Changes eyed in NH hunter education program
Today is the first day of bow hunting season, and the combination of a Sunday start and perfect late-summer weather is expected to draw hundreds of hunters to the woods.
The state Fish and Game Department is hoping for an equally enthusiastic turnout at a public hearing later this month, where it will air proposed changes to the state's mandatory hunter education programs.
The department wants to combine its basic hunter education and specialized bow hunter education programs into one course.
Hunter education is required for anyone 16 and older seeking a hunting license; the separate bow hunting program is required if someone wants to participate in archery season.
Laura Ryder, hunter education administrator for Fish and Game, said the proposed change is a response to public input.
"What we've been seeing is that people are just a lot more pressed for time these days, with all kinds of things pulling on them," Ryder said.
She said a review of the curricula for the two programs revealed a lot of duplication in the content. Fish and Game wants to take the areas that did not overlap and add the archery content to the hunter education program, she said, such as distance judging and game-recovery techniques that are taught in bow hunting.
Under Fish and Game's proposal, the new combined class would be offered starting on Jan. 1. The minimum requirement for the class would be 15 hours, up from the 12 hours required for the current hunter education program.
The bow hunter education course would continue to be offered through 2014, to allow those who have already taken just the hunter education course to get the additional bow hunting material, Ryder said.
That provision was greeted favorably by Dan Keleher, a member of Major Waldron Sportsmen's Association in Barrington. A volunteer instructor for both basic hunter education and bow hunting, Keleher has been a hunter for more than 40 years.
Keleher said it makes sense to go back to a combined format for hunter education, which was the norm until about 15 years ago.
He said it's good for all hunters to learn more about following a blood trail and judging distances.
"Even for a gun hunter ... it's good to know and understand those aspects," he said. "For a bow hunter, it's critical."
He said some are concerned that important material will be lost if only three additional hours of instruction are required.
That's the concern of Rick Olson of Londonderry Fish and Game Club, who teaches both hunter education and bow hunter education.
"There's an entirely different set of criteria that we focus on in each class," Olson said. "Blending the two, I think there's going to be a loss on both sides."
For instance, he said, bow hunters need to learn where an animal's vital organs are, how to judge distances and how to follow a blood trail.
Olson would rather see an additional five hours, not just three, required in the new course.
"We could get the most vital things covered by adding on that particular amount of time," he said.
Ryder said the goals of the hunter education program won't change: "Making sure that every hunter that goes out is safe and ethical, that they follow the rules and we have ... no incidents.
"At the same time, we need to be responsive to the public," she said.
"And we're in the process of trying to make sure if somebody really wants to get hunter education that they can get it ... but still maintain everything we possibly can in regards to safety and ethics and not let down our guard in regards to that."
Keleher said a state-mandated course can't cover everything a hunter needs to know; he believes having a mentor is key to learning safe and ethical hunting.
He learned to hunt with his father years ago and has been hunting with his daughter since she was a baby in his backpack.
He sees the same commitment in the parents who take his hunter education courses with their children.
Although some of his students have failed the written examinations in his courses, he's never flunked anyone for poor conduct or attitude, Keleher said. "Most people who come into the program have a very positive attitude," he said. "They want to be hunters and they know that this is something that they need to do."
Tom Flynn, facility manager at Fish and Game's Owl Brook Hunter Education Center in Holderness, said he'll be out hunting today. And he expects plenty of company, since Sept. 15 falls on a Sunday.
"So I'm sure there'll be a lot more people out on opening day than there are typically," he said.
It's also a good time to remind hikers, dog owners and others to take safety precautions, he said. "Everybody shares the woods."
People and dogs alike should wear blaze orange when they head outdoors, Flynn said. His own chocolate lab, Tucker, has an orange vest he'll be wearing outside from today on.
"He loves it," he said. "He thinks he's Super Dog when I put it on."
The proposal can be viewed at: www.wildnh.com/Legislative/Notices_summary.htm.
A public hearing on the proposed hunter education rule changes will be held Monday, Sept. 30, at Fish and Game headquarters, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, at 6:30 p.m. The public can also send written comments by Oct. 7 to: firstname.lastname@example.org (use subject line "Comments on Hunter Education Rules") or to: Fish and Game Dept., 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, 03301.