McALLEN — Randy and Kay Rust made a mistake the first time they set up a booth at the Texas Hunters and Sportsman Expo.
“The previous owners of the company never brought enough product to this show,” Kay said. “That’s never been an issue. If we are running out, our sons would drive more back down to us.”
Even before the 30th annual event opened for the public, the couple — owners of The Rust Game Place and Meat Market in New Braunfels, customers regularly appeared at their station, asking for a wide variety of jerky, dried beef and turkey, exotic game jerky and a variety of cheeses.
When the event officially opened to the crowd that lined the McAllen Convention Center hallways in eager anticipation, every seemed to know where “the beef jerky people” were located and many made a beeline there as their first stop. Familiarity with the event’s layout helps attendees find their favorites, then they go looking for more The Rusts have been in the same spot for all 15 years they’ve participated in the show. It’s a simple map — enter the main exhibit all, walk all the way to the back, turn left — and there they are.
Booth owners come from all over Texas and the United States. Chris Curl, co-show director, said as many as 35 states are on hand, representing products, guided trips, taxidermy and more. The event continues today from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It concludes Sunday, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Concessions are available throughout the Convention Center during the event.
The expo, the largest in South Texas and among the largest in the state alongside shows in Houston and Fort Worth, fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Friday, however, the first day of the three-day event, it was clear that battles with the virus were somewhat mentally removed as people quickly fell right in line and began their search for anything from camping gear to fishing expeditions. Camouflage, plenty of leather, coolers, outdoor wear, hunting and fishing gear and so much more eagerly awaited the deluge of on-comers. Many came for the rattlesnake pit, a heart-pumping fan favorite that, like the Rust’s jerky, is also a fixture at the event.
Some said they attended the first day just to have something to do as a family on a Friday night as the world takes baby steps away from more than a year of the unknown. As the first hour completed, the crowd inside was already large.
“People are ready to get out and buy especially stuff to use for the outdoors,” Curl said. “We could have used more space and turned down a goo amount of exhibits due to lack of space.”
This is the second large show the Rusts have attended since “Texas opened up,” Kay said.
Their business started as a dream.
“It wasn’t my dream,” Kay said. “It was my husband’s dream to own a meat market. But we enjoy it.”
The couple own a full-fledged meat market in New Braunfels. At the show in McAllen, however, some of the favorites include lemon pepper beef jerky (“the McAllen clientele here kept suggested it and it has been a hit ever since,” Randy said,) bucksticks, dill pickle flavored dried beef, habanero mango pork, raspberry chipotle and all of the basic dried beefs with or without jalapeno.
Ghost pepper cheese and a blueberry cobbler creamy cheddar also are some of the more extreme, but delectable, items available.
“If people are new to this they should start with the beef jerky or the turkey jerky,” Kay said. “Dried sausage is what we are known for.”
And as far as Kay’s dream? “My dream? To be retired,” she joked.