What started with a couple of handfuls of hunting buddies getting together for a sociable evening 22 years ago has grown into an event that is one of the hottest tickets in town.

Once again, the Grand Valley Safari Club's (GVSC) annual event sold out quickly, for a good reason. A game dinner of government-inspected elk, bison, boar, and turkey, about $30,000 worth of door prizes and a live auction are just three of them.

"We moved it to a Quonset 20 years ago and then it's just grown from 30 people to 350 people," says GVSC president Kevin Firkus. "We've had great support over the years from sponsors and people attending."

It has been held at pretty much every hall around these parts and has settled into the Cochrane Lions Event Centre since it opened, allowing it to grow to the size it is today. Firkus says they could have easily sold another 100 tickets this year.

"It's a great function," he says. "People get to visit and enjoy the meal and the evening. We've got a fantastic group of guys who do the cooking and everything, and it has been a success for many years."

Most are from the Cochrane area, but some have been coming from Grande Prairie, interior B.C., and Saskatchewan for a decade.

"People who have been there always want to come back, and we try to get the tickets to the people who have supported us over the years first. If there's any left, we get them out."

Hunters againChris Connon helps to keep emcee/auctioneer John Copithrone on track.

They also have a secret weapon in John Copithorne, who as emcee and auctioneer keeps things moving along.

"If there's ever a fundraiser that needs somebody who can really do the job, that's Mr. Copithorne. He steps up when needed, and for us, we couldn't ask for any better."

The night raises upwards of $20,000 each year and has been able to support many causes, including youth outdoor education courses and programs, Veteran Hunters, and the Cochrane Activettes food bank.

Veteran Hunters donationVeteran Hunters founder Todd Hisey, centre, accepts a $5,000 donation from Chris Connon, left, and Kevin Firkus.

At the function, they presented a $5,000 donation to Veteran Hunters. Firkus says they have welcomed the involvement of Veteran Hunters for the last few years.

"It's a good group to support. They're a big help and whether they're veterans or first responders, we all owe a pile to all those guys who work on the frontline for the military or provide the first response."

The guest speaker was Jeremy Evans, the Grizzy Dude, who last fall released the book "Mauled" about how he survived a grizzly attack and the life lessons he learned along the way.

"His speech was absolutely amazing. You know you get a group of 350 outdoorsmen and they all yak; especially after COVID, everybody's visiting. When he spoke. it was the first time I'd heard the whole place go silent.

"What he said was very inspirational--no matter what you're up against, do not quit."

The dinner returns next year around this time, and, as it has for years, tickets are sure to fly out the door.