The noted French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once famously opined that “Hell is other people.” As a lifelong misanthrope, I’ve found that little gem to be not only a great way to kill conversation at dinner parties, but a wholly satisfying life philosophy. It’s not that I don’t like people; it’s just that I try to avoid large numbers of them at all costs.

So when the website informed me that I would be attending SHOT this year with some 65,000 of my closest friends, and that I would even be allowed to wander the show floor unsupervised, I questioned the decision as either a gracious but misguided act of charity or the result of a lost bet.

I took pains to point out to my editors that in matters of tact, wit and other social graces I’m roughly on par with Bat Boy from the Weekly World News. I reminded them, too, that, frankly speaking, I prefer the company of dogs to outdoor industry types, and that as a preferred destination for the third week in January I’ll take a CRP field in Kansas over Las Vegas, Nevada, oh, about ten times out of ten.

But in the end I went, saw lots of things, met lots of people and surprisingly, considering my personality (or lack thereof), enjoyed myself. But as interesting as it was, by no stretch of the imagination can SHOT be considered a must-attend for gundog owners or bird hunters, unless, I suppose, you’re into zombie canines. When you wander into a room looking for the latest in dog-training and wingshooting gear, and you’re handed a flyer advertising a door breaching seminar, you know you’re in the wrong section of the show. Or maybe you’re at the wrong show, period.

But one upcoming trade show that I can heartily recommend as a must-attend for gundog owners and upland birds hunters is the 2012 National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic held this year Feb. 17-20 in Kansas City, Missouri. I attended last year’s show in Omaha, and in three full days of non-stop attendance, I still didn’t manage to get through all of the dog-training, bird-hunting and habitat seminars the show offered, nor did I manage to see all of the hundreds of upland and dog-specific vendors on the trade show floor (and with nary a zombie or zombie-themed product anywhere).

And this year’s show promises to be even better, if for no other reason than the attendance of legendary trainer (and friend of late Field & Stream gundog editor Bill Tarrant) Delmar Smith, who will be participating in a daily roundtable “Ask the Experts” discussion, as well as giving a seminar entitled “Then and Now: 75 Years.” For anyone interested in the history of bird hunting and bird dog training, that’s certainly a must-see. In addition, Rick and Ronnie Smith, Tom Dokken, Bob West and a host of other professional trainers will be conducting seminars throughout the show, along with a ton of seminars devoted to upland hunting, habitat improvement, research findings and wild game cooking (Here’s the seminar schedule).

I’ll be there from the opening “Bird Dog Parade” on Friday all the way through Sunday afternoon. If you’re planning to attend, be sure to say hello if you happen to run into me on the show floor. You can’t miss me, I’ll be the one dressed up as the zombie bird hunter. Don’t laugh, man, SHOT inspired me. I think bird hunters are behind the curve on this one. We need to get on and ride this zeitgeist while it’s hot…