Proposed changes for earning a Hunter Education Class Certification, to be voted on in the next Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission meeting on Aug. 22, may simplify the process for thousands of Texans, but may also come at dangerous price in more ways than one.
Current requirements, enacted by the Texas Legislature in the late 1980s, state that anyone born after Sept. 1, 1971, must complete a Hunter Education Training Course to hunt legally. The course includes either 10-hours of classroom training or completion of an online course, plus a minimum four-hour field-training component.
Exceptions have been made: for those 16-years old and younger, if under the supervision of a licensed adult; or, for those 17-years and older, who pay an extra $10-- when purchasing a hunting license for a one-year deferral.
The proposed changes would reduce the “traditional” class time from 10-hours, to five-hours-- completed all in one day. The online study plus “field day” option would be virtually the same as done since 1999, except the “field day” portion would be limited to no more than five hours, including a required hunter skills trail- and live-fire exercise.
However, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website, a third option included in the proposed changes would allow citizens aged 16-years and older to complete: “an online instruction-only certification that eliminates the required field training component.” www.tpwd.state.tx.us
Not everyone is happy with the proposed changes; the “online only” certification in particular.
Under the current education program, students in a traditional two-day classroom course must score 70-percent on a 50-question written test, or score 80-percent if they take the online course plus field day option. According to the TPWD Website, the department is proposing to standardize the passing grade for all options to a minimum score of 75.
“I'm admittedly ‘old school,’ but this totally contradicts what is in TPWD’s own textbook,” said Lonnie Ward, a local firearms instructor. “And what we were taught as instructors in numerous workshops about the importance of ‘hands on’ skills-training and special emphasis on respect, game laws, ethics and attitudes.
“I believe the vast majority of people would opt for the absolute minimum amount of time invested, and an online-only certification option would create a whole new generation of ‘slob’ hunters.”
As president of the Denton County Sports Association and hunting education instructor of 16 years, Ward has a primary concern that “online only” certifications would be immediately detrimental to the motivation of the volunteer instructor “backbone” and subsequently dangerous to the public.
“Even short term, I would predict major problems,” Ward said. “In my opinion, the online-only option would be a recipe for immediately decreased traffic to classrooms all over the state and sooner or later, increased traffic to emergency rooms.
“One of those things that we stress in all types of classes is that there are two kinds of ‘gun people;’ those who have had an accidental discharge and those who are going to. The important thing is always having the firearm pointed in a safe direction for whenever that day comes. People would not get full appreciation of topics like that by taking a class on an iPhone.”
Ward said that some people complain that they do not have time to take a class, but somehow seem to have plenty of time to take hunting trips. He added that hunter education is a once-in-a-lifetime class and there would be no way to know that the person taking the course online is actually the person being certified.
Steve Russell, who serves on the board of the Texas Hunter Education Instructors Association as the District 8 representative, agrees with Ward. He sent an e-mail to fellow instructors expressing his concerns about the proposed law as well.
“Almost everyone is shocked to learn that in the mid-1960’s, when I began quail hunting beside my dad and behind an array of setters and pointers, it was not unusual for hunting-related fatalities to exceed 35 deaths in our state,” Russell said. “I believe a direct relationship exists between that number being reduced to a record low of two just two years ago, and the requirement for hunter education.”
Russell, who trains between 950- and 975-hunters each year, said it is important to look at the possible consequences of eliminating the role of the volunteer trainers and current training program.
“Just because something can be done online does not necessarily mean that it should be,” Russell said.
TPWD Outreach and Education Director Nancy Herron said in a news release that the proposed law is designed to make it more convenient for hunters to obtain a license.
“Our hunter education courses serve a wide variety of students,” said Herron. “One may be a nine-year old with a parent in tow, another a teenager taking a class in school, and then an experienced 60-year old preparing for big game hunting in another state.
“Providing additional course options will make getting hunter certification more convenient and better fit our students’ needs.”
Ward said that the value of the “in person” courses cannot be underestimated.
“As much as anything, it's the human interaction,” he said. “Questions come up on various scenarios set-up by instructors all over the state-- 'is it a safe shot?, is it a legal shot?, it is an ethical shot?' There are opportunities for discussions; students expressing opinions – and asking questions. With online courses, students would not even have the ability to ask questions.
“People would get an even more dehumanized, desensitized, given instant gratification - for ‘convenience’ and record numbers of hunting license sales, with minimal effort or respect for what the sport of hunting is supposed to be about.”
Jim Andrew, a Hunter Education Instructor for the last 10 years at Denton County Sports Association who received TPWD's Hunter Education "Hall of Fame" award last month, said that losing the classroom aspect of the program will be detrimental to the sport.
"If our primary concern remains the promotion of safe, ethical hunting, logic dictates we stay the course,” he said. “If our primary concern has changed, and is now convenient hunting …we better stay the heck out of the woods!"
For more details and/or to vote by August 21 to “agree,” “disagree,” “strongly disagree,” or comment on the proposed changes, visit: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment, or contact Nancy Herron at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, Texas, 78744; 512-389-4362.