SAFFORD — If there’s one message that Daniel Ward hopes comes out of the 2013 Big Buck Contest and Raffle, it’s that hunters have a responsibility to nature.

“Our club’s mission statement is that we are involved in conservation of wildlife, habitat and natural resources. And we educate, especially young hunters. All the instructors in the (Gila) Valley are members and we taught about 150 kids last year,” Ward said.

Ward is the president of the Southeastern Arizona Sportsmen Club, and the club is holding its annual fund-raiser, the Big Buck Contest and Raffle, Saturday, at the Graham County Fairgrounds AG Building.

“We used to raise some money at our monthly meetings. But that was a lot of work for little return,” Ward said. “So we decided to do one big fund-raiser so we can spend the rest of the year focusing on conservation and education.”

Big is an understatement. The club has about 300 members, including families, but last year’s Big Buck event drew nearly 10 times that number of attendees.

“Hunting is such a great tradition here in the Valley. Everybody loves to do it,” Ward said.

The Big Buck Contest and Raffle has a long tradition in the Gila Valley, with the Elks Lodge the longtime sponsor. But in 2001, the fraternal organization decided to discontinue the event. Ward said the Southeastern Arizona Sportsmen Club saw taking over as a way to spread the message about responsible outdoor activity.

‘It lets us get out that message that we’re out there, helping take care of nature. Like we do cleanups and build water-drinkers for the animals. That’s huge,” Ward said.

Ward said the club will install flowing water facilities on ranch lands as well — helping ranchers keep their livestock hydrated through the hot, dry summer — as long as the water remains on for wildlife even after the ranch livestock moves to other fields.

“We want to be the voice of the hunting community and show everyone that we take our responsibilities seriously,” Ward said.

Cost of the 2013 Big Buck Contest and Raffle is $10 per ticket, and that entitles entry into the event and entrance into the general raffle, where the grand prize is a 2013 Polaris 4x4 side-by-side with trailer. There are other raffles that will conducted after the event starts, including raffling of eight guns, a 50/50 raffle and a specialty raffle for items such as a hand-carved mesquite wood table and the popular horn lamp.

“We’ve got $18,000-$20,000 in prizes. We couldn’t do that without donations from the club members and our (36) sponsors,” Ward said.

There will also be the title contest, deciding the winners of the biggest buck bagged last season. There are both adult and youth divisions, with weight and biggest antler categories for both mule and whitetail deer.

“The guys are really into it. They show up with the horns and photos,” Ward said. “There are definitely good bragging rights to be won there.”

Tickets may be purchased at the door until 6 p.m. or in advance at Gila Outdoor in Thatcher, and Pollock's Western Outfitters and the Eastern Arizona Courier, both in Safford.

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