Going back even before Hunter/Trapper Education became mandatory here in Pennsylvania, and eventually in nearly all states and Canadian provinces, the Hunter Ed instructors have been at the forefront of ensuring the survival of sport hunting. Each and every one has done much more than their share of volunteer work, and it has been the most vital work toward maintaining hunting as a sport.
What drives people to become Hunter Education instructors?
"I became good friends with (WCO) Dave Titus to begin with. He wanted me to become a game warden," Dick Smith recalled. "Plus the fact that I came from a hunting family and it seemed natural. It was just something I had to do."
Smith wanted to be a part of hunter education. What he gets back from it is hard to define, which I expect is because he became, and remains, involved out of pure concern for youth and for sport hunting.
"It's fun to have kids come by and say, "Hey, I remember you. I took Hunter Ed from you.""
Few people other than teachers will have so much positive influence on so many kids as hunter education instructors. Through Smith's career as a hunter education instructor the number of kids he has helped numbers in hundreds, probably well into four figures.
"Dick has been doing this for 50 years, at least, since before it was a requirement," said WCO Dave Donachy.
The effectiveness of hunter education courses is astounding. Since 1959 when hunter education classes began, hunting-related shooting accidents have declined 80%. This trend continues to improve even more into the 2000s.
In a rural area like Warren County a large portion of families become involved with hunter/trapper education in some way. Every year families that include kids approaching 12 years-old start looking for hunter education courses. Most, if not all, courses each year are held before the spring gobbler season. Registering early is important because class sizes may be limited.
Many kids are parents are disappointed every year because they procrastinated. If you wait until a month before hunting season you will not get in a course. Every year parents complain that they never heard about the courses, even though the Game Commission does everything within its power to spread the word about class schedules. Most classes are listed long in advance on this outdoors page.
All first-time hunters regardless of age must have passed a hunter education course in order to buy a hunting license.
The first rule for enrolling in a hunter/trapper education course is being at least 11 years-old. This allows ample time for kids to get their hunter education certification in time for their first hunting season.
The schedule of hunter/trapper education classes in Pennsylvania is on the Pennsylvania Game Commission web site, www.pgc.state.pa.us. Students must register for most courses through that web site.
Students are taught responsible hunting behavior, knowing your firearms equipment, wildlife conservation and management, outdoor safety, basic and advanced hunting techniques, trapping and furtaking basics, basic shooting and safe hunting skills, and other things related to hunting.
Courses typically last at least ten hours which are spread through two, or more, days. Three-day courses are common in Warren County. In this county most are held at local sportsmen clubs.
The hunter education certificates which successful students receive after completing the course in Pennsylvania are accepted anywhere in North America.
Wildlife Conservation Officers coordinate hunter/trapper education courses in this state. Most classes are taught by well-trained, certified volunteer instructors.
The troubling side of this otherwise outstanding subject is that our corps of trained hunter education instructors is getting old. New instructors are needed according to WCO Donachy.
"We're recruiting now."
Anyone who would like to become a hunter education instructor can contact WCO Donachy through the Northwest Division Office, (814) 432-3187.