By Tony Young
With the dog-days of summer fully upon us, it’s hard to think about hunting quite yet. But if you’re between the ages of 16 and 34, and haven’t completed the state’s hunter safety course requirement, now’s just the time to be thinking about it. If you’ve been putting off taking a hunter safety class, August is the best time to sign up for one in your area.
Many of these classes, offered statewide, fill up fast during hunting season while people scramble to get certified. Often, August and the preceding summer months offer smaller class sizes and make for a better opportunity for students to take a class while they have more free time before school gets cranked up, and they get busy with homework and school-related activities.
Everyone born after May 31, 1975, must complete the FWC’s hunter safety class before they can buy a Florida hunting license.
There is an exception though. A law approved a few years ago by the Florida Legislature allows individuals who fall into that category to hunt under the supervision of a licensed hunter, at least 21 years old, without having to complete the state’s hunter safety certification.
It’s called the “Hunter Safety Deferral,” and it enables those persons to purchase a Florida hunting license and hunt for a one-year trial basis. It’s designed to encourage experienced hunters to teach novice hunters safety, ethics, wildlife, hunting skills and respect for the great outdoors.
It’s a great incentive for getting more people to try hunting, and hopefully, we can hook some new folks on the sport we love. Those taking advantage of this would have to take and pass a hunter safety class to be eligible to purchase a hunting license and hunt the following year, though.
If you’re a youngster and already a hunting fanatic, I suggest you go ahead and take a hunter safety class before you turn 16. Of course, until then, you may hunt under adult supervision without having to take the class or buy a license.
Even if you were born before 1975 and are exempt from having to take the class, it’s still a good idea, because you’ll learn so much, and beginning hunters are strongly encouraged to do so. Even the most experienced hunter will learn something new, which will help him or her become an even better hunter and – a safer one.
Also, if you’re new to our state, these classes will make you aware of Florida’s hunting laws. Or, if you just relocated from another town, the classes are a great way to meet other hunters like yourself. You can make some new hunting buddies or maybe even get a line on a great hunt club that’s looking for new members.
You can register for a hunter safety class by going to MyFWC.com/huntersafety or by contacting your nearest FWC regional office. Also, there are two versions of the course for your convenience.
There’s the traditional course, which is 12 hours of classroom instruction plus a four-hour “field day,” or if you’d rather get most of the classroom stuff out of the way from the convenience of your own home, you can opt for taking the online or CD-ROM version. But, you’ll still have to sign up for the “skills day” part of the course, which includes time at the shooting range.
The traditional course is offered during four weekdays or on a Saturday/Sunday. If you take it during the week, each session is three hours and offered after normal working hours. On the weekend, you’ll spend eight hours Saturday and four hours Sunday morning in the classroom. The remainder of Sunday you’ll move over to the shooting range to complete your certification.
During the traditional hunter safety class, each segment is roughly 50 minutes long followed by a 10-minute break. The first thing you’ll learn about is Florida’s many hunting laws and regulations. One of the FWC’s law enforcement officers gives this introduction. Volunteer hunter safety instructors teach the remaining curriculum.
And speaking of that, if any of you reading this are older than 18 and would like to give something back to the sport of hunting – you might consider becoming a certified volunteer hunter safety instructor in your community. The FWC’s always in need of people who possess good hunting and gun safety knowledge. If you’re interested in learning more about this great teaching opportunity, click on MyFWC.com/huntersafety or call 850-413-0084 to find out how to get involved.
One segment of the program teaches ethics and hunter responsibility. You’ll also learn the parts of a firearm, various gun and hunting lingo and the proper way to shoot a firearm. This is the longest section of the program, and you’ll spend approximately two hours going over all that.
You’ll learn the differences between all the various bullets, calibers and gauges and how to identify different animal species. You’ll also hear about wildlife conservation and discover best management practices for native game species.
In addition, you’ll find out about outdoor survival techniques and learn how to administer first aid in the field. You’ll gain knowledge of the parts of, and how to shoot, a muzzleloading gun.
Furthermore, you’ll be taught archery and the fundamentals of how to bowhunt.
In your last hour in the classroom, you’ll be given a standardized test of true and false and multiple choice questions. All you need to do is score 80 percent or better, and then you get to move outside to the shooting range for the last part of the hunter safety certification – the field day portion.
This part takes about four hours, and during that time, you’ll get to shoot clay pigeons with a shotgun, practice your archery skills by shooting a bow and you’ll get to target practice with a .22 rifle. You’ll also receive a muzzleloader demonstration, where you’ll have the chance to shoot one if you’d like. All guns, bows, targets and ammo are provided – all you have to do is take aim!
After you complete the field day, you’ll be given your hunter safety card to take home with you. At that point you can purchase your very first Florida hunting license and be ready for opening day.
If you choose instead to take your hunter safety class online or with the CD-ROM, you’ll learn all of the material that’s taught in the traditional classroom setting, and you’ll be given a practice test, which will go over what you’ve learned and prepare you for the last segment of the requirement – the skills day.
Skill days take about five hours to complete, which includes time on the shooting range.
During skills day, you’ll learn hunting laws and ethics from an FWC law enforcement officer and then the class will break into smaller groups and a volunteer hunter safety instructor will teach you how to handle firearms safely and how to load and unload different types of firearms with the proper ammunition. You’ll be taught how and when to take the right shot, and learn certain situations when you shouldn’t take a shot. You’ll gain knowledge of shot placement and find out where a game animal’s vital organs are so you’ll have a better chance of making a humane kill.
After that, you’ll get to target shoot with .22 rifles and maybe even a bow or muzzleloader. Then, you’ll be given the same standardized test, and it will be graded as soon as you turn it in to the instructor. If you score 80 percent or better, you’ll be given your hunter safety card right then and there.
Just a couple things for parents to remember – If your child is younger than 18 years old, you must fill out our parent release form and present it to the instructor at all courses. This will enable your child to participate in the live shooting exercises. Also, if your child is younger than 16, you’re required to accompany him or her to all classes.
Register today to take a hunter safety class ’cause the 2009-2010 hunting season is just around the corner. Remember – safe hunting is NO accident!
The upcoming classes for Walton County are held in the DeFuniak Springs. The upcoming dates are Sept. 11-13, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, and Dec. 4-6. To register, Click here
Tony Young is the Media Relations Coordinator for the Division of Hunting and Game Management,
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and can be reached with questions about Florida’s hunter safety requirement or the Hunter Safety Deferral at Tony.Young@ MyFWC.com.