On Watch.  Like insects rising off a stream in the middle of a hatch, legislation, proposed bills, and the actions of our elected leaders at this time of year determine how we fish, hunt and recreate outdoors next season and in years to come. Staying vigilant and watching how those decisions impact our outdoor resources is the price we pay to maintain them. Simonson Photo.

By Nick Simonson

In the outdoors, paying attention can often mean the difference between missed opportunities and moments made better.  Noticing the slight shift of gravel substrate or the bump of a small boulder can help put the puzzle together to catch more walleyes or bass lurking in a stretch of water. Off-season scouting observing deer motion and noting the trails they use can result in a better stand site for bow hunting and a closer shot for greater success.  Even a quick scan of a cattail slough with a pair of binoculars can identify fingers, openings, and other irregular edges that concentrate pheasants and provide those must-hit points for a walk with a trusty gun dog.  A little focus goes a long way and turns good days on the water or in the field into great ones.

It’s likely though – and I’m as guilty as anyone else – that these little things are sometimes brushed aside as the hurry of the world we live in seeps into the one in which we recreate.  Oftentimes I’m simply content to get out into the grasses with my dog without such a scan, or fire off that first cast without first inspecting the water for riffles, cut banks, or even rising fish. Sometimes too, that becomes a pattern and the little things which require a bit more examination are overlooked.  It isn’t a matter of life or death (at least for me), but it could make life more lively if the investment of simply looking things over on the front end is paid for more success on the back end, and my hunting or fishing would be improved for it. In the end, I try to remind myself that it’s a small price to pay before rushing out there into the bigger portion of my outing.

That same awareness – of knowing what’s going on with a population of animals, how the habitat or stream lays out, and what’s happening in the world around them that influences their behavior – is the heightened price we pay this time of year as sportsmen, as a new influence on our outdoor opportunities arises.  

Attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the adage of “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance” rings truer now than at any other time of the year as legislative bodies get into the heart of their sessions.  Final bills are introduced and the slate of proposed changes to the laws affecting hunting, fishing, conservation programs, access, abilities to create public land or to sell it to private individuals, to lease wild places for energy exploration, protect populations of endangered wildlife and to either expand or contract the opportunities hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, hikers, trappers and everyone else who enjoys time outside come to be.  All intertwined, these legislative actions and proposed changes to the laws can impact not only those whose interests lie in the field or on the water, but also in the nearby towns and cities downwind and downstream.

Now is the time that sportsmen must invest their vigilance up front, as simply the difference between a good or bad outing is not the end result at stake.  Rather, it may be the outing itself.  Monitoring bills and what areas of the outdoors they impact in your state is as important as following a line of pre-November buck rubs or noting the type of insects rising off a trout stream, and dare I say it, even more so as the bills may force changes in the way hunters and anglers do both in a given area or an entire state next season or years down the road.

From ammo selection to zones for deer hunting, its likely that whatever jurisdiction you reside in or read this column from, changes to hunting and fishing laws are being proposed this winter in your legislative bodies.  Thankfully now, hunters, anglers and the general public are more able to be in the room where it happens. With the click of a button – as opposed to an ignored phone call, or the snail mail of decades past – they can search through hundreds of bills by keyword and instantly weigh in on the bills that concern them most, propose alternate language, or wield the power of their vote in the next election, as the horsehair holding the sword of Damocles and a reminder of where power resides in a democratic republic.  Only through this awareness invested up front and the willingness to act upon it will the liberties, opportunities, and those days afield – whether we choose to look before we leap, hunt or cast, or just head out there – be preserved…in our outdoors.