Story by Gary Berlin
Formal hunter education training has existed since 1949 when New York became the first state to require hunters to complete hunter education prior to buying a hunting license. More than 20 years later, Colorado joined the ranks, requiring anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1949 to obtain a hunter education certificate to purchase or apply for a hunting license. Because of the success of hunter education training, which reduced hunting-related shooting incidents, today all 50 states and 11 Canadian provinces have some type of hunter education requirement.
Between 1949 and 2000, a typical hunter education class consisted of 12 to 22 hours of formal classroom training, passing a comprehensive written exam, demonstrating safe gun-handling techniques and firearms proficiency at a firing range. It was not uncommon for a student to attend three to six individual class sessions before obtaining their hunter education certificate.
At the onset of the 21st century, a number of far-sighted, state hunter-education administrators recognized that many of their residents were resorting to the Internet for their news, information, entertainment and education. These administrators submitted a proposal to the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) to create a program for online delivery of hunter education.
The IHEA obtained a substantial grant from the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2000, and with those funds, created the first online training program for hunter education. The new, online course was not intended to replace face-to-face, instructor-led training; it was designed so that a student could complete their knowledge-based training online and then attend the skills-based class in order to obtain certification.
Initially, a number of states were reluctant to accept online training as a substitute for the traditional face-to-face training. In addition, in those states where online training was offered, students were hesitant to depart from the traditional delivery method for hunter education training. Many administrators and students felt that the quality of the online training was inferior to the traditional method. Nearly five years after online hunter education was offered, less than one percent of the total number of students earning hunter-education certification in the United States obtained their training online.
In the past six years, the number of students completing Internet-based hunter-education courses has skyrocketed and nearly 40 states now offer this training. No longer must an aspiring hunter wait for a training course that fits his/her schedule. Using today’s technology, students can complete a course at their leisure.
In addition to the ease of taking the course when it is convenient for the student, another benefit of online hunter education is that the learning materials are presented in a way that meets the needs of students, regardless of their learning style: visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Additionally, a student can complete the course at their own pace and repeat lessons if desired. Parents are finding that they are able to sit side-by-side with their child and study the materials together, thus reinforcing the learning material.
Today, the delivery of hunter education is at a crossroads. In 2005, the state of Indiana “rocked” the hunter-education world by offering residents of their state the opportunity to earn certification online without attendinga field-day component. Today, fewer than five states offer online certification without requiring students to complete field training.
Currently, Colorado authorizes the use of the original IHEA, non-narrated course, along with three narrated courses that range in price from $13 to $24.95. As Colorado’s hunter-education standards and statues are written today, a student must complete an additional 4 hours of field training to earn their certificate.
In the coming months, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and agency staff will discuss the future of hunter education and how best to deliver the training to future hunters of this state. If and when changes are made, the online course providers will be ready, willing and able to move to the next phase.
Gary Berlin retired from the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 2005 after 25 years. Berlin has taught hunter education since 1980 and was previously employed as the Executive Director of IHEA. Today, Berlin is a partner in HunterEdCourse.com, an Internet-based course currently offered in 10 states (including Colorado).