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Sometimes sportsmen must speak up in political arena

America’s sportsmen and women are an interesting breed. On one hand we relish the solitude and peace that can be found in the outdoors, but at the same time we generally enjoy sharing our outdoor experiences with others. Those two pursuits seem contradictory, but that is not entirely so.

My wife’s cousin and I backpacked into the Ruby Mountains for a muzzleloader deer hunt years ago. Our trail followed a canyon that was deep, long and eventually climbed toward the crest of the range. During the week Rick and I spent in that canyon, we each had the opportunity to harvest what anyone would call a dandy buck. But traditional muzzleloaders being what they are, we both came home empty-handed.

While my memories of that hunt include those of multiple hang fires that cost me the buck of a lifetime, I can’t forget the chance Rick and I had to experience what some might call a “National Geographic” moment.

Early one morning we were sitting on a ridge between two draws with our backs to a large boulder while glassing basins high on the hillside. Suddenly, deer began crossing the ridge in front of us and not 50 yards away. From the draw on our right to the one on our left they went, one after another. None seemed to even take notice we were there. Then suddenly a yearling doe bolted and started running for all she was worth, but we didn’t know why.

Then a large black shadow passed over us and we looked up to see a golden eagle that was in hot pursuit of that little doe. For several minutes we experienced what most people will only see on television or the Internet, a golden eagle on the hunt for venison. Watching that large bird weave through the trees was like watching a fighter pilot guide his jet. What an amazing thing to see. It was both a moment of natural solitude and a shared outdoor experience, if that makes sense.

Experiences like that have been an important component of the overall hunting, trapping or fishing experience since time began, and it is the shared experiences we remember most. Just listen to the stories that are most often repeated and you will see what I mean.

Each of us enjoys our choice of outdoor pursuits for different reasons. For some these activities are a family tradition that stretches back across the generations and is handed down with the care given grandma’s handmade china hutch while others are outdoor pioneers of sorts who are just now starting their own family tradition.

Though sportsmen tend to be tellers of tall tales, especially around the campfire, we would much rather pursue our hunting, trapping or fishing interests than talk about them in the political arena. But in today’s world it looks like that is no longer possible. Though small when compared to the number of sportsmen and women in the United States, the anti-hunting interests are well funded and tenacious. They also understand the concept of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

Some folks in that camp suggest that anyone who does not actively hunt is against doing so, but that flies in the face of national research. Results of a 2011 study by Responsive Management show that 74 percent of Americans approve of legal hunting while 93 percent give the nod to recreational fishing.

In recent years, however, sportsmen across the country have begun to squeak a little bit themselves. As a result, “Eighteen states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with 17 of those approved via the voters,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “While Vermont’s language dates back to 1777, the rest of these constitutional provisions — in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have passed since 1996.”

Nevada’s sportsmen made a run at such an amendment to the state constitution during the 2013 legislative session, but it died in chamber. Now a second run is underway. Sponsored by state Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, Senate Joint Resolution 11 “proposes to amend the Nevada Constitution to preserve the right to hunt, trap and fish in this State.” The bill was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.

Anyone wishing to comment on the bill can do so at the Legislature’s website (www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/78th2015/A/).

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.