McKean Minute: Homemade Hunter Ed


A pair of interesting dynamics are colliding in plain sight. On the one hand, social-distancing rules and stay-at-home orders to reduce spread of the COVID-19 virus are playing hell with traditional Hunter Education courses.

Most state agencies have cancelled or indefinitely postponed their Hunter and Bowhunter Ed classes, often held in classrooms with poor ventilation and inadequate room to practice social distancing. Unfortunately, these courses are required for new hunters to take and pass before they can buy a hunting license.

The colliding dynamic? Interest in hunting is spiking. Many state agencies are seeing record license sales and intense interest in the fall seasons. Hunting is one of the few activities that can be done safely in a pandemic, and the reward—healthy, unprocessed meat—is in short supply as commercial meat-packing plants are infected and trips to supermarkets are fraught with anxiety and stifling masks.

States are under increasing pressure to deliver Hunter Education, but maybe we shouldn’t leave it only up to agencies. There’s plenty that you and I can do to help educate a hunter to be safe, knowledgeable, and effective.

How? It starts with you, but for each of us it’s different. Each one of us knows a beginning hunter who has an interest in learning but doesn’t know how to begin. She needs to learn to operate a gun safely and effectively, and most people reading this would make excellent and patient instructors. He needs to know to pick appropriate gear, and many of us are self-described gear junkies. She needs to know where to go to find squirrels, and rabbits, and deer. He needs to know how wild animals behave, and how to tell the difference between a quail and a chickadee.

We all have the abilities to pass on critical information, but we’ve held back. In some cases, we’ve been reluctant to commit to becoming a certified Hunter Education volunteer instructor. Some of us don’t have the time to teach a formal course, and many of us feel uncomfortable standing up in front of a classroom.

But we are all teachers, and we all have abundant knowledge to pass on, whether in a classroom or not. But even more critically, we have passion, concern, energy, and wisdom to pass on, and those are qualities that have never been in higher demand. So, while we wait for states to figure out how to certify this next generation of hunters, let’s do what we can in our hometowns, teaching our neighbors how to handle guns safely, sharing our gear with beginning hunters we know from church or school, and sharing contents of our freezers with friends who are tepid about the palatability of game meat.

Just don’t wait to be asked. The entire structure of formal Hunter Ed is built on the time and talents of volunteers. Take that one step further and become a volunteer without Hunter Ed. Every would-be hunter you help now will be that much more prepared once formal Hunter Education resumes.