We are a tribe of hunters and sportsmen and, as with all tribal knowledge; it has to be passed down to the next generation. After all, if there are no new hunters, where will the sport be in a generation? In addition to hands-on instruction given by us to our youth, it is also a good idea to get some formal training--, which in many states is a requirement to hunt.
Starting them off young, there is the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle Program for pre-kindergarten to lower elementary aged kids to teach them the basics of keeping safe around guns. This includes the mantra of Stop-Don't Touch-Run Away-Tell a Grown Up.
The easy 8-minute video is here, so give it a look-see and if you approve, grab the youngsters and play it for them too.
Once your tike is old enough to take hunting, its time for the next step
What is hunters ed?
Since 1950, hunters education has helped reduce hunting accidents, instructed new shooters in basic firearms safety, and promoted conservation and responsibility among informed hunters. Some 35 states require that persons born on or after the early 70s (when the various laws were largely adopted), are required to complete a hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license. Even though young hunters can often hunt without a license under age 16, a child at least 12 and under 16 cannot hunt alone without having a hunter's education card.
Of course, check your local state laws to make sure you are in compliance
Typically, you must be at least 10 years old to obtain hunter education certification.
Funded through Pittman-Robertson excise taxes paid by gun and ammo manufacturers, most state conservation agencies offer dozens of free hunters ed courses around the state throughout the year. They are held in management offices, area high schools, Boy Scout camps, 4H clubs, county extension offices, and other locations.
These courses are taught by state game wardens, park rangers and trained volunteer instructors. Many of the volunteers are also NRA-certified and come from backgrounds that gave them a wealth of outdoors knowledge. The classes are typically formatted to last 8-10 hours total and are set up in occasional long one-day classes, weekend classes, or one-hour classes spread out over several weeks to accommodate multiple audiences.
What the course consists of
These free classes are broken into multiple segments, typically about an hour in length with a written test and live fire (often with rimfire rifles or air guns) at the conclusion. The segments generally include hunter responsibility, wildlife conservation and management, firearms safety, wildlife identification, game care, specialty hunting (muzzleloaders, handguns, archery), survival and first aid, water safety and hypothermia, and special concerns (tree stands, dogs, trapping etc.). The course is usually taught with the help of numerous aids including a manual that is packed with information.
The reason these courses are all so generally the same is that typically one state will accept another's hunters ed certification--, which leads to a homogeneous standard, coordinated through non-profits like the IHEA as well as state and federal agencies.
How to find a Course near you
Typically, each state conservation agency will list their courses offered throughout the year, with a spike seen in the weeks leading up to the first gun seasons each year. If you cannot find it online, call your local game warden and ask.
Currently there are several online courses approved by a number of states for 'correspondence' certification of hunter's education. Make no joke; these courses are every bit as intense as the upfront live courses offered by state certified instructors and are not something that you are going to be able to do in five minutes. You will have to work your way through dozens of quiz questions after multimedia segments on the same nine main topics as in live classes.
Be aware that these classes are sometimes harder than needed as they are a made to meet a blending of requirements from several different states. This is noted in the sections on wildlife identification especially where regional species not found in your local area are included in the quizzes. One course may spend much longer on land-navigation than the next, while another may spend extensive amounts of time on trapping and only mention land-nav in passing.
Nevertheless, for those who can't make the regular live classes, these internet courses are a welcome alternative.
Take special note that no matter which of the below classes you take, you still have to attend a regular live class for a short segment on firearms safety and testing with a certified instructor to get your card.
In the past ten years, the Families Afield model of cooperative effort pioneered by such groups as the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation has helped increase the number of new hunters. This is accomplished through apprentice hunting license programs that allow for first time hunters without a hunter's ed certificate to take to the field with an experienced licensed hunter to "try-before-you-buy"
Since 2005, no less than 35 adopting states have issued a staggering 1.4 million apprentice licenses to interested youth, many of which in turn became avid sportsmen.
No matter what your choice is, be sure to make a decision and take your training seriously, the life and sport you save may be your own.