By Jenifer Wisniewski, Chief, Outreach and Communication, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Let’s get real about Hunter Education and R3. Hunter ed is mandatory in some form in all 50 states and that curriculum is managed by the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA). Our community of hunters, state fish and wildlife agencies, NGOs, and others have insisted that people have hunter education prior to hunting which is a good thing. But this class remains a barrier to R3 in some places and we can help to change that.
A misconception of hunter ed is that mainly kids take it. Out of the over 600,000 people who took a course last year, over half of them were over 18. These are mainly adults learning to hunt for the first time and they need more than just beginner hunter ed to go and have a successful hunt.
Fully Online Hunter Education courses should be an option in every state:
Attendance in hunter education courses grew exponentially during the pandemic as more states transitioned their offerings online or to an in-person/online hybrid. During the National R3 Summit this past May, Alex Baer, executive director of the International Hunter Education Association, shared that, in a survey of 40 states, there was a 15% increase in hunter education students over the prior year. Of note, 86% of states that added a new form of hunter education delivery, such as a new online class, saw an increase. New York is a great example of this. Previously, New York had offered exclusively in-person classes, then, as COVID-19 hit, they offered an online-option and added more than 50,000 people. There was an overall increase in the 18 to 30 and 50+ age groups, as well as women. Most new hunter education students were women.
This tells me that when states require an in-person component to hunter education, we are building a huge barrier for R3. If the statistics above are not enough reason to support completely online hunter education, here are some other things to consider:
States that don’t offer hunter ed online are creating a bigger barrier for their residents. Every state allows for someone who has completed hunter ed online to hunt there through reciprocity agreements. This means that a hunter that passed online education in one state can go hunt in other states that do not offer online education.
We still need every single Hunter Ed Instructor and Volunteer!
The fact is that what we have been calling hunter education is really hunter safety. There is a lot that we don’t cover that a hunter needs to know to start hunting from woodsmanship and orienteering to meat processing and there is a HUGE demand for these types of skill building, in person, hands-on classes. If a new participant does not feel comfortable hunting on their own yet after completing an online course, they may be interested in additional education opportunities from a local instructor. We need hunter education volunteers to adjust course and adopt new classes to teach!
According to IHEA, only two out of three people who take a hunter education course actually go on to buy a license. So how do we fix that? Using our network of hunter ed volunteers to offer courses tailored to different skill levels to satisfy demand for classes we aren’t teaching. Our dedicated experts can continue to work with agencies and offer such classes that will have a higher impact on the next generation that hunts as well as helping make more successful hunters. Classes on everything around hunting like firearms, archery, wildlife tracking, advanced hunting skills, and so much more would be a great alignment of the skills of our passionate instructors.
IHEA is doing some really good work.
IHEA is doing a lot of research into how to make hunter education better. They are conducting surveys to learn how potential hunters want to receive their education and what they’re looking for in the courses. They are considering additional curricula and even refresher courses. The specialized courses would, of course, still focus on safety as the No. 1 priority and not compromise anything in that area. If you want to see more of their research or get involved, check this out.
Here's a snapshot into some of the research they have done that will be released soon. This shows the segments of people who are taking hunter ed now:
The Best Way to Take Hunter Education Now:
There are several ways to take online hunter education through different course offerings. Many of them charge a fee. That creates another barrier to hunting. The NRA provides an IHEA approved online course for free! From the organization that built the first-ever hunter education program in 1949, this state-of-the-art course is the most comprehensive online hunter education instruction in the United States...and did I mention it's 100% FREE!?! Check it out. If you don’t see your state as an option for the Free NRA course. Reach out to your state fish and wildlife agency and tell them you would like the option. Through research and experience, we have made great strides on recruiting the next generation of safe hunters. We must continue to evolve and updating hunter education is one sure way to move forward.
2020-2021 The Hunting Wire Voice of Leadership Panel
The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.