New Hunter Education Legislative Proposals Being Considered

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For several years, wildlife agencies throughout the U.S. have noted that the average age of hunters is rising and that fewer younger people are taking hunter education classes and joining the ranks of hunters. Although Kansas is more rural than many states, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has noted this trend here, as well. A number of factors drive this trend ‹ some speculative and some based on studies by various organizations and agencies.

Today's young people have more things to occupy their time than in the past: organized sports at ever younger ages, virtual sports on computers, and various other activities that offer instant gratification and almost instant entrance into the activity. These all compete for the young person's attention. As a result, a hunter education course has come to be viewed as a barrier to young people who might otherwise give hunting a try.

"The problem is that kids are required to invest 10-14 hours in a hunter education class before they can even try hunting to see if they like it," says Wayne Doyle, KDWP's statewide hunter education coordinator. "Many youngsters and their parents are not willing or able to do that." In an effort to remove this barrier the KDWP will be asking the Kansas Legislature for a change to the hunter education law. This change would remove a potential barrier to young people who want to try hunting. All changes would be effective Jan. 1, 2005.

Specifically, this proposal would create a minimum age of 12 for someone to hunt by themselves. Currently, anyone who has passed a hunter education course can hunt most game species by themselves, regardless of their age. The law would further state that the minimum age to be certified in hunter education will be 12 years old. No one under age 12 would be certified for any reason. A person under 12 could still take the course but would not receive a hunter education certificate.

If passed, the new law would allow anyone under age 12 to hunt without taking a hunter education course, as long as they were under the direct supervision of a licensed adult, effectively removing the barrier that keeps many youngsters from going afield.

For hunters 12 years or older, the requirement that anyone born on or after July 1, 1957, must have a certified hunter education course in order to hunt would not change. All certificates issued prior to the effective date of the law would be valid regardless of the age of the holder, but those younger than 12 would be required to hunt under the direct supervision of a licensed adult, even if they have already taken a certified course.

The second change in hunter education requirements that KDWP is pursuing would allow "crash courses," primarily for adult nonresidents who are not required to have hunter education in their own state. Currently, the law requires a 10-hour course for anyone born on or after July 1, 1957, regardless of their home state's requirement. In this case, KDWP will be asking the Legislature for authority to offer a shorter course and to charge a fee for that course, as well.

"What is envisioned is a course where the hunter takes the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) internet course at home," Doyle explains. "They would then bring the section tests to a three-hour class. The class would first test students on the IHEA course to make sure they took it. There would then be instruction in ethics, safety, and Kansas laws and regulations, as well as a gun-handling test."

If successful, the hunter would be issued a "crash-course certificate" valid only in Kansas and only until the end of the current upland bird season. A limited number of crash courses would be offered, and their dates and locations would be listed on the KDWP website by the middle of August. Those would be the only dates and locations. For those interested in this effort, KDWP will begin posting online legislative updates beginning in late January at www.kdwp.state.ks.us.