|If you're planning on hunting in Maine for the first time this fall, or have a young hunter who's about to make his first appearance in the woods with a gun or bow in 2006, be forewarned that each new hunter must pass an approved hunter safety course, archery course or crossbow course.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Hunter Education Course is billed as more than a "gun safety" class. The basic, mandatory course consists of 12 hours of classroom instruction. Each course is taught by a trained, certified volunteer instructor according to statewide standards. The course covers the following topics: Proper handling of firearms; rifle and shotgun nomenclature and handling; survival/first aid, hunter responsibility; map and compass reading; and landowner relations.
Students are provided with a course handbook, outdoor survival information and additional handouts. Courses involve lectures and demonstrations by instructors, homework, field experiences and a final written exam. The minimum course length is 12 hours, although many courses run longer depending upon student needs. Students must attend every day of the class in order to receive a certificate.
The mandatory bowhunter education course provides students with a wealth of knowledge regarding equipment, proper hunting methods, responsibilities and general safety. The course includes understanding bowhunting laws; archery safety; equipment; first aid and survival; map and compass reading and bowhunting ethics and landowner relations. Most classes will have some outdoor exercises. Passage of a final exam is required. Students must attend every day of the class in order to receive a certificate.
Effective Jan. 1, 2006, crossbows will be legal hunting implements during the firearms season on deer and any hunting season for black bears. The use of a crossbow is presently prohibited for use during the regular archery season and expanded archery season, as well as during the muzzleloader deer-hunting season. Any person who applies for the crossbow hunting license, other than a junior hunting license, must submit proof of having successfully completing an archery hunting education course and a crossbow hunting course or evidence of having previously held adult archery and crossbow hunting licenses issued specifically for the purpose of hunting with a crossbow or bow and arrow in Maine or any other state, province or country in any year after 1979.
The fees for a crossbow license are $25 for a resident license, $48 for a non-resident license and $72 for an alien. Junior hunters will be allowed to hunt with a crossbow if they possess a valid junior hunting license. Felons will be prohibited from using a crossbow unless they have obtained a permit from the Maine Public Safety Division as is required now for firearms.
For course scheduling and more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at www.state.me.us/ifw/education/safety. Courses are held in various communities throughout our region and many are held prior to the opening day of the 2006 deer-hunting season.
If you know of a hunter (or would-be hunter) who has not taken one of these courses, don't be afraid to sign them up - and go with them! I normally corral a couple of local vagabonds and treat them to a course not only to get them away from the video games but to refresh my own memory on the legal changes that have been made in the last year. I also have a good time bugging the instructors with “what if” questions that have come up in my own hunting career but may not have not be covered in the course. The purpose of these courses is to give fledgling hunters a basic education in what's expected of them, how to safely conduct themselves while hunting and how to avoid getting lost, injured or in a conflict with landowners.
By the way, women and girls are welcome at any course, so don't think these courses are meant for men only. In fact, I wish all mothers would be required to attend a hunter safety course so they would spend less time wringing their hands when Sonny or Missy goes off to hunt with the guys and more time getting the frying pan ready for the delicious wild meats they are likely to bring home!
Of course, being the Pied Piper of hunter safety courses can have some repercussions. Having sent my own kids and all their neighborhood chums to the local hunter safety course over the years (nearly breaking the bank after supplying Ring Dings and YooHoos for everyone!), I figured I was out of the loop for a while, but now the younger brothers and sisters of those original kids have been pounding on my door demanding their turn! And last year, I brought three college-age girls (waitresses at my favorite restaurant) in to take the course, and of course my table was the most popular among all the manly hunters in attendance. Of course, maybe it was the Ring Dings!
If nothing else, plan to attend a hunter safety course just to ease your own mind about what's going on “out there” this fall. You'll find that Maine's volunteer instructors are a knowledgeable, friendly bunch who really care about hunter safety and will teach you (and your kids) all you need to know about the sensible, safe and effective use of firearms and archery gear in the woods. I know the course works because the kids I've taken remind each other about safe gun handling at every opportunity, and it's nice to see that they look out for each other, and actually listen to each other, because of what they saw and learned in class.
I can say with authority that the lessons learned in a hunter safety course will stay with your hunter (young or old, male or female) throughout their lives. I received my Hunter Safety Certificate in (gulp!) 1962 and still have it. Also, I still check my rifles and shotguns frequently while afield to be sure the safety is on, my finger is off the trigger and the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction at all times. Thanks, Mr. Jackson - you taught us well!