New Mexico Hunters Ed Program Certifies 1402

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New Mexico's Hunter Education Program certified 1,402 students in March as young hunters scrambled to become eligible for the April 8 application deadline for 2009-2010 big-game hunting licenses and permits.

Since Jan. 1, more than 2,200 students have successfully completed the course, which is taught mostly by volunteer instructors trained by Department staff. Instructors have spent more than 8,800 hours teaching hunter education this year, including almost 5,600 hours in March alone.

By law, anyone younger than 18 must have passed an approved hunter education course to hunt with a firearm in New Mexico. Free classes are offered statewide to students of all ages. The standard course is 16 hours, usually taught over a weekend. Shorter, "alternative delivery" courses also are offered, and an online course is in the works.

The mandatory hunter education law has had a tremendous impact on numbers of hunting-related accidents and fatalities since it took effect in 1976. In 1975, the Department reported 27 non-fatal and 6 fatal hunting-related accidents. Those numbers fell to 15 accidents and no fatalities the following year. In 2007 there were no accidents, and in 2008 there were two accidents, one of them a fatality.

"This is a great accomplishment for the 600 instructors who volunteer their time to make hunting a safe sport," said Mark Birkhauser, hunter education coordinator for the Department. "Because of hunter education programs across the country, hunting is safer than swimming, boating and even golf, according to the National Safety Council."

The Department certifies about 3,500 students a year, the majority of them ages 11-14. Many adults sign up for the classes, usually to qualify for hunter education requirements in other states, but often to hone their safety skills while accompanying their sons and daughters. Special bow hunter education courses also are offered.

To find a hunter education class in your area, please visit the Department Web site, www.wildlife.state.nm.us and click on the Education tab, or call (505) 222-4731.

The Department always welcomes more hunter education instructors. Instructors must complete a current hunter education course and an orientation workshop. For more information about becoming an instructor, please call (505) 222-4722.