McKean Minute: Put the Education back in Hunter Education

A good friend of mine in New York City – I’ll omit his name but he’s as much a Brooklyn hipster as you picture – just finished taking Hunter Education, and he’s frankly disappointed.

“I’m one of those adult-onset hunters you are writing about all the time,” he told me. “I didn’t grow up hunting, but it’s something that’s been pulling at me, mainly because I really want to take more control of the food my family eats. But I’m interested because I know more and more hunters, and I really want to develop the skills and comfort in the outdoors that they have.”

Fair enough. Those are entirely valid – and increasingly common – motivations to join the ranks of safe and certified American hunters.

But the mandatory Hunter Education course that my friend took left him wanting. A lot.

“I get the idea that the instructors are volunteers,” he said. “I think that’s great. It really shows that they have the commitment to give back and help bring up another generation of hunters. Except that didn’t really happen in my class. The instructors really weren’t very good teachers. They lectured more than they showed. I didn’t learn much about how to be a safe and effective hunter. Instead, I learned about how messed up New York’s gun laws are – according to these volunteers. I learned that it’s really tough to find places to hunt around here, but I didn’t get any advice on finding places. And I learned that if I make even a tiny mistake while hunting then I could get a ticket. Honestly, that was my take-away from the class. I left more discouraged than encouraged.

“I still don’t really feel comfortable with guns, and I didn’t get the confidence that I could go out in the woods and be effective, let alone safe.”

I’m willing to bet that my friend’s experience is aberrant, that most Hunter Education courses in America are living up to their names, and to students’ expectations that the 12 or 20 hours they spend in the classroom and in field days will prepare them to take the first tiny (and safe) steps into the woods and fields in pursuit of game.

But achieving that expectation is really up to the rest of us. If you’re a volunteer Hunter Education instructor, thank you. But be sure that you’re teaching effectively, and not using the class as a platform for your personal views. If you’re not an instructor, but want to pass on our tradition of citizen-driven wildlife management in American (plus, you love to hunt and love teaching), then consider joining the ranks of us Hunter Educators. And state agencies – please assess the ranks of volunteer instructors, offer frequent in-service training to these amateur educators, but also respond to concerns about instructors who aren’t delivering the best education they can to ensure we have a precious renewable resource in knowledgeable, effective, and safe hunters.

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4 thoughts on “McKean Minute: Put the Education back in Hunter Education”

  1. As a HUNTER ED instructor in New York for 15 years the class has gone from 10/12hrs. to 8 with N.Y. Not supplying any ranges for the students to learn to shoot but adding more to teach it is no wonder the students leave unsure of themselves however they are told to find some one to hunt with

  2. Andrew, Great follow-up course critique. I have ben teaching in CA for over 20 years now and I still love the teaching portion of the class. I understand we are seeing various skill levels in the class and I usually teach to the lowest level I identify. Unfortunately, the class is called Basic Hunter Education for a reason. We must start from scratch and go through a lot of information in the time we have. CA requires 10 hours of instruction at a minimum. I cannot get the information out in 10 hours and often go for an average of 13 – 14 hours just to cover the basic information required while providing lunch and breaks. I do not have a live fire venue due to the facility I use. I do recommend advanced clinics during my class and also recommend becoming a member of one of the many ranges in the area. A lot of states are moving to online classes with no range safety or other type of field day to see if the person taking the test is actually the person showing up for the field day. CA has a 4 hour field day/exam day where people taking the online class have to prove they were the ones taking the course. It is proctoring the exam which includes a safe handling demo and written exam after a review of approx. 40% of the material. Many adults fail this because they do not know the material when they arrive. Kids do even worse. I truly wish we could do better but being volunteers usually only allows us so much time in our otherwise busy lives. Some states do not require a field day to check proficiency but they are still providing the services to put more people in the field. Only time and accident statistic will prove if this is a good method. In the mean time, get your friend out to the range and help him become a safe shooter in the field. Sometimes it is the best we can do. Thanks for the post!

  3. I am also An instructor in New Mexico. I make it an obligation to give the students what they want and need. There are other classes one can take to build up confidence and knowledge. Also, find an individual who will mentor you to gain the knowledge you seek.
    I worked a public shooting range and spent a lot of my time assisting others. I always received enormous thank you’s and content smiles with offers to continue assisting should the need be there.
    Join a gun club, a shooting range or whatever you have available to you that will help you pursue your goals. Just promise yourself to never give up! When you master one goal, reach for another. One final thought; practice! Take one day a week and make it your practice day. Invite friends and family and soon you will be instructing!

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