On March 7, West Virginia lawmakers passed NRA-backed legislation mandating that hunter education programs be offered in public schools for students in the eighth through the twelfth grades. It’s not mandatory that students take the course; it’s elective.
The most fundamental purpose of hunter education is to ensure that people hunt safely. Nationwide declines in hunting accidents attest to the effectiveness of this training. Between 1995 and 2004 (the most recent year for which data are complete) hunting accidents declined nearly 63 percent.* And many of those accidents were not even firearm-related.
Yet the people who criticize West Virginia’s innovative idea to teach hunter safety are the same ones who claim that hunting is “too dangerous.”
Believe it on not, a few even link the concept of hunter education to school shootings. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told the New York Times, “In the post-Virginia Tech era, there is absolutely no reason to be bringing unloaded guns, toy guns or any guns into schools.” Such a statement is a gross exploitation of genuine tragedy. How does teaching kids respect for firearms and safe gun handling lead to violent behavior? For generations, hunter education instructors have observed the exact opposite—firearms training teaches kids safety, responsibility, discipline, concentration and sportsmanship.
Others criticize hunter education in the schools because of scheduling difficulties, citing overcrowded curriculums, or advocating that kids learn hunter safety from their parents.
In fact, all these critics ought to be standing up an applauding WV State Senator Billy Wayne Bailey (D-9) for introducing this bill.
The suggestion that all kids could learn hunting from their parents is nice idea, but it’s a fantasy. The number of single-parent households today makes it hard for a mother and father to sit at the same dinner as their kids, much less find time to teach them to hunt. About 20 states have passed NRA-supported youth apprentice hunting laws, which will help kids a lot. And those require that the youths hunt with a mentor, but the mentor does not have to be a parent. Regardless, the fact of life is that few parents are able to spend the time with the their children they want to—and educators will be the first ones to say so.
The notion that schools don’t have enough time now to teach kids everything they need is probably true—but the hunter safety course is only 10 hours, and maybe we ought to let the professional educators have some say in how they set their class schedules and plan their curriculum. And time constraints do not stop many schools in the state from closing for a at least part of deer season, because the number of kids (and teachers) who hunt is so high.
John Edwards, associate professor of Forestry and Natural Resources at West Virginia University, pointed out that, “Classes offered in schools may also provide a less intimidating atmosphere for young girls interested in obtaining their hunting license – the number of women hunters continues to increase despite the overall decline in numbers.”
Edwards added that, “Although every student that completes a hunter education class may not go on to become a lifelong hunter, they will benefit from this knowledge and should be able to make more informed decisions concerning wildlife conservation.”
A few other points to consider:
Opening hunter education classes to the school system relieves parents, who already spend half their lives chauffeuring their kids around, from making yet another special trip miles away. With gas costing about as much champagne, that’s a factor.
Last year, State Farm Insurance claims data indicated that in West Virginia, drivers have a one-57-chance of hitting a deer—the highest risk in the whole country. There were nearly 16,000 auto-deer collisions in the state in 2006, with an average property damage cost of $2,900. More hunters would reduce these accidents.
Hunting generates $270 million for the West Virginia economy and supports 5,000 jobs, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Crop losses due to deer in the state totaled more than $310,000 in 2001, according to the Journal of Extension, and that doesn’t even include damage to home gardens and shrubbery. The more kids hunt, the more those losses might be reduced.
Hunter education introduces kids to wildlife management and conservation, which are of equal educational value to plenty of other courses. Any kid with a career interest in forestry or conservation will benefit from hunter education.
It’s becoming more and more common to hear complaints from state game and fish departments, that college graduates applying for jobs don’t hunt. State DNRs exist to manage natural resources, and no one plays a more important role in that than hunters.
West Virginia has a strong and vital hunting tradition. In fact, West Virginia University even teaches a class called “The Tradition of Hunting.”
A final argument that critics make about the program is that it’s just another way to recruit hunters. Hunter education obviously helps train and retain hunters. But remember, in West Virginia and everywhere else, the kids who sign up for hunter education are already “recruited.” It’s their interest in hunting that led them to take the course in the first place.
*Source: International Hunter Education Association