higgins said. “At the board meeting, I said, ‘In all honesty, unless things dramatically change … the show committee is quite sure that we will not be able to have a show. But, we won’t know that until January.'”

The 82nd edition of the Sportsmen’s Show in 2020 was one of the first major events in the area to be canceled due to the looming pandemic. UMaine made the decision to scrap the show just one day before it was to begin, as PCCA members were in the show venue, beginning the set-up process. At that time, show director Mark Byers said the event was a major fundraiser for the club.

“On average, we make $40,000 to $50,000 on the show,” Byers said at the time.

According to past BDN stories, the show typically draws between 5,000 and 7,000 attendees during its three-day run.

The club is working to plan new fundraisers to fill the revenue gap, and a recent kayak raffle was profitable, according to Burgason, as $9,000 in tickets were sold and another $1,200 in donations rolled in.

Burgason did not say whether the club would be forced to curtail its scholarship programs if the show is cancelled. The proceeds of the show provide funds to college students studying outdoor-related subjects and younger students who are attending conservation camps in the state.

“The board of directors has and will continue to consider a variety of fundraisers to replace the dollars lost from the sportsmen’s show and the gun show. Member ideas are always welcomed,” Burgason said.

As for the gun show, Burgason said limiting crowd size was a key factor in its cancellation.

“Due to crowd limits, we will be unable to hold the Bangor Gun Show, which has typically been held in early September. This is one of the club’s fundraisers so it will be another blow to our club budget,” Burgason said.

In his message to club members, Burgason said any cancellations would take a toll on the club’s mission to provide educational opportunities to children and college students.

“I don’t have to tell you what that will mean to our club and the various programs we have to promote hunting, fishing, conservation and youth education,” Burgason said. “The board of directors has and will continue to consider a variety of fundraisers to replace the dollars lost from the sportsmen’s show and the gun show.’

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...