February 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of hunter education in Missouri. Along with that anniversary, the Missouri Hunter Education Program is recognizing its 1,000,000th graduate, a milestone that few states have reached.
Since 1998 Missouri made hunter education a requirement for purchasing a firearms hunting permit, the hunting accident rate in Missouri has been reduced by almost 70 percent.
Training one million students is a huge task. So how did the Department of Conservation manage such a program? The answer is volunteers. Conservation agents and outdoor skills specialists have recruited and trained volunteer hunter education instructors for most of the 50-year history of hunter education in Missouri.
Volunteer instructors played an important role in conducting classes and recruiting students during the first 30 years. Classes were held in schools and in conjunction with Scouts, 4-H, and the Jaycees. There was no requirement to take hunter education in Missouri at that time, but several other states did require proof of the training to purchase a hunting permit. Missouri hunters traveled to other states to hunt, so hunter education became more of a priority. By the 1980s, Missouri was training 12,000 to 15,000 hunters annually.
Volunteer instructors donated their time and resources to help hunters of all ages complete the hunter education requirement. They believed in hunting and wanted to do their part to give others the opportunity to hunt, and to do so safely and responsibly.
The instructors came from all walks of life. They included teachers, factory workers, farmers, law enforcement officers and others, but no matter what their profession, they were all hunters with a passion for sharing this great outdoor activity with others. The hunter education program continues successfully today because that passion is still alive in our volunteer instructors.
In 1987, the Conservation Commission instituted a new regulation for 1988 that said hunters born on or after January 1, 1967, must successfully complete a hunter education course prior to purchasing any type of firearms hunting permit. The number of hunter education students trained in 1987 was more than 37,000. And in 1988, the first official year of the new hunter education regulation, more than 64,000 students took the course.
In 1990, Missouri’s hunter education program certified its 500,000th student. Ryan Laughlin, a young man from Grain Valley, was certified by instructor Jack Rose of Independence. Ryan stills lives and hunts in the Grain Valley area. In December 2006, the one-millionth student graduated from the program. Samuel D. Enright of Wildwood was certified by instructor Kevin Dixon of Union. It took 33 years to certify the first 500,000 hunter education students and just 16 years to certify the next 500,000. Both the program and its effectiveness have grown dramatically over the years.
So what will the next 50 years hold for the Missouri Hunter Education Program? Volunteer instructors will remain the heart of the program, and though the curriculum might change, the message will remain safety, responsibility and ethics. We might also see new methods of teaching, such as using the Internet for a portion of the course. Hopefully, the next 50 years will see advances in education, research and equipment that will help make hunting accidents a thing of the past, but there will still be a need for hunter education.
Training hunters has always been a process rather than a product. We should never assume we know all that we could. Every time we pick up a firearm and go afield, we learn something. Hunter education serves to provide a foundation or framework on which to build a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of enjoyment.
About 30,000 people attend more than 1000 hunter education courses annually in Missouri. To find a course near you, or for more information on hunter education, contact your local conservation office, (or visit the Missouri Department of Conservation Web site).
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