Hunter ed instructors critical of proposal

Editor

Madison A draft proposal from the Conservation Congress Outdoor
Heritage and Education Committee to make it easier for nonhunters
or first-time hunters to experience hunting has drawn a lot of
criticism from some hunter safety instructors, including a group of
instructors from Dunn County (see letters to the editor beginning
on Page 3 of this issue).

Some hunter safety instructors are taking a wait-and-see
position, while a few others support the proposal.

Outdoor Heritage and Education Committee chairman Larry Bonde,
of Manitowoc, said more and more hunter safety instructors are at
ease with the proposal now that they’ve had some time to understand
fully just what the committee is proposing.

Bonde said 21 other states allow some form of hunting without
hunter education for youth hunters, but those hunters must be
accompanied by adults who have passed hunter safety, have to be
within arm’s reach of those adults, and must pass hunter safety
before they hunt the following year.

“I fully understand the important role hunter education has had
on improving safety rates,” Bonde said. “This is not an attempt to
circumvent the hunter safety program, but if 21 other states are
allowing some form of hunting by a youth without a hunter education
requirement, then maybe we can look at that here in Wisconsin as
one way of bringing more people into hunting.”

Bonde said he received a call from a hunter safety instructor
who was critical of the plan. The caller asked Bonde his age. When
Bonde told him he is 40, the instructor said Bonde does not support
hunter education because he didn’t have to take it.

“I took hunter safety as a youth before it was required by the
state because it was a family requirement. My dad made us take
hunter safety, and I’m glad he did,” Bonde said.

Bonde had received about a dozen phone calls as of last week
half for more information and in support of the idea; the other
half opposed. All callers were hunter safety instructors, he
said.

“The goal is that there would be more of a demand for hunter
safety the only way to hunt beyond that first year, or by
themselves, is to take a hunter safety class. I have no desire to
not make hunter safety a requirement. We’re looking for a way to
get more people into hunting,” Bonde said.

Duane Harvey, of Janesville, is the chairman of the Wisconsin
Hunter Education Instructors’ Association (WHEIA). Harvey said he
hasn’t polled WHEIA members for their thoughts on the committee’s
proposal.

“I’m waiting to see a draft of the bill to find out what’s on
it,” Harvey said. “The language can change any number of times
between now and when the bill finally comes out.”

Jay Smith is a hunter education instructor from Dunn County who
submitted a letter for this issue on behalf of many Dunn County
instructors. Since Smith submitted the letter, he said his group’s
position has been endorsed by more than 150 members of the Dunn
County Fish and Game Association.

Joe Miller, of Bowler, also is a hunter safety instructor.
Miller said he initially opposed Bonde’s plan, but, after thinking
about it, said he supports some form of change that would make it
easier for youngsters or first-time hunters to hunt or shoot
firearms.

Bonde said hunter safety instructors have told him that if the
program “ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Bonde said he isn’t trying to
fix anything, but he would like to make things better.

“This is the role of the congress. We’re supposed to research
ideas and forward proposals as advisory questions to gauge the
public support before these things go to the Natural Resources
Board,” he said. “If we only chose to pursue safe issues and avoid
the controversial issues, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs as congress
committee chairs.”

The committee has proposed the following: First-time (youth or
adult) hunters could buy a license (small game, waterfowl, turkey
or deer) to try out hunting for one year, as long as they’re within
“the grasp” of an adult hunter who has passed a safety course. If
the first-time hunter wants to hunt beyond that first season, he or
she must then take hunter safety before buying another license.

Bonde asked the DNR to research age/hunter safety requirements
in other states. That’s when he found out that 21 other states have
some form of rule that makes it easier for youths to begin
hunting.

For instance, Colorado allows kids under 12 to hunt small game,
and Nebraska allows kids under 12 to hunt anything except big game
when accompanied by an adult age 19 or older.

Virginia requires anyone under 12 to be accompanied by a
licensed adult, but Virginia also requires hunter education for 12-
to 15-year-olds, and all new hunters.

Idaho allows 10- and 11-year-olds to hunt. In Maine, youths ages
10 to 16 may hunt without hunter education, if they are accompanied
by an adult.

“One of the things that we’re all concerned about is the future
of hunting and, more broadly, the future of conservation,” Bonde
said. “Since 1920, more people have lived in cities and in suburbs
than on the farm in the U.S. Today about 72 percent of all our
citizens are not from the farm or rural areas.

“Because of that, and some other things, our general population
has lost their ties with the land. They do not understand good
conservation land ethics,” he said.

Before this idea advances anywhere, Bonde and the committee
members have to take the proposal to the Conservation Congress
executive council meeting in January.

If it passes muster there, it will appear on the April fish and
wildlife hearing agenda as an advisory question. If it gets broad
support there, the measure then moves on to the DNR.

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