|As the fall 2005 hunting seasons begin, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Hunter Safety Education Program has announced a milestone, as the number of students completing the hunter safety course surpasses the 200,000 mark.
“Hunter education courses are one of the primary reasons that hunting is now one of the nation's safest sports,” said R. Dan Martin, MDIFW commissioner. “Our instructors have done a remarkable job in educating a generation of hunters.”
In 1986, the legislature mandated a law requiring all new hunting license holders to successfully complete a hunter education course before getting their license. Prior to that, attendance at hunter safety courses was optional.
Each year, the department provides more than 350 courses on hunting with firearms, bow and arrow, and trapping. The courses are attended by roughly 7,500 students and taught by over 800 volunteer trained instructors. Other safety courses taught by department-trained instructors include classes on boating, snowmobiles and ATVs.
The basic hunter Education course includes about 12 hours of classroom instruction. Each course is taught by trained, certified volunteer instructors according to national guidelines and state standards. The course covers safe firearms handling, wildlife management basics, game trailing, recovery and care; hunter ethics and responsibility; outdoor safety and survival skills; and map and compass skills.
By the way, it's easy to say, “I've already taken a hunter safety course,” or, “I don't need to take it,” but hunter education courses are not necessarily meant for you. Each year, a new batch of youngsters come along who are old enough for or just ready for a hunter education course. A lot of kids (and women) are interested in hunting in Maine but either don't know what to do to get started or don't know anyone who hunts. Each year I make it a point to hunt down two or three such candidates and get them going on the sport. What usually happens is I'll be in my yard shooting my bow or perhaps coming back from the rifle range and a neighbor's son or daughter will come over and start asking questions. I would rather recruit another kid into the outdoor sports than see them flopped on the couch playing video games, so I get the ball rolling by inviting them to go shooting, try the bow or just look at my latest acquisitions in gear, guns and books. The next thing you know they want to give it a try, and my next stop is the MDIFW Website, where I find out where the next hunter education course will be.
It's easy enough to tell someone to attend a course, but if you want to see results you have to make the effort to take them to it. In most cases this means two days of class work, and while that may seem like a lot of wasted time for an experienced Maine hunter, I consider it an investment in a variety of ways. You'll be bonding with a kid, positively influencing their views on hunting, ensuring that another safe hunter enters the woods this fall and opening the door for someone else to participate in the things that have kept you occupied and entertained over the years.
I attended my own hunter safety course in 1962, which means . . . well, I've been reaping the benefits of that little session for quite a while! I don't think there's anything else I've ever done that has resulted in more pleasure or taught me more about nature and wildlife than those few hours in the classroom. It's been a long time since I kicked around the woods of Lagrange and Milo looking for red squirrels, snowshoe rabbits, partridge and deer, and since then the power of that little hunter safety card has transported me to most of the states in the U. S., Canada and elsewhere in search of game, adventure and memories. Rain or shine, snow or cold, I've never had a bad time in the woods, and I get just as much out of seeing a chickadee upside down on an alder branch as I do seeing a big buck sneaking through the softwoods. I have not missed a hunting season in over 40 years (well, just the one when I was busy being a Marine), and I'm already looking forward to the trips I have planned for this year - even the one where I'm going rabbit hunting “up north” in February!
The 2005 hunting season begins with as much enthusiasm and excitement as I felt when I was handed a $20 Winchester Model 67A .22 rifle by my dad for my first “real” squirrel hunt way back then. I still have the gun, the hunter safety card and the love of the outdoors...and, the hunter safety course is (and always has been) free. Not a bad return on such a small investment!
As you make plans for your own hunting season this month, take a moment, look around, and see if there's a youngster or woman in your circle who might want to get involved in Maine's outdoor world. Good hunting and fishing is all around us here in central Maine, and the price for beginning a hobby that will last a lifetime is a few hours in the classroom with instructors who know all about guns, wildlife, hunting and safety. Be the one who gets the ball rolling. Make the plans, be the escort, provide the transportation, but get involved and make the call today!
If you are interested in finding out about course availability in our area, log on to the MDIFW's Website at www.mefishwildlife.com. The site is updated every Friday afternoon. Or, call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife offices at (207) 287-8000.