All-online hunter ed?

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania’s hunter education program has changed a lot in the past few years. It’s likely about to change again.

Keith Snyder, chief of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s hunter outreach and education division, said the agency will likely experiment with offering a completely online certification program as early as this winter.

Already, the commission has a program in which would-be hunters can do a portion of their hunter education class online, at home. But they still have to show up in person at a specific location at a specific time to take their test.

Roughly 2,000 of the nearly 41,000 students who passed a Pennsylvania hunter safety test last year did things that way.

This new course would allow them to study, test and earn their hunter safety certificate all at home, in front of their computer, Snyder said.

A number of states already offer that option. Visitors to the website www.hunter-ed.com, run by a Dallas, Texas, company, can get their hunter education certification for 38 states, ranging from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The site says students can “get safe” by taking the test online “at your own pace on your phone or computer.”

All of the courses meet International Hunter Education Association standards, the site says, and rely on the same materials used in 70 percent of classes nationwide.

Pennsylvania and South Dakota are also listed on the website, but they offer visitors only the chance to view the hunter education handbook.

That’s not the only company offering the service, though. Just in August, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced that a third official Michigan online hunter education course is now available. It’s being provided for by a Michigan company.

According to the agency, it “features lessons on safe, legal and responsible hunting practices and uses narration, closed captioning, interactive exercises and photos that replicate what a hunter will see in the field.”

Michigan does require students to attend a “field/skills day” after taking the class to complete their certification.

Pennsylvania does not have a field day requirement for hunter education students.

Commissioner Tim Layton, of Somerset County, had some concerns about the idea of online certification. He said he took the course offered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He said he was able to walk away from the computer at various times, then come back and answer questions, without really having viewed the content.

That makes him wonder how much online students really learn, he said at the board’s recent work session.

Snyder said the plan is for Pennsylvania’s online course to have fail-safes built in to prevent that kind of thing from happening.

Students would be required to go through a test booklet page by page, in order, and spend a minimum amount of time on each subject before moving on to the next one. There would be quizzes and tests along the way.

Taking the test would require students attention for eight to 10 hours altogether, he said. And it wouldn’t be free. The company offering the online test would charge a fee, which students would pay directly to it.

That’s standard. The new online course being offered in Michigan costs $17.99, for example.

But there seems to be a demand for these kinds of courses, Snyder said. While it’s unlikely online testing courses would take over hunter education, they are “another tool in the toolbox” for recruitment.

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