Study shows fewer taking hunter education courses

Staff Report

Harrisburg — Graduates of hunter education courses do not always become hunters, at least not over the long term.

Lack of opportunity may be one reason why.

A study commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that, between 2006 and 2011, only about two-thirds of hunter education course graduates nationally had purchased a license in even one of those years. Six years after graduating, only about 44 percent were buying licenses.

Dropout rates were highest among urban and suburban students, “indicating a greater need for intervention efforts,” the report said.

“Some graduates may have taken hunter education training for reasons other than to hunt, but others may need assistance toward making the leap to becoming an active hunter,” it continued.

Commissioner Jim Daley thinks he has an answer, for Pennsylvania at least. A long-time hunter education instructor, he’d like to see the commission better promote participation in the Youth Hunter Education Challenge.

The event is a competition for young hunters. They square off in shooting events, using rifles, shotguns and bows, while also competing in things like wildlife identification, hunter safety and more.

It’s run by the National Rifle Association.

“This unique opportunity allows youth to meet and learn with fellow participants and coaches, and demonstrate the skills they have acquired through hunter education to prove they are the future generation of responsible and ethical hunters,” reads a description of the event.

The national championship rotates between two sites. In odd years, like 2017, it’s held at the NRA’s Whittington Center in Raton, N.M. In even years like this one it’s held in Mansfield, Pa.

The 2016 version drew more than 360 students from 15 states. That was more than had ever attended any Youth Hunter Education Challenge in the past, said Andy Hueser, the commission’s hunter education specialist.

About 100 of those were from Pennsylvania, he added. That was also a record.

Daley said as impressive as that is, Pennsylvania – and the commission in particular – are missing an opportunity.

Very few people in the western half of the state know the event even exists, said Daley, who hails from Butler County. There’s no mention of it in hunter education courses, he noted.

That’s too bad, he said, echoing the findings of the Shooting Sports Foundation report.

Many leave hunter education classes “wanting to know where to go from here,” he said. The Youth Hunter Education Challenge is a natural option they might be willing to take advantage of if they knew how, he added.

“Let’s give them the opportunity to do that,” he said.

Retaining hunters might be especially important now, it seems, given that fewer people are taking the courses. That’s true not only in Pennsylvania, but many other places.

The number of students taking a hunter-trapper education course in Pennsylvania declined last year over 2014. Thirty-two other states experienced the same thing, said Steve Smith, director of commission’s Bureau of Information and Education.

Those that are holding steady or gaining students have a secret weapon of sorts.

A number of states – California, Massachusetts and Connecticut among them – require anyone wanting to get a concealed carry permit for a handgun to take some form of firearms training, Smith said. Many gun owners are turning to hunter safety courses that often are less expensive than other training, he said, as they meet that requirement.

“That’s boosting the numbers in some states,” Hueser agreed.

The Shooting Sports Foundation report found that to be true, too. It also noted that the timing of when a person takes their hunter safety course is important, too.

“Those who graduated in June and the warmer months are the greatest percentage of graduates who never purchased a license. Only three states showed months in the fall/winter that held the highest percentage of graduates who never purchased a license,” it reads.

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