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Hunting enthusiasts question new training practices

BY CASSIDY RILEY | JULY 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite the convenience of an online-only class, local hunters are questioning the safety level of not requiring adults to have in-person training for the required hunter-safety course when obtaining a hunting license in Iowa.

As of July 1, adults 18 and older in Iowa are no longer required to participate in an in-person hunting-safety course. Iowa is one of just a few states that have made this change, and many others are considering it.

Megan Wisecup, hunter-education administrator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said this is a developing trend across the country along with the trend of states considering exempting people in the military from taking any safety courses.

“We sense some education is better than none,” she said. “Hunter education is about much more than just firearms handling. It talks about the North American Model of Conservation, ethics, responsibility, game care, wildlife identification, and survival skills.”

Online courses have been available in Iowa for the past few years, but students were always required to add an in-person component to their training. Wisecup said after researching this option and watching it unfold in other states the Iowa Department of Natural Resources worked with the Iowa Legislature to create the online-only component to avoid exempting those in the military from any kind of training.

Marvin Hotz, a local safety-course instructor, said he is unconvinced that an online experience is just as valuable as one in person.

“I think there’s a lot of things we cover in person that you aren’t going to get online,” he said.

Hotz said his course uses many tactics to show the students that gun safety is not something to be taken lightly. He said one thing they do is have an instructor dress in camouflage to show students how well people can hide and how that could result in an accident.

“If you’re careless with a gun, somebody could get killed, and that’s the kind of thing we try to bring out with hands-on [experience],” he said.

Wisecup said they have found that most people choosing to take the online-only course have prior experience with firearms and range in ages from 19 to 35.

“We’re definitely stressing on our website that if you don’t have prior experience, you should take an in-person course,” she said. “This course is designed for someone who already had firearm experience.”

Lt. Larry W. Morrison of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division Outdoor Education Section said in a press release that officials there have not seen any significant safety concerns.

“We have not had anything in our incident data that shows any effect due to the online course,” he said in a release. “We have been doing the course since 2006, and our incidents have not increased, as people would suggest.”

The release also stated that roughly 3,500 students take the course online, as opposed to the 14,000 that participate in a traditional in-person course.

Janet Ericson, a former hunter and wife of the owner of Weldon Creek Outfitters in Decatur County, said while she disagrees with the change, she can understand how it may be useful, because people in small towns often have a hard time finding classes close enough to them.

“They’ve had to wait or travel,” she said. “We’re talking an hour drive. [But] I don’t think the whole darn thing should be done online. I still think they should have so many hours of certified gun handling.”


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