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Steve Merlo

For the first time in its 62-year history, Sportsmen's Night, the outdoor family extravaganza held each fall at the Kern County Fairgrounds, has changed its basic format to reflect a "Family of the Year," rather than an individual honoree for Man or Woman of the Year. Most committee members felt that a change was needed to keep up with modern times, and a family theme was just the ticket to promote hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation.

The event, honoring the outdoor sports-oriented people of Kern County, is set for Nov. 26 at the Kern County Fairgrounds. Usually serving between 800-1000 people, the gala will feature raffles, dinner and many prizes, plus a chance for friends and relatives to get together for a fun evening of camaraderie.

The committee spent a lot of time considering a host of outdoor-oriented families, but finally settled on whom they felt returned the most local hard work and sacrifice to the overall hunting and fishing scene.

Committee members are proud to announce that this year's honorees are Mark and Karen Gardner and their beautiful daughters Amanda and Kayla. Married for the better part of 31 years, Mark and the lovely Karen have been together since they were high school sweethearts and have known each other since they were only 10. Mark co-owns the oilfield business Pro Tool Services with Ron Jacobs.

Karen and Mark have been hunting together since 1980, having been on African safaris twice for plains game, but also collecting Mark's exceptional lion and their individual cape buffaloes. They've traveled to New Zealand for tahr and red stag as well, plus many trips together to hunt western states big game while successfully chasing and harvesting elk, deer, antelope and black bear.

So what makes this family so special over many other qualified families? Not only do the Gardners hunt and fish together, but they also offer up their unselfish services and physical work to promote local and national outdoor-related organizations, giving many hours of their time and physical labor to enhance wildlife habitat and conservation. They support Sportsmen's Night, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, California Deer, the NRA dinners, Pyles Boys Camp, and sponsor FFA and 4H programs at the Kern County Fair, to name just a few.

Amanda and Kayla are both also very involved in our community, especially with Sportsmen's Night, American Petroleum Institute golf and sporting clay events and Pyles Boys Camp where each girl sells tickets at the raffle tables. Kayla also is an assistant varsity softball coach at Garces High. Both girls love to hunt and fish. Just recently, Amanda won the women's high overall title an API sporting clay tournament.

Together with their parents, the family epitomizes the perfect choice for Sportsmen's Night's Family of the Year.

No other local fundraising event gives away more prizes than Sportsman's Night, and none can boast a better than one-in-10 odds of winning a nice prize valued at or more than $100, including many firearms and other related gear. At least half of the prizes offered go toward the youngsters in attendance, so bring them along!

Tickets are now on sale at Galey's Marine Supply; Valley Gun; 2nd Amendment Sports; Ol' Boy Outdoors; Ammo Dump; Bear Mountain Sports; Bob's Bait Bucket and at the door until sold out. Contact Jim Roberts (661) 805-5766 for ticket sales or to make donations to this cause.

Here's a quick list of some of the popular organizations benefitting from proceeds from Sportsman's Night: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; California Deer Association; Pyles Boys Camp; California Waterfowl Association; Tulare Basin Wetlands Association; Women in the Outdoors; Kern County Gun Club; National Rifle Association; Friends of the NRA; Westside Waterfowl; Young Marines of Kern County; and Ducks Unlimited.

Taft pheasant hunt

The 19th annual JC Chitwood Junior Pheasant Hunt put on by the Taft Sportsmen's Club is set for Nov. 16-17.

Signups will continue until Nov. 13, or until all hunts are filled. The hunt, held in conjunction with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Game Bird Heritage Program, is supported by Taft Friends of the NRA."

The hunts are family events, allowing young hunters a chance to become acquainted with safe gun practices, learn respect for the environment, and work with hunting dogs while practicing skills necessary to become successful hunters. Contact Tom Brown (661) 765-2704 for more information.