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DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Hunter education celebrates 50 years of success

Brandon Butler, bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com
IHEA-USA instructors have been training safe hunter for 50 years making the great outdoors safer and more enjoyable.

What should you do if you come to an open gate on the farm you are hunting? Thirty years ago, this was the only question I answered wrong on my Hunter Education test. I was 12 at the time and remember it distinctly all these years later. That’s how powerful the training and experience of Hunter Education can be. The answer, by the way, is do nothing. Leave it open. Let the farmer know, but suspect he wanted it open for a reason.

Hunting isn’t something that can be taught by course work or a book. It takes many years of experience to become a well-rounded and effective hunter. However, safety skills and a basic understanding of how to be an ethical, responsible hunter is critical knowledge necessary from day one. For 50 years now, the International Hunter Education Association - USA (IHEA-USA) has been providing such knowledge to hunters across the country.

IHEA-USA works closely with state fish and wildlife agencies to ensure hunters are made aware of basic safety and hunting skills before entering the field. This is important for new hunters, as well as all the experienced hunters they are sharing the great outdoors with. Hunter Education instructors are trained on how to deliver a complete, well-produced curriculum covering safe hunting practices. IHEA-USA now has over 41 million graduates since Hunter Education’s inception in 1949. This 50 year mark is a great time for all of us who have gone through the program to celebrate IHEA-USA on the program’s long-running, impressive success.

“We are grateful to those original Hunter Safety Coordinators that had the foresight to form a cohesive governing body that would connect educators and their programs across all 50 states”, Executive Director Alex Baer stated. “This represents the sort of thinking we will continue as we maintain our drive to collaboratively prevent hunting accidents through educational opportunities with all our partners. We are moving into the next 50 years with charged excitement about the new programs and services that the IHEA-USA is going to bring to the states furthering firearms safety. We will have a lot to celebrate this year as we modernize our approach to move this organization forward through the next 50 years, setting the stage for safe hunting and safe firearms ownership in the United States.”

Mistakes are made in the field. I’ll never forget an instance when my dad and I were rabbit hunting. I must have been 10 or 11. We were walking along a brushy fence row in a picked cornfield. Snow blanketed the ground. Since we were without a dog, we were looking for tracks we could follow to rabbits hiding in the brush.

I was carrying an old double-barreled 20-gauge my father had hunted with as a boy. Eventually, my younger cousin Cody ended up in possession of that shotgun. I’m still not sure how. But

anyways, I made the horrible mistake of checking to see if my safety was on by pulling the trigger. It wasn’t. The shot exploded at our feet. Thankfully, my barrel was pointed at the ground on the opposite side of where my dad was walking. Still, he sprung sideways. Then angrily grabbed the gun from me and asked in the hell did I just do. The hunt was over. We headed home and soon after, I headed for Hunter Education classes.

Moments and mistakes like the one I made so many years ago are lasting lessons. Fortunately, my mistake did not lead to an injury or worse. Others are not so lucky. Hunting is a serious matter, and safety has to always be the most critical part of any hunt. If you are a hunter, you should be hunter education certified. IHEA-USA has been doing the job for 50 years. We all owe a big debt of gratitude to every Hunter Education Instructor, past and present, for their dedicated service to ensuring a much safer society of hunters. Thank you for what you do.

See you down the trail…

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