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Lawmaker seeks to remove limits on firearms for wildlife guides

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PHOENIX – As a wildlife guide, Travis McClendon is allowed by state law to carry a pistol or revolver on his hunting trips, which can last for days in the forests of northern Arizona.

When a trip brings him face to face with a mountain lion, he said, a handgun doesn’t feel like enough protection.

“It is never a good feeling if you can’t defend yourself,” McClendon said in a telephone interview. “Once you see a mountain lion you never go without a gun again.”

Responding to concerns raised by wildlife guides – not just about predators but encounters with drug-runners – a state lawmaker wants to allow them to use any legal firearm when they lead hunting parties.

“The issue is there are some areas where they need a little more firepower,” said Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, author of HB 2127.

The House Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee unanimously endorsed the measure on Feb. 3, sending it to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Pratt said he introduced the bill at the request of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which licenses the state’s wildlife guides.

Ben Altender, government relations associate for Game and Fish, said hunters and their guides often encounter drug-runners in southern Arizona.

“It’s not uncommon at all to be in a hunting camp and see people carrying bales of marijuana over,” he said.

Altender said it makes sense for guides to be able to carry firearms similar to those carried by hunters.

“As it stands, a hunter can pretty much carry whatever they want as long as it’s legal, but wildlife guides have these restrictions,” he said. “This just levels the playing field.”

As a wildlife guide based in Tucson, Keith Hubbard said he commonly encounters drug-runners on trips near the border to hunt javelina, quail, deer, sheep and bears.

“You’ll be hiding behind a tree scouting for wildlife and see cartels with guns carrying 30 pounds of marijuana right in front of you,” Hubbard said. “That’s when I know to lead my group to another spot to hunt.”

However, Hubbard said Pratt’s bill wouldn’t change things for him because he doesn’t take along a handgun when he’s leading clients on hunts. The added weight is a nuisance, he said.

“I have never seen the need, and even if this bill did pass I wouldn’t take an AR-15 with me,” Hubbard said. “You learn how to avoid it and stay away when you need to.”

McClendon, the guide from northern Arizona, said he’d gladly carry an AR-15 or another type of rifle if Pratt’s bill becomes law.

“It’s the simple fact that guides would have more options available to them, and that’s really important,” McClendon said.