Arizona's Hunter Education Program turns 50

By Tom Cadden, public information officer, Arizona Game and Fish Department

Which activity would you guess is safer: hunting or driving your car to the store?

It might surprise most non-hunters to know that the answer is hunting. In 2004 there were 1,151 motor vehicle fatalities in Arizona. Only three hunting-related accidents happened in the state during each of the last two years, none fatal.

Hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities in Arizona. One of the main reasons for this is the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Hunter Education Program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The program relies on dedicated volunteers who teach a curriculum of firearms safety, hunter ethics, wildlife conservation principles, first aid and other topics.

“Before hunter education classes were offered, we had an alarming rate of hunting-related accidents across the country,” says Bill Larson, a hunter education coordinator for the department. “One newspaper clipping from a Midwestern state in the late 1930s predicted there would be 11 hunting fatalities in that state on opening day alone.”

Hunter education programs have changed that. They began appearing in different states in the late 1940s and early ’50s, and hunting-related accidents began declining shortly after that. Every state in the country now has a hunter education program.

Arizona’s safety record over the years has been exemplary. “We have 1.6 million hunter days in this state per year, with an average of only four hunting-related accidents per year and one hunting-related death every five years,” says Larson.

Arizona’s program, which started in 1955, was originally called the Arizona Firearms Safety Training Program. By the end of 1956, about 400 students had completed the course. The Arizona Game and Fish Department now certifies more than 4,800 students each year and uses 800 volunteer instructors.

Who are these dedicated volunteer instructors?

“They’re our friends and neighbors from all walks of life—doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, mail carriers, retirees,” says Larson. “They are folks who love the outdoors and have a strong desire to teach and make things better for their community.”

Keith Paul is an architect and volunteer who has taught hunter education for 11 years, seven of them in Arizona. He says he was motivated to become a hunter education instructor for two reasons.

“As an unschooled novice hunter, I accidentally shot someone’s breakfast plate out from under him from a mile-and-a-half away while on my first deer hunt in Michigan,” he says. “Fortunately, no one was hurt, but I learned firsthand the three primary rules we teach: (1) Treat every firearm as if it is loaded; (2) Always point your muzzle in a safe direction; (3) Be sure of your target and beyond. Later, I took my first hunter education course and saw the value it offered. In an increasingly urban society, hunters have a great deal of knowledge to share about outdoor safety, wildlife and wildlife management. I teach this course so that hopefully no other hunter will spoil someone's breakfast, or worse.”

The department offers two different hunter education courses: a 20-hour course that focuses on basic hunter education and a 28-hour course that combines the basic course with a nationally recognized bowhunter education course. Anyone age 10 or older is eligible to take either course and become certified upon successful completion. Youth ages 10 through 13 who wish to hunt big game in Arizona must have their hunter education certifications along with the proper hunting licenses and tags. Adult supervision is highly recommended.

Arizona’s program has been nationally recognized and has served as a model for other states and even countries. More than 175 hunter education classes are offered in the state each year. For more information, visit the department’s Web site or contact the department at (602) 942-3000.

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Hunting outlook: predators
By Pat Barber, predator and furbearer biologist, Arizona Game and Fish Department
Map of regions

Many of us who weren’t lucky enough to draw a late deer tag or a coveted sheep tag are wondering what to do with our hunting gear and ourselves in December. In the previous issue of Hunting Highlights, biologist Mark Zornes wrote enthusiastically about abundant small game opportunities. His prediction of a good year for the small game hunter is proving to be accurate, and the abundance of small game (prey species) indicates that it should be a pretty good year for predators—and predator hunters.

Predator hunters generally go after coyote, bobcat and fox (gray and kit). They also hunt mountain lion and bear. Because of the abundant prey statewide this year, most adult predators survived the past summer; we also saw a high rate of survival for this year’s young. Next year, predators should be even more abundant as this year’s pups and kittens reach full adulthood. Predator hunters should find success in most parts of the state this fall and winter, and even better success next year.

The most successful method for hunting predators is calling with predator or varmint calls. These are found in many sporting goods stores, in various catalogs and at online stores. Hunters can choose an inexpensive mouth call or a more expensive electronic call. Electronic calls are relatively easy to use, while mouth calls require practice. To improve your technique or find someone to hunt with, contact one of the state’s wildlife-calling clubs (visit our hunting resources page for a list).

CoyoteCoyote, bobcat and fox
Season dates for smaller predators are found in Commission Order 13, Predatory & Fur-bearing Mammals. The season for coyotes (and skunks) is year-round. The season for bobcats and foxes (along with raccoon, ringtail, weasel and badger) runs from Aug. 1 to March 31. To hunt on national wildlife refuges, check the regulations for season dates, since they differ from the statewide seasons. Bag and possession limits for these species are unlimited.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department collects jaws from coyotes, bobcats and foxes to determine the age structure of the state’s populations. Hunters can assist by removing the entire lower jaw from harvested animals and dropping them by the department’s Phoenix office or one of the regional offices.

Black bearBear
Bear seasons (Commission Order 9) are open at various times in each unit, and are managed using female harvest quotas in addition to season dates. Successful hunters are required to report their harvest to the department in person or by phone within 48 hours and then submit a pre-molar tooth from the harvested animal. When a unit’s female harvest objective is reached, the hunt will close at sundown on the Wednesday immediately following.

Bears are all about eating during the fall season, as they build up their fat stores prior to winter hibernation. Bears are typically concentrated at lower elevations gorging themselves on prickly pear fruit or at higher elevations gorging themselves on acorns. Figuring out where the food is separates successful hunters from unsuccessful ones.

This year’s favorable precipitation patterns brought plentiful pear fruit and acorns. This means that earlier in the season, when most bear harvests usually occur, bears were not concentrated in small areas but dispersed throughout suitable habitats. On the bad side, fewer hunters than usual were successful at that time of year. On the good side, many female harvest objectives were not met as early as usual. When this article was written, some bear hunts were still open. Before going into the field, call the bear line at (800) 970-BEAR (2327) to see which units have closed. Always check the commission order notes for specifics (good advice no matter what species you’re hunting).

Mountain lionMountain lion
Mountain lion seasons are set in Commission Order 10. Seasons are currently open statewide all year. The state’s lion population has been relatively stable over time, and lions can be found almost anywhere in the state (the southwest corner of the state has only a sparse lion population). The bag limit is one lion per year, except in units with a multiple bag limit. In these units, a hunter may take one lion per day until the unit’s harvest objective is met. After that, the unit reverts to the statewide limit of one lion per year. Units in the southwest part of the state are combined into one hunt with a harvest objective of one—when one lion is harvested there, all of the units close. Successful lion hunters must report their harvest within 10 days and submit a pre-molar tooth to the department. Check the notes in Commission Order 10 for details.

So, whether your big game hunts are over, or you were never drawn, or you got a cool new gun for Christmas, or you’re tired of being at home, remember that you always have an opportunity to head for the hills (or the flatland if you prefer) and hunt predators. Take a friend with you, too.

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Been hunting? 
By Brian Bellah, Tucson

I got this real nice gobbler just a few minutes past daybreak on opening day this year. He came to my call and decoy from about 125 yards away, out of his roost, giving me a nice 45-yard shot that dropped him in his tracks. What a beautiful bird. He sure was good eating.

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Hunting in Arizona: cottontail rabbit 
By Mark Zornes, small game biologist, Arizona Game and Fish Department

“Cook! Where’s my hasenpfeffer?” It’s one of my favorite lines from a classic cartoon. This year, I assure you that your hasenpfeffer won’t taste of carrots. Hasenpfeffer is rabbit stew, of course—in our case, the cottontail. You’ll find plenty of these fine small game animals here this year. Above-normal precipitation in much of the state over the past year has expanded cottontail populations dramatically. Some rocky areas in central Arizona with the proper dense-brushy cover are crowded with cottontails.

Three species of cottontail occur in Arizona: the Nuttall’s or mountain cottontail, the eastern cottontail and the desert cottontail. Because of their abundance and year-round season, cottontails are a great species to go after when introducing a young (or old) person to hunting.

Most people still-hunt (sneak) along desert washes, rocky foothills or canyons, harvesting the animal with a small-caliber rifle or pistol, or with a shotgun. Go slow, search all available cover (you often see an eye before you see the rest of the rabbit), and be prepared for a quick shot: Once Mr. Cottontail realizes he’s been spotted, he’ll quickly seek cover elsewhere. I love hunting cottontails with archery tackle, which can produce many shots and quite a challenge.

Hunting cottontails with dogs (usually beagles) is a popular pastime in the Eastern states. It is not popular in Arizona due to our inhospitable vegetation and terrain, plus the tendency of western cottontails to seek a subterranean refuge in the blink of an eye instead of coursing before a yapping dog. It is also hazardous to the yapping dog: making high-pitched squealing noises in the desert can attract something bigger and nastier than yourself.

Cottontails are tasty, with delicate, light-colored meat. To reduce potential exposure to disease, never harvest and handle a cottontail that appears ill or excessively tame. After getting a healthy rabbit, cool the carcass as quickly as possible by field dressing it immediately. Take normal precautions during field dressing and cleaning by wearing rubber gloves. Allowing the carcass to cool prior to carrying it in your game bag will allow any ectoparasites (like fleas) to seek a new host besides you. Sealing the rabbit in a Ziploc or bread bag is another good way to keep the “ectos” away from you. Ice the carcass as soon as possible to prevent spoilage. Any cottontail properly cared for in the field will yield a delicious meal.

So now you know the answer to the question, “Where’s my hasenpfeffer?” It’s in the field, waiting for you. Get out there and have yourself a great holiday bunny hunt (don’t forget your family)!

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The Hensley family with dovesJunior hunters 
By the Hensley family, Glendale

This is my son Shawn’s first dove hunt and his first white wing. My daughter Kristen is our bird girl: she misses none. The photo was taken last year. My girl says she will try her brother’s .410 this year.

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Ask a wildlife manager
By Ron Day, law enforcement branch chief, Arizona Game and Fish Department

American wigeonsThe start of December means that every avid Arizona duck hunter has already spent a weekend or two up north trying to make that old duck call work while watching their favorite duck decoy float (or sink, if it’s a really good one). So it’s not too early to answer the annual question about possessing lead shot while duck hunting.

For years, anyone hunting waterfowl in Arizona has been required to hunt with non-toxic shot. This prevents the accumulation of lead shot on the bottom of waters frequented by wintering waterfowl. Lead accumulation becomes an issue as ducks ingest lead shot while feeding off the bottom and die from toxins produced as shot is digested. Non-toxic shot initially meant steel shot. But in recent years this category has grown to include bismuth, tungsten and a variety of other replacements.

The question of possessing lead shot while duck hunting is often asked by desert duck hunters who wish to take advantage of Arizona’s multiple hunt structure by hunting quail while duck hunting. This is legal if done correctly—and what a great way to spend a day in the field. Here are the guidelines:

A hunter may not possess lead shot while in the field hunting waterfowl. “In the field” does not mean in your truck, but away from your truck actively hunting waterfowl. So if you have parked and are walking up to a tank to jump ducks, you may not possess lead shot on your person. You may have lead shot in your vehicle, but not in your hunting vest, game bag or pockets. This obviously also applies to sitting in a duck blind over a spread of decoys. If you are doing this, you are duck hunting and may not possess lead shot on your person or in your blind.

If you are driving between tanks and see a covey of quail, you can lawfully hunt these birds with lead shot. You are not duck hunting at this point, even if you started the morning going out after ducks. Now, you are actually hunting quail. Of course, you can’t shoot them from the truck window—that would be illegal. But, you knew that!

The hard question is: What do you do when you are sneaking up to your favorite duck tank and discover a covey of quail? Hopefully at this point you do not have lead shot with you. If you do, you are in violation and may be issued a citation. In this circumstance, jump the tank in anticipation of a swarm of mallards getting up at your feet. Then walk back to your truck, swap your non-toxic shot for lead, and return to pursue the covey of quail.

I hope this will answer the lead shot question, at least for another year. Be safe and enjoy your day in the field.

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Field dressing quail is simple
By Rory Aikens, public information officer, Arizona Game and Fish Department

Gambel's quail coveySo you want to get in on this season’s great quail hunting and would like to know how to field dress these excellent game birds? Here’s an easy five-step process. The key is to dress (gut) quail as soon as possible, especially during the hot part of the season.

Step 1: Hold or place the quail belly up and pluck the feathers from between the anus and the bottom of the breastbone. Pluck a few feathers at a time by pulling with sharp jerks toward the tail. Use caution: The skin tears easily.

Step 2: Make a small cut through the skin across the area you just plucked, without cutting the intestines.

Step 3: With a small gutting hook or your finger, reach up into the body cavity (toward the head) and gently pull out the intestines. Pull or cut off the intestine and anus.

Step 4: Remove the lungs (the red-pink spongy stuff in the body cavity) and wipe or rinse out any blood. If you wash the body cavity, be sure to wipe it dry.

Step 5: Remove the crop. With the bird on its back, feel for a lump at the front of the breast at the base of the neck. Slit the skin and you will find a thin, leathery pouch about the size of a large marble. Pull it out and discard it.

That’s it: You are done with the field dressing.

Other Tips:
Get birds on ice quickly. Don’t leave them in a game bag, in the trunk or in direct sunlight. Keep them dry in the ice chest (use plastic bags). Water promotes contamination and growth of bacteria.

When you get home, remove all internal organs, such as the heart, kidneys and windpipe. Next, pluck the bird. There are two plucking methods, dry and wet. The dry method involves pulling a bunch of feathers at a time toward the bird’s tail (with the grain). Wipe the body cavity dry if the internal organs were not ruptured by the shot. If they were, rinse out the body cavity with water and wipe it dry.

The wet method makes it easier to avoid tearing the skin. Fill a good-sized pot about halfway with hot water (about 130-140 F), deep enough to allow complete immersion. Dunk one quail at a time for about one minute. Remove the quail from the water and pluck the feathers. Wipe the inside and outside dry. Cut off the feet at the first joint above the feet, and cut off the head.

You can freeze quail to eat later using one of the following methods:

  1. In water: Place five or six cleaned quail in a half-gallon milk carton. Fill it with water to within one-half inch of the top crease on the flat sides. Close the top and label it with the contents and date frozen.
  2. In plastic bags: Place cleaned birds in a bag, squeeze out air and seal shut. If water gets onto the seal, it may fail—be sure to check the seal.
  3. In heavy butcher paper: Tightly double wrap several quail and label the package with contents and date frozen.
Conservation spotlight 

Arizona Elk Society
By John Koleszar, vice president

How did your group get started? We wanted to create an opportunity for money raised in Arizona to stay in Arizona. Since we began almost five years ago, we’ve raised over $1.2 million for Arizona wildlife and habitat. We also wanted to create a group that could work quickly to get things done, and we have. For example, we were able to see the 26,000-acre Burro Creek Allotment conserved for wildlife use in just six months.

What is AES’s purpose? The mission of the Arizona Elk Society is to raise funds to benefit elk and other wildlife through habitat conservation and restoration and to preserve our hunting heritage for present and future generations.

How many members do you have? 1,000+

What does AES do? We raise money and do projects that benefit people and wildlife. For youth, each year in June we hold our Wapiti Weekend, taking more than 100 kids and training them in hunting skills. It’s a blast for the kids. We also work with the Arizona Deer Association on a unit watch for the junior elk hunts. Each year we also host a banquet that raises money for wildlife. And our member volunteers spend a lot of time making sure that money gets spent wisely.

While the conservation spotlight is shining on AES, what would you like to say? One reason to get involved in one of the many conservation organizations out there is to give back. Rather than just taking hunting opportunities, we wish more hunters would give their time and resources back to wildlife and habitat.

How can people reach you? Visit

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Arizona
By Lyle Button, RMEF Arizona state regional director

How did your group get started? Founded in 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has evolved into an international conservation leader powered by 138,000 members.

Arizona’s first RMEF chapter formed in Flagstaff 20 years ago. Arizona now has 4,200 members and volunteers in 12 chapters. The total value of RMEF efforts in Arizona through 2004 is in excess of $14 million.

What is RMEF’s purpose? RMEF is an international non-profit wildlife conservation organization dedicated to ensuring the future for elk, other wildlife and their habitat.

What do the Arizona chapters of RMEF do? In Arizona we have completed 311 projects focused on conservation education, habitat enhancement, hunting heritage, wildlife management, research and land conservation. We are particularly proud to have assisted the Arizona Game and Fish Department with its purchase of the White Mountain and Cross L ranches near Springerville. These areas provide critical winter range for elk.

While the conservation spotlight is shining on the Arizona chapters of RMEF, what would you like to say? This is a critical time for elk country in Arizona. Our natural resource base is under increasing pressure from recreation and private land development. These pressures must be mitigated in order to promote multiple use, manage game responsibly and support rural lifestyles. Millions of acres of federal, state and private lands will be impacted over the next decade.

Leaving a legacy in elk country: what could be more intriguing, rewarding and challenging? We are pleased to announce the establishment of the Arizona Conservation Initiative: “AZCI.” This will be an organized approach toward prioritizing and successfully addressing resource issues that affect elk and other wildlife throughout Arizona’s elk range. The initiative program will have three areas of primary focus: landscapes, collaborative partnerships and long-term strategies. Working with our partners, the RMEF is spearheading the initiative planning process. The initiative budget over the next 12–15 years could easily exceed $20 million.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the dedicated volunteers in Arizona are working today for wildlife tomorrow!

How can people reach you? Visit our chapter online.

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Volunteer opportunities for hunters 
By Sandy Reith, volunteer coordinator, Arizona Game and Fish Department

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s volunteer program provides opportunities for volunteers to participate firsthand in managing Arizona’s wildlife resources. Our goal is to provide you with a congenial and cooperative atmosphere where you can build relationships with staff and other volunteers, and gain knowledge about Arizona wildlife and wildlife management. We recognize that your time is important and strive to provide rewarding and educational volunteer experiences.

We’ve listed an opportunity below that we think you might find interesting. To learn about other opportunities or to submit information about a project that would benefit from our volunteers, check our volunteer page.

Ongoing project: line safety officers needed at Ben Avery Shooting Facility
Responsibilities include checking the safe condition of customer firearms, observing participants while they are shooting on the range, maintaining safe operation of the shooting line, and providing superior customer service by answering customer questions about firearms. Volunteers shoot for free at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Contact our volunteer coordinator at (623) 236-7680.

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Vol. 1 No. 3 Dec. 2005
In this issue:

Manage your account:
Follow the link below to unsubscribe from this mailing, to change other account subscriptions or to change your e-mail address and contact information. Edit your account.

Visit the archives:
October 2005
August 2005

Send us your stories and questions! We welcome mail from readers and will feature the following in each issue:

Been hunting?
Do you have a photo and story you’d like to share about your recent hunting trip? We’d like to include one hunter's story in each issue of Hunting Highlights. Send your picture and a brief story to the Hunting Highlights editor.

Junior hunters
Do you have a photo and story about a youth hunt (your own, or that of your child or grandchild)? We’d like to share one junior hunter’s story in each issue of Hunting Highlights. Send your picture and a brief story to the Hunting Highlights editor.

Conservation spotlight
Are you excited about the mission and activities of your wildlife conservation organization? In the Conservation Spotlight, our readers will share your excitement. To get your group into the spotlight, e-mail the Hunting Highlights editor.

Ask a wildlife manager
Is there something you’ve always wanted to ask a game warden? All questions are fair game in this regular feature. If you’ve got a question for our wildlife managers, e-mail the Hunting Highlights editor.

Hunter education:
Hunter education classes are scheduled throughout the year in many locations around the state. This list is updated weekly and new classes are being offered all the time.

If you are planning on hunting in another state, please check with that state well in advance of your hunt to see if proof of hunter education is required.

Remember our safety phrase: T.A.B. T=Treat every gun as if it were loaded. A=Always point your muzzle in a safe direction. B=Be sure of your target and what is beyond. Happy hunting!

Game recipe
Rabbit hasenpfeffer
From the "North American Hunting Club Wild Game Cookbook"

  • 1 rabbit, cut into pieces
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 spice clove
  • 2 T bacon, diced
  • 2 small carrots, chopped
  • Mushrooms, optional
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup sour cream or evaporated milk

Heat vegetable oil in sauce pan. When hot, add bay leaf, garlic clove, spice clove, bacon, carrots and mushrooms. Add rabbit and simmer until browned.
Mix vinegar and water and pour solution over meat. Cover pan and simmer until tender. Before removing pan from heat, add cream or evaporated milk.
Serve hot with dumplings or large noodles..

Dates to remember
Dec. 9–10: Arizona Game and Fish Commission meets
Dec. 16–Jan. 31: Archery-only non-permit tag deer season
Jan. 1: Archery javelina season opens. Dove season ends.
Jan. 20: Arizona Game and Fish Commission meets
Jan. 21: Meet the Commission banquet
Feb. 3–5, 2006: Becoming an Outdoors Woman deluxe weekend
March 25 and 26: Arizona Shooting Showcase, Ben Avery Shooting Facility

Hot links

Commission to consider raising license, tag prices
The Arizona Game and Fish Department held a series of meetings across the state in November, seeking public input on a proposal to increase the prices of hunting and fishing licenses and big game tags.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill raising the fee ceilings under which the Arizona Game and Fish Commission is authorized to establish license, tag, stamp and permit prices. The commission is seeking price increases within those ceilings so the department can meet rising costs of doing business.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department will make pricing recommendations at the meeting of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, Dec. 9-10 at the Francisco Grande Hotel and Golf Resort, 26000 W. Gila Bend Highway, Casa Grande. If approved by the commission, those recommendations would go through the formal rulemaking process. The increases would affect licenses, tags and stamps that will be used beginning in 2007.

Mark your calendars for the commission awards banquet
Don't forget to mark your calendar for Saturday, Jan. 21 to attend the Arizona Game and Fish Commission's annual awards banquet starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort, 5401 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. Individual tickets are $50 and tables of 10 are $480—a discount of $20 over individual prices.

Since 1991, there have been more than 180 recipients of commission awards, which are given for contributions to Arizona's wildlife resources. For more information or to request a reservation form, contact Josh Avey at (602) 942-3000.

Record your quail hunt
Help the department manage quail and get a printable diary of your seasonal record every time you make an entry in the online quail log. The Arizona Game and Fish Department and a sportsman group, Western Gamebird Alliance, have developed this log to survey quail hunters statewide.

This new survey tool will allow the department to collect general locations and time-of-harvest for all four quail species in Arizona. Anyone with a hunting license and a computer can help the department collect quail survey data to analyze in real time.

Return your hunter questionnaire
The department uses the hunter questionnaire to estimate harvest numbers and hunter activity levels. Your response is essential for obtaining accurate harvest and hunter data, and for making management decisions.

Reasons to return your hunter questionnaire:

  • Returning your questionnaire is voluntary and is not used for any law enforcement purposes.
  • Accurate data is important for making management decisions, and may provide more hunting opportunities.

It is important to return your questionnaire even if you did not hunt or were unsuccessful. Good hunting to you all! And when you receive your Arizona hunter questionnaire in the mail, please send it back.

Thank you hunters!
Arizona’s rich outdoor heritage is enjoyed by all, thanks to hunters like you, whose purchase of hunting equipment supports wildlife management and habitat enhancement in the Grand Canyon State. When you purchase a rifle, ammunition, archery equipment and other sporting gear, you pay a federal excise tax and import duties. Since 1937, this money has been collected by the federal government and redistributed to the states using a formula based on hunting license sales and the state’s land area. In 2004, that meant over $5 million for game management in Arizona. This money paid for game surveys, hunter education classes, wildlife water catchment construction and wildlife research, among other projects. Hunters like you are part of the largest and most successful wildlife conservation programs in the world… Thank you.