August 11, 2011
A glance at the calendar will tell you that autumn is on its way. Well before it arrives, however, one of Michigan's proudest fall traditions will begin: hunting season.
Fall hunting season begins on Sept.1 with opening day of the early Canada goose season and proceeds non-stop, picking up steam as additional seasons (small game, archery deer, etc.) open, building to a crescendo with the Nov. 15 opening day of firearms deer season. For veterans, it's just a matter of getting on the Internet or to the sporting goods store to buy licenses.
But for newcomers?
State law requires that anyone born after Jan. 1, 1960, must have taken hunter safety or shown proof of a prior hunting experience, in the form of a hunting license from another state, province or country, to purchase a hunting license.
Hunter safety education became mandatory for first-time hunters ages 12 to 16 in 1971. In 1988 the law was expanded to include anyone born after Jan. 1, 1960. (Remember that state hunter education laws vary by state and some states require that all hunters, regardless of age, successfully complete a hunter education course in order to purchase a hunting license.)
There is a provision in Michigan law, since 2006, which allows those who do not complete hunting safety education before the season to purchase an apprentice hunting license. Those hunting with an apprentice license are required to be mentored by an adult with a license for the same quarry.
New hunters who opt for apprentice licenses may buy them for two years, but must take hunter education before they can purchase a license their third year.
Hunter education covers a lot of ground beyond safety. Courses provide basic instruction in how firearms (both long guns and handguns) work, shooting skills and marksmanship, hunting techniques and game care, survival skills and tree stand safety, and basic wildlife management and hunter ethics.
Would-be hunters have three options when it comes to hunter safety training; they can take the course in a classroom, complete a home-study course or take the course online.
Traditionally, the classroom route has been the most popular option. The course includes a minimum of 10 hours of instruction (generally spread over two days) including four hours of fieldwork, which includes handling of firearms and often (but not necessarily) some shooting. Hunter education classes are typically provided by sportsmen's or service clubs and are held at club facilities, municipal buildings and schools.
Home study courses require students to fill out the reviews at the end of each chapter. Students must also arrange four hours of fieldwork with a certified instructor before commencing their studies. Home study materials are available from instructors.
Novice hunters who prefer to take an on-line course can go to www.huntered.com or www.huntercourse.com to find the course. Both courses are recognized by the Department of Natural Resources. In either case, new hunters must still complete the four-hour field-work session with a certified instructor and pass a written test to receive their certificates.
While conventional and home-study classes are often free, there may be a nominal fee, of no more than $10, to cover the cost of materials. Online classes, however, have fees associated with them that are paid directly to the provider.
All three hunter education options are outlined on the DNR website at www.www.michigan.gov/huntereducation
"Everybody takes the same final exam," said Sgt. Jon Wood of the DNR's Law Enforcement Division, who runs the hunter safety program.
"Right now we have approximately 3,000 hunter-education volunteer instructors across the state," Wood said. "Those 3,000 instructors put on somewhere from 2,000 to 2,500 classes across the state every year."
Hunter safety instructors are certified by the DNR, which holds an annual Thursday through Sunday training session at the Ralph A. MacMullen Conference Center at Higgins Lake.
"There are volunteer coordinators in each county," Wood said, "and they make sure classes are available in all communities.
"Right now we're right in the middle of the busy season. By late October things are winding down."
By then, most instructors are too busy hunting to hold hunter education classes.
Hunting has become safer in Michigan since mandatory hunter education (and mandatory hunter orange) became law. In 1970, there was an average of 17.04 accidents per 100,000 licenses sold, with 18 deaths and 212 injuries. By 1980, the accident rate had been cut by more than in half, 7.88 accidents per 100,000 licenses sold, with nine fatalities and 107 injuries. By 1990, the accident-rate per 100,000 was down to 5.88, five fatalities and 75 injuries. In 2000, the accident rate had decreased to 2.53 per 100,000 licenses, but there were seven fatalities and 32 injuries.
In 2010 there were .65 accidents per 100,000 licenses sold, a total of 14 accidents, including three fatalities.
"Last year was our safest year in our recorded history, though we did have three fatalities," Wood said. "The two years previous we had only two fatalities per year.
"You'll see significant changes in the accident rate after hunter education came on the scene, and then again as the hunter orange law came on."
Michigan's hunter safety officials won't be happy until accidents are completely eliminated, but there's no doubt that hunter education has had a decidedly positive impact on hunter safety.
For more information on hunter education, visit www.michigan.gov/huntereducation or you can call 517-335-3418.