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Time goes by so fast. The McLean County Sportsmen's Association is entering its third decade helping people enjoy the outdoors. The group's Wild Game Banquet on Saturday afternoon at the Interstate Center will be its 21st annual.

Just as cabin fever reaches a peak, we have a chance to get together with people who enjoy the outdoors as much as we do to swap yarns and make plans.

The food is great. But it's more than elk tips and gravy, pheasant stroganoff, fried fish, roasted turkey and fish that draw the hunters and anglers and their significant others.

The central reason people are so enthusiastic about the banquet, year after year, is the cause the event supports: getting young people involved in the outdoors.

Ron Hamilton, a former Bloomington gun and tackle store owner, organized the Sportsmen as a coalition of hunting and fishing clubs with a goal to raise money for programs to encourage children to take up hunting and angling.

The group has netted about $1.5 million from the banquet and the raffles and auctions that take place there.

Association president Bruce Schenkel said the auctions Saturday include some pretty sweet items, including a guitar signed by Reba McEntire, Steel Magnolia, Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley, Chris Young, Justin Moore, Darius Rucker, Jerrod Niemann, Easton Corbin, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Eden's Edge. Other items include guided fishing and hunting trips; an on-field experience with photos and players of the St. Louis Cardinals; four tickets to a Cubs versus Cards game in St. Louis, with a limo ride to and from your house to the game; four tickets to a Cubs versus Cards game in Chicago with a limo ride to and from your house to the game; tickets to see the Chicago Bulls; hand-carved duck decoys, wildlife art and more.

Perhaps best known and most visible among the programs that benefit is the annual Fishing Derby that draws more than 300 kids and their families to Miller Park during Free Fishing Days every June. Others include hunter safety classes, Boy and Girl Scout activities, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and American Legion Baseball.

The McLean County Sportmen's Association built a shooting range for disabled youngsters at Lake Bloomington, helped Special Olympics, sent disabled kids to Fishing Without Boundaries events, gave money to stop kids from using drugs, made donations to St. Jude's Children's Hospital and supported archery in the schools programs and high school bass teams.

They sponsor hunting clinics for kids and women, youth pheasant hunts and more.

Comlara Park received hunting blinds.

Every day before Thanksgiving, club members are donating and handing out turkeys at a local food pantry.

Pantries also receive venison burger during deer season to give away.

Doors open at 3 p.m. Saturday. Dinner begins at 4:30 p.m. The auction follows.

Tickets may be obtained at Smiley's Sport Shop, Chuck's Harley Davidson, Darnall Printing, Erickson's Auto Service and Darnall Gun Works and Range.

Cost is $25 in advance or $30 at the door.

For questions, contact Bruce Schenkel at bruce.a.schenkel.cu0s@statefarm.com. Visit www.mcleancountysportsmen.org for more information.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Contact him at (309) 820-3227 or email srichardson@pantagraph.com. Share stories and read past outdoor and fishing columns at www.pantagraph.com/blogs.

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