The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

June 1, 2014

Hunter education classes are making a difference

Although I am just a simple writer of outdoor-related stories and I have little or no authority to give awards, I’m going to do it anyhow.

Besides, I don’t think anyone will mind and if they do, they can file a claim with my complaints department. A simple warning though, you might be on hold for quite some time — just saying.

I am unofficially giving our state’s turkey hunters an attaboy award for safety. According to a recent news release from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the 2014 spring turkey hunting season was a milestone in West Virginia. For the first time since spring turkey hunting was instituted in the late 1960s, no fatalities and no injuries were reported to the Law Enforcement Section of the Division of Natural Resources (DNR).

The four-week spring gobbler season began April 28 and concluded May 24. Historically, the spring turkey season has been associated with unfortunate hunting-related incidents, such as mistaken-for-game shootings. Spring gobbler season is a calling sport, with camouflaged hunters imitating the call of hens as they attempt to lure male turkeys into range. Thanks to hunter education classes that became mandatory in 1990 for any hunter born after Jan. 1, 1975, the number of hunting incidents has steadily decreased over the years. The last spring turkey season hunting-related fatality occurred in 2009.

A “hunting incident” is defined as a case where a hunter is injured or killed while hunting or preparing to hunt. Lt. Tim Coleman of the DNR Law Enforcement Section credits the Hunter Education Program for the steady improvement. “In the early 1990s, spring turkey hunting incidents had double digit figures with near double digit figure fatalities before hunter education became mandatory,” Coleman said. “Thanks to the volunteer instructors and natural resources police officers of the West Virginia Hunter Education Program, and to the hunters who have made safety a part of their culture, incidents and fatalities for the spring turkey season were eliminated this year.”

Hunter education classes are scheduled throughout the year across the state. Hunters can find information about classes in their area at the DNR website. Lt. Coleman encourages hunters who have already taken the course to take a refresher to learn about updates in hunter safety and hunting laws.

I agree with Lt. Coleman. I recently assisted my son with studying for his Hunter’s Education Card and was pleasantly surprised at how informative and well organized the entire process was. I enjoyed the experience with him and was extremely proud when his name was written on his card. He was so excited to hand his card to the clerk behind the counter when he presented it to him and stated, “I need a hunting license please.”

There is no doubt in my mind that upon completion of the hunter’s education course, hunters are more aware of safety and conscious of creating good habits based on The Ten Commandments of Gun Safety.

Over 360,000 students have passed the course since the first hunter education class taught in West Virginia was in 1968. I commend the WVDNR for their hard work and dedication to safety and education — job well done.

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