Arizona Game & Fish shows families how to enjoy nature at its annual Outdoor Expo in north Phoenix

Heather Buck, Arizona Game and Fish wildlife center coordinator, holds a gila monster at one of the agency’s Outdoor Expo events. (File photo courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish)

PHOENIX — One of Arizona’s largest free outdoor expos returns this weekend, offering family fishing, archery, shooting, off-highway vehicles, water sports, wildlife presentations and more than 150 exhibitors.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s annual spring Outdoor Expo draws about 15,000 visitors to the Ben Avery Shooting Facility in north Phoenix, organizers said. Parking and admission are free at the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 25, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 26.

“There’s really a little something for everybody that is interested in outdoor recreation,” said Jeff Meyers, a wildlife biologist from Game and Fish and frequent presenter at the popular event, held every year since 2006, with the exception of pandemic years 2020-2021. “The whole idea is to increase the public awareness and education level about Arizona’s wildlife.”

This year, there will be a large tent dedicated to speakers offering presentations on everything from living with rattlesnakes to adopting a desert tortoise and more. There’s also a new off-highway vehicles display, Meyers said.

Popular activities at the family-friendly event include a kids fishing area, cowboy mounted shooting — where riders shoot at fixed targets from horseback — animal ambassadors and a wildlife asset auction. Food vendors will also be on site, and people will be able to purchase hunting and fishing licenses.

The event boasts more than 150 exhibitors, including outdoor recreation and conservation groups, government agencies, firearms manufacturers and people selling outdoor products and services.

“We’re putting a really big emphasis on our presentations,” which are the expo’s biggest draw, said John Trierweiler, public affairs and media relations director for Game and Fish.

Meyers specializes in mammalian paleontology, so he’s used to showing animal skulls, but this year, he will talk about wildlife viewing. In 2020, half of Arizonans engaged in some kind of wildlife viewing around their homes, according to the department’s trends report.

Meyers’ presentation, at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, will talk about how, where and when to view wildlife safely. One of his examples was Game and Fish’s bighorn sheep watching cruise that takes place in mid June.

Related story

“Bighorn sheep, like most animals, are superbly camouflaged for the environment,” Meyers said. Despite being large animals, they are not always easy to spot, Meyers said, but his presentation will help people understand how to see wildlife successfully.

“Our goal is not solely to have people coming to our event but to teach them how to view wildlife so they can go out on their own and enjoy Arizona’s diverse wildlife,” he said.

Bryan Hughes, owner of the 13-year-old Rattlesnake Solutions, will be speaking at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. This is Hughes’s second time at the expo, and he will talk about and show examples of his specialty: Arizona’s rattlesnakes.

“This is the rattlesnake capital of the country,” said Hughes, adding Arizona is home to 13 species of rattlesnakes — more than any other state. “The people that I like to talk to at events like this are people that are maybe scared of rattlesnakes or like to do other outdoor activities, like fishing or camping, but they’re worried about how rattlesnakes are going to be a part of that experience, which it is.”

Hughes hopes to debunk rattlesnake misconceptions.

“In the average year in Arizona, there are zero deaths from rattlesnakes. While it is something that’s a possibility, the actual figures do not support the fear people tend to have of them,” he said.

There are about 200 to 300 rattlesnake bites in an average year, Hughes said, adding snakes aren’t trying to be aggressive; they’re just protecting themselves. If bitten, one should always contact 911 and get the antivenom, Hughes said.

Kim Jackson has also helped people overcome their fears, in her job as Game and Fish’s boating and off-highway vehicle education program manager. She will be presenting at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

“We do get quite a few people who are nervous about it,” Jackson said about boating. This year, she will introduce Game and Fish’s new hands-on off-highway vehicle education course. Online courses are still available. Jackson said people enjoy signing up for hands-on courses, such as the boating safety courses, which fill up quickly.

“Just come out and enjoy yourself,” Jackson said of the expo. “It’s a fun day, a fun weekend, and it might get you involved in an activity that you normally wouldn’t think about doing.”

Sarah Min Heller SAIR-uh min HEL-ler (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Sarah Min Heller expects to graduate in summer 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Heller has been on the dean’s list and taken summer school classes. Cronkite News is her first experience in the journalism world.