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Arizona’s Hunter Education Program turns 50
By Tom Cadden, public information officer, Arizona Game and Fish Department
Which activity would you guess is safer: hunting or driving your car to the store?
It might surprise most non-hunters to know that the answer is hunting. In 2004 there were 1,151 motor vehicle fatalities in Arizona. Only three hunting-related accidents happened in the state during each of the last two years, none fatal.
Hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities in Arizona. One of the main reasons for this is the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Hunter Education Program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The program relies on dedicated volunteers who teach a curriculum of firearms safety, hunter ethics, wildlife conservation principles, first aid and other topics.
“Before hunter education classes were offered, we had an alarming rate of hunting-related accidents across the country,” says Bill Larson, a hunter education coordinator for the department. “One newspaper clipping from a Midwestern state in the late 1930s predicted there would be 11 hunting fatalities in that state on opening day alone.”
Hunter education programs have changed that. They began appearing in different states in the late 1940s and early ’50s, and hunting-related accidents began declining shortly after that. Every state in the country now has a hunter education program.
Arizona’s safety record over the years has been exemplary. “We have 1.6 million hunter days in this state per year, with an average of only four hunting-related accidents per year and one hunting-related death every five years,” says Larson.
Arizona’s program, which started in 1955, was originally called the Arizona Firearms Safety Training Program. By the end of 1956, about 400 students had completed the course. The Arizona Game and Fish Department now certifies more than 4,800 students each year and uses 800 volunteer instructors.
Who are these dedicated volunteer instructors?
“They’re our friends and neighbors from all walks of life—doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, mail carriers, retirees,” says Larson. “They are folks who love the outdoors and have a strong desire to teach and make things better for their community.”
Keith Paul is an architect and volunteer who has taught hunter education for 11 years, seven of them in Arizona. He says he was motivated to become a hunter education instructor for two reasons.
“As an unschooled novice hunter, I accidentally shot someone’s breakfast plate out from under him from a mile-and-a-half away while on my first deer hunt in Michigan,” he says. “Fortunately, no one was hurt, but I learned firsthand the three primary rules we teach: (1) Treat every firearm as if it is loaded; (2) Always point your muzzle in a safe direction; (3) Be sure of your target and beyond. Later, I took my first hunter education course and saw the value it offered. In an increasingly urban society, hunters have a great deal of knowledge to share about outdoor safety, wildlife and wildlife management. I teach this course so that hopefully no other hunter will spoil someone’s breakfast, or worse.”
The department offers two different hunter education courses: a 20-hour course that focuses on basic hunter education and a 28-hour course that combines the basic course with a nationally recognized bowhunter education course. Anyone age 10 or older is eligible to take either course and become certified upon successful completion. Youth ages 10 through 13 who wish to hunt big game in Arizona must have their hunter education certifications along with the proper hunting licenses and tags. Adult supervision is highly recommended.
Arizona’s program has been nationally recognized and has served as a model for other states and even countries. More than 175 hunter education classes are offered in the state each year. For more information, visit the department’s Web site or contact the department at (602) 942-3000.