Monday, May 30, 2016 | 2 a.m.
At a glance, the desert just beyond the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip is a parched expanse of lifelessness. But Colby Egge sees something entirely different. To him it’s the edge of a rich wilderness that is home to big game, fur-bearers and a spectrum of other animals, from chuckwalla lizards to red-tailed hawks.
Egge runs Silver State Guides & Outfitters, a longtime provider of hunting excursions and wildlife watching in Nevada. He’s been going on expeditions since he was about 7 years old, first accompanying his family and eventually hunting big game himself. “My whole family hunts,” he said.
As Egge knows, elk and deer can be tracked as close to Las Vegas as the Spring Mountains, where Mount Charleston offers some of the best bighorn sheep hunting in the state. Farther away, there are prime hunting grounds for bears, goats and antelope. Nevada has a particular advantage — lots of public land, making it possible for sports enthusiasts to embark on hunts that couldn’t happen elsewhere. Egge said you could pack your gear on your back and hunt for a solid week without ever having to double back.
“You can really get away from the road,” he said. “It seems like no one has really been there.”
Just because the landscape is wide open, that doesn’t mean there are no rules. And Nevada’s are designed to prevent over-hunting and protect the balance of nature, especially in unforgiving desert pockets where it’s hidden in plain sight.
What can I hunt in Nevada?
Can I hunt sage grouse?
Yes. Despite finding itself flirting with Nevada's endangered-species list, the safe grouse can be hunted in some areas where the population will not be negatively affected during a short season.
In the context of hunting, “protected” refers to animals whose welfare is governed by legal restrictions. Unprotected animals can be hunted without a license. However, prospective hunters should consult officials at the county level, as each jurisdiction has its own regulations that might apply, such as when a firearm can be discharged. See below for just some of the many animals that can be hunted in Nevada:
• Protected big game (requires license and tag to hunt): Elk and mule deer, black bears, pronghorn antelope and rocky mountain goats, mountain lions, rocky mountain bighorn sheep and desert bighorn sheep,
• Unprotected (no license necessary): Ground squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, badgers, skunks, black-tailed jackrabbits, European starlings, house sparrows
How is hunting regulated?
With about 35 game wardens, the Nevada Department of Wildlife is forced to rely on the honor system to some extent. The department regulates not only hunting within state lines, but also boating and fishing. Wardens primarily target those who violate the law knowingly and purposefully, such as poachers, rather than hunters who inadvertently run afoul of regulations.
The state also depends on hunters to report violations. Nevada, like many other states, runs a program called Operation Game Thief that allows other hunters to report crimes via phone.
When it comes to certain species of big game — bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, black bears and mountain lions — hunters are required to bring carcasses to the state agency for documentation of the animal’s age and body condition.
I'm just starting. What are the requirements?
According to U.S. Census data, in 2011, there were about 43,000 hunters and 147,000 fishermen participating in Nevada. About $204 million was spent on hunting, and $139 million on fishing.
A single hunter spent about $3,897 on expenses including licenses and equipment in 2011, while a single fisherman spent about $4,202.
• Hunter education. Take the Nevada Department of Wildlife course to get a required certificate. Students must complete an independent study and then take a final class that includes several hours of instruction and field exercises.
• Research, research, research. Check Nevada regulations and hunting websites to determine what kind of hunt you want to embark on and where would be best to go.
• Obtain proper licensing. Hunting licenses vary depending on the category of animal, location of the hunt and type of weapon being used. Application details are available from the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
• Collect proper gear. The basics include binoculars, first-aid kit, hunter-orange vest, camouflage (face paint, clothing), flashlight and batteries. In addition to a hunting weapon, of course.
A license is required for anyone 12 and older hunting game birds or game mammals in Nevada. To qualify, those born after 1960 must complete hunter education through the Nevada Department of Wildlife. License costs vary greatly depending on residency and type. They can be purchased through an agent or online and must be kept in a hunter’s possession.
Big game timeline
The time from applying to actually going on a big game hunt can range from about three months to nearly a year. Here’s a summary of the timeline:
• February: Regulators set the seasons for each species.
• April: Applications, which will be put into a random draw, are due.
• May: Regulators set big game quotas
• June: Results from the application draw are generally available.
• August to February: Big game season, depending on location, animal and weapon.
• Big game regulations. Hunting big game means you have to apply for a tag to attach to the carcass or hide of the animal that’s killed. Varying in cost depending on the species, tags are distributed through a random, computerized process and limited by quotas. Set in May, quotas are tied to biological factors determined by annual spring surveys done by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. In assessing the health of a population, biologists look at everything from herd distribution, habitat and animal conditions to gender and age distribution.
“When it comes to big game species like deer, elk or bighorn sheep, the biologists conduct aerial surveys with a helicopter,” said Doug Nielsen, the department’s conservation education supervisor. “They gather data about overall numbers of animals seen and the composition of the herds. They are looking for the ratio of females to males, and the number of young-of-the-year to adult females. Counting each individual animal is not generally possible, so they use scientific formulas that help them extrapolate final estimates from the raw data.”
• How do tags work? According to Nevada law, tags must be carried during hunts by the individuals they were issued to, and they’re not transferable. Once an animal has been killed, the hunter must use the tag to record information, including the date and the animal’s sex and description. Tags must then be attached before the carcass reaches camp and stay with the meat until it is consumed.
Even if they don’t kill anything, hunters in possession of tags are required to report whether they hunted, if they were successful and where an animal was harvested, Nielsen said. The data goes into geographic charts that help biologists manage populations and adjust tagging quotas, and they’re available on the department’s website for hunters who want some insight from the field.
• Small game regulations. In addition to big game, smaller animals fall into another category that requires only a basic hunting license. These are small protected mammals and bird species, from the sage grouse to the North American wild turkey. Hunting most birds requires the purchase of a state bird stamp and in some cases, a federal duck stamp. The proceeds of both go toward conservation efforts.
Where can I not hunt?
Anyone interested in hunting on tribal land, on acreage owned by the BLM or in permitted portions of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest should consult those organizations for their rules. Hunting on tribal land, for instance, is governed by a separate permitting process.
Hunting is prohibited in these locations:
• Nevada National Security Site
• Land within Nellis Air Force Base airspace
• Great Basin National Park
• Death Valley National Park
• Several Southern Nevada BLM locations (Nellis Dunes, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, Sunrise Mountain)
• Portions of Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge
Wildlife regulators adhere to the idea that animals have a reasonable expectation of escape during a hunt, known as the principle of fair chase. For years, technology that enables easy scouting and aiming of weapons has threatened that.
As a result, regulators have been forced to reckon with how technology should be used by hunters. Should hunters be able to use drones to search for animals, which is far easier than tracking them on foot? What about “auto-aim” rifles that use laser technology and computerized digital tracking scopes?
This year, the state's Wildlife Commission began working on regulations to address such questions. Proposed rules, first introduced in January, outlaw smart rifles and drones in hunting areas and are pending before the Legislative Counsel Bureau. In many ways, these rules are precautionary.
Lorenzo Sartini, founder of hunting-resource website goHUNT.com, said drones “are not very popular at all” for hunting, although they are used for such tasks as gathering footage to market hunting excursions or products. Sartini added that he’s never seen a smart rifle in the field, and he’s against their use. “When things are guaranteed, it takes the definition of sport out of it,” he said.
Still, there is plenty of technology on the trail. Hunters often set up camouflaged cameras that use motion detectors to spot animals and determine prime places to hunt. The cameras can even be configured to stream live video feeds through a network.
In Nevada, a trapping license is required to trap any animals, even those that can be hunted without a hunting license. Anyone selling pelts also must have a trapping license. Fur-bearing animals may only be trapped during open season, which is set by the Wildlife Commission. After a lawful trap has been set up, it is illegal to move it, except by the owner. The method is controversial and has drawn the ire of some conservationists.
Some regulations on trapping:
• Traps of a certain size must have spacers in the jaws to allow for about a quarter-inch opening, preventing the jaws from holding completely.
• Trappers generally cannot trap within 200 feet of a highway.
• A trapping license is required for anyone who sells fur, even if it was hunted.
• Trappers are generally required to visit traps at least 96 hours after placement.
Animals that can be trapped in Nevada include beavers, bobcats, foxes, minks, muskrats and otters.
Animals that can be killed without a hunting license but for which a trapping license is needed include badgers, black-tailed jackrabbits, coyotes, raccoons, ring-tailed cats, spotted skunks, striped skunks, weasels.
Whether fishing with a rod, spear or bow and arrow, most anglers above the age of 12 need a license. There are several places to fish in Nevada, including Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe and the Colorado River. For the most part, fishing can occur anytime and any season of the year, though some amphibians and fish cannot be taken.
Fish in Nevada include bluegill, bull trout, channel catfish, crappie, cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, Sacramento perch, spotted bass, redear sunfish
This story has been updated to reflect that portions of Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge allow hunting.