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A natural invitation opens to all on Saturday at many area sites celebrating National Hunting and Fishing Day.

This year marks the 28th observance of an event that illustrates all that is great in the outdoors. This year's theme, "A Natural Invitation to Step Outside," attempts to introduce more people to outdoor activities in order to further a love for natural resources as a participating hunter, angler and conservationist. Jay Novacek, the former Dallas Cowboy All-Pro and an avid outdoorsman, is honorary chairman of this year's NHFD.

Hunters and anglers have supported conservation measures and scientific methods of fish and wildlife management for more than 100 years, long before the current wave of animal-rights advocates. But it was the efforts of one gun shop owner that brought national prominence to hunting and fishing beginning in 1972. Ira Joffe, owner of Joffe's Gun Shop in Upper Darby, Pa., encouraged Gov. Raymond Shafer to proclaim an "Outdoor Sportsman's Day" in that state in 1970. Joffe then sought national recognition, which resulted in President Nixon signing a proclamation declaring the fourth Saturday of each September as "National Hunting and Fishing Day."

These days, NHF Day events are held nationwide, and Western New York offers three major celebrations -- as well as many club events, gun shows and outings -- set for next weekend.

The three large-scale events:

Wood & Brook Sportsmen's Club, Route 33 one-quarter mile east of Crittenden Road in Alden, holds activities from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Children and adults can try shooting .22 caliber rifles, shotguns and blackpowder rifles and can try archery. Exhibits include shell reloading, lure making, fly tying, handling and caring for dogs, wildlife art and photography, taxidermy, and Indian artifacts.

Kids bring adults to this event each year. Spacious grounds at Wood & Brook allow kids to roam and check out the safe handing of hunting equipment and the various tips and tricks that make them a better angler.

New York Power Authority and the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs fill Artpark at Lewiston on Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. with a day of free family fun, including live animals, music, workshops, exhibits and demonstrations. Arrive early and plan on a full day of activity at this Wildlife Festival. Presentations on Liberty, the bald eagle, will be given at 10:30 a.m., 12:30, 2:30 and 4 p.m. Kiko the Chimp and his primate friends have programs at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. The Buffalo Zoo Mobile will be there from noon-3 p.m. Dr. "B" presents his "Green Bettlemaina" science program throughout the day. Glenn Coulton's "Snake Rattle and Crawl" musical concert is set for 2 p.m.

Other exhibits include Hawk Creek Wildlife Center, NYSDEC, Reptile Adoption and Rehabilitation Education, Predator Park, the Aquarium of Niagara Falls, Tiranno Kennels, Canine Helpers for the Handicapped and Mountain Road Kennels, Buffalo Greyhound Adoption Group, Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, 4H Club, New York State Parks, SUNY at Buffalo Archeological Survey.

Organizers suggest you "come early and enjoy a wild time." For more details, call 286-6661 or visit the website:

Avon offers the oldest and biggest presentation of NHFD events in Western New York. One day just isn't enough to see all of this show. The entire DEC headquarters grounds on Routes 5 and 20, halfway between Lima and Avon, draws flocks of outdoors enthusiasts during the Saturday and Sunday celebration. Events are open each day from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with parking available.

This gathering has been held for 26 of the 28 years that NHF Day has been in existence. Total attendance in recent years has averaged 10,000 to 20,000, depending on the weather.

Two of three parts of a hunter training course will be given from 8 a.m. to noon both days at the Rochester Rifle club in Brighton. To register, call 226-5333.

Experienced hunters, anglers, conservationists, animal handlers, and many other outdoors participants show viewers how to improve their skills at the various activities. Ronald Schroder, DEC coordinator of the event, says of the many activities they help "to recognize the contributions that hunters and anglers have made, and continue to make, to ensure proper conservation of our outdoor environment and, in particular, our wildlife resources."

At whichever site you choose to visit, the best plans should include an early arrival and time allotted to enjoy and learn about the many interesting hunting, fishing and outdoors exhibits and presentations. Each year, these events always end with the wish that there was a bit more time to see the other things you just did not have time to see more closely in the great outdoors.

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