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Hunting bill splits West over value of a longtime rite

Currently before Congress, measure angers newcomers. Yet hunters, feeling besieged, see it as an important move.

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For Tim Shinabarger, the autumn hunt is about more than meat for the dinner table. As the aspens glow, Mr. Shinabarger sees the big-game season as a necessary part of being a Westerner.

To this sportsman who makes a living as a wildlife artist, it's about gathering fresh material for paintings and bronze sculptures, stalking trophy animals for the den wall, and most important, communing with friends and family in the outdoors.

"I can't imagine not hunting," Shinabarger says. "It's like breathing."

Hunting may indeed be part of Shinabarger's heritage, but across the West and other corners of wild America, an increasing number of people would rather keep hunters from tromping through the public's forests.

Here, a cultural chasm is widening between residents who grew up hunting on public lands, and urbanite newcomers who fear guns and learned more about nature from PBS, not pup tents. Into this environment comes the Hunting Heritage Protection Act, a bill currently before Congress intended to ensure that hunting has a permanent and prominent place in the future of federal lands.

Originally drafted as a largely symbolic measure to enshrine America's hunting history, the bill has become a Waterloo of sorts in the West, where the vast majority of federal lands lie. At issue are clashing views of where the region is headed - and the value of a centuries-old tradition.

"We all know full well that these traditional uses are coming under continuing, unrelenting assault," says Bill Horn, a pro-hunting lobbyist and a former assistant US Interior Secretary under George Bush. "We want to make the other side have to come and take it away from us."

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