How To: ‘The Elk Country Standoff’ Auction Game
By Matt Ashley, Eastern Montana Regional Director
In The Elk Country Standoff sealed coolers full of mystery prize packages are auctioned off to lucky bidders willing to take a chance. Also called the Last Man Standing in some parts of the country, it’s an exciting game to kick start your banquet’s Live Auction. It’s also highly effective. In 2017, seven chapters in Montana played Elk Country Standoff for the first time at their respective banquets. They netted a cumulative $42,737 dollars from that game alone. Eastern Montana Regional Director Matt Ashley talks more about the game and how to incorporate it into your own banquet below.
I would like to credit RMEF Regional Directors Jared Wold, Jill Tonn, Troy Sweet and Ron Pitman who were generous enough to explain how they had helped chapters execute this auction game and found success. I will share the learning experiences I have taken away from being part of seven chapters in Montana introducing The Elk Country Standoff to their banquets in 2017.
Here are some important points to consider:
How it Works
In this game, several coolers full of mystery prizes are placed on stage. Everyone who is interested in playing is asked to stand up and bidding beings. The auctioneer gives hints about what’s in the coolers throughout the bidding processes. Participants can sit down at any time without incurring a cost when bidding reaches a dollar amount they’re not willing to pay (only the final remaining highest bidders pay their closing bid amounts). Bidding continues until the top three buyers are determined. The very last person standing—the highest bidder—receives their first choice cooler. The second highest bidder chooses between the remaining cooler, and the third highest bidder gets the last cooler. None of the winners know what’s in their coolers until the MC opens them up and shows the crowd.
Decide on a Name
The seven Montana chapters referenced above decided to title this game “The Elk Country Standoff” at their banquets. In the past, a similar game also titled “Last Man Standing” operated similarly for a short time in Montana, but collected money for every bid a person made, whether or not they won the item. As you can imagine, this went over negatively for some who participated without understanding the rules of the game and ended up with a large bill and no prize at the end of the night. The belief was that this slight rebranding may help to get away from the negative connotations of the previous version of the game. More importantly, the name could potentially create a more competitive mindset amongst participants, as well as philanthropic support for elk country.
To begin planning this game, your committee will need to decide upon one or more storage containers to hold merchandise. Yeti Tundra 65 coolers with the RMEF logo ordered through the RMEF catalog have been used in most cases by chapters, but other sizes of Yeti coolers, other brands of coolers or even a different storage container could certainly be used. These containers are then filled with merchandise that is either purchased by the committee or procured through donations. Contents can range from a wide variety of merchandise, but I would suggest including a pistol in each cooler and some merchandise from reputable brands. Below is an example of the merchandise that was included for one Montana Chapter’s first Elk Country Standoff.
Yeti Tundra 65
Sig Sauer 40 SW Desert Tan
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme Boots
2 RMEF Buck Knifes
3 RMEF Hats
Flextone Elk Calls
Yeti Tundra 65
Sig Sauer 45 ACP with RMEF Grips
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme Boots
2 RMEF Buck Knifes
3 RMEF Hats
Flextone Elk Calls
A clear and concise description of the game should be listed in the program. Before the banquet, decide whether or not you will allow people to stand back up after they have sat down to rejoin the bidding ranks. Whichever option you decide, this rule must be defined in the program and explained before the game begins. Here’s an example of program description.
The Elk Country Standoff
There are three sealed Yeti Tundra 65 Coolers on the stage which are each FULL of exciting mystery prizes. To start this competition, the evenings MC will ask everyone who is interested in participating to please stand. The MC/Auctioneer will then begin announcing bids. Please listen closely to any hints of what might be included in the coolers! Persons participating may sit down at any time (incurring no cost) when the bidding reaches a dollar amount they are not willing to pay. Once you sit down you may not stand back up and rejoin the bidding ranks. Only the last three people standing will pay their final bid amounts. The very last person standing will receive the first choice of the coolers, second to last standing will have second choice and the first person to sit down of the final three standing will receive the mystery cooler not already chosen. Bidding will continue until buyers three, two and one are determined. After the buyers have chosen their coolers, we will open them all at once. How long will you stand for Elk Country?
Make It a Mystery
During the banquet, set the containers on stage or the front of the room for everyone to see. Padlock or zip tie the lids of the coolers shut before the banquet so that attendees cannot see inside and there is no peeking. Encourage the master of ceremonies (MC) to build anticipation of what might be in the coolers throughout the night leading up to the auction.
Plan of Action
It is very important that the MC and/or auctioneer should be thoroughly briefed on this game before the banquet. They must thoroughly understand the rules so they can accurately articulate them to the crowd as well as execute the game correctly.
Have a plan of action about who will explain the game, announce bids, release hints, add incentive prizes, etc.
More Than an Auction
Pursue this game as an avenue for someone to reach into their pockets and give back to elk country. Emphasize the idea that participants are not just buying the cooler, but entering a competition to make a difference for conservation while going home with some incredible prizes.
Make a list of hints and determine how and when you’re going to reveal them to the crowd. Reputable brand names can make this easier. For example, the MC might stop the auction to say, “Who has ever heard of Sitka Gear? There may or may not be some high quality camo in one or both of these coolers! Who am I kidding? There are Sitka Gear items in both of the coolers on stage!” The MC might do this several times, releasing hints of what items might be in the coolers or outright telling the crowd what items may be in the coolers depending on what’s needed to keep the bidding going and make it a fun experience along the way. The fair market value of the coolers packages on stage can also be a helpful hint to release in the right scenario.
If bidding reaches a certain threshold, some chapters opt to add additional merchandise or firearms to the winning bidder’s coolers. If there are multiple bidders still in the mix, the added incentive is used an attempt to drive bidding higher. Bidder participation has to be somewhat judged on the fly by the persons operating the game. Having a good plan of what these items are and the amounts you are targeting for these incentives will make the process much easier and less stressful in the heat of the moment.
You will not want to add an incentive prize if you are down to your last few bidders and the cost of the added incentive outweighs the potential bidding opportunity. Montana chapters have utilized the Reeds Never-Ending Royal Raffle board to offer winning bidders the choice of multiple items to choose from without incurring upfront cost.
Bring Them Up Front
Depending on your banquet room and stage accommodations, when you get down to a certain number of active bidders ask them to come to the front of the room or on the stage. If done correctly, this helps breed a competitive bidding spirit and recognizes these generous bidders in front of the audience.
The key to this auction game’s success is to have fun with it! Be sure to celebrate both the winning buyers and the other bidders and their support. At one banquet, the winning bidders, Auctioneer, MC and Regional Director spontaneously huddled on stage, all put their hands in the middle and broke the huddle sports style with a loud “RMEF!” chant. This enthusiasm fed into the room and was apparent in the ensuing live auction.
In closing, this auction game offered something new to each crowd of banquet attendees who witnessed it. It received positive feedback from all seven events and raised a significant amount for elk country. If structured, explained and performed correctly in front of the right crowd of RMEF supporters, this should be successful. The seven Montana chapters that attempted this game for the first time in 2017 sold a total of 17 coolers for an average price of roughly $4,250 each—bringing in an average net of over $2,500 per cooler. Offering this game also creates an exclusive underwriting opportunity, as well as further opportunities for donated merchandise to be used in the coolers to further increase margins.
Please don’t hesitate to write or call if you have any questions in instituting this game into your event.
Yours in Conservation,
RMEF Regional Director- Eastern, MT