by Brian McCombie - Friday, June 1, 2018
Due to volunteers willing to share their time, experience and knowledge to encourage and educate new hunters, hunter education programs in the United States are thriving. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) recently recognized its volunteer instructors for their service to the agency’s hunter education program. “This fall, like every autumn, thousands of first-time hunters will safely hit the Montana landscape, all because someone volunteered the time to teach them properly. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' hunter education program annually graduates about 7,500 students who are taught by close to 1,200 volunteer instructors,” stated a recent FWP press release.
In Montana, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1985, must take hunter education before going afield. Bowhunter education is required for all first-time bowhunters no matter their age, and approximately 500 volunteer instructors teach 3,000 students each year.
In Illinois, avid hunter Bruce Smith was a recipient of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (INDR) 2017 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year award. Smith became a certified Illinois Hunter Education Instructor in 1990 and a “Master Instructor” for his instructional team in 2012. “Smith has taught or participated in 41 classes, certifying 4,650 students in both the Traditional and Field Day hunter education courses. Smith is actively involved in recruiting and training qualified individuals as new instructors,” the INDR press release noted. “The DNR relies heavily on dedicated volunteers like Bruce Smith who carry the message of safety and ethics to the citizens of Illinois.”
According to Executive Director of the International Hunter Education Association-USA (IHEA-USA) Brad Heidel, there are currently more than 55,000 current Volunteer Hunter Education Instructors in the United States and Canada. “IHEA-USA is one of the largest volunteer corporations in the United States. These volunteer instructors are the backbone of hunter education programs in North America,” said Heidel.
Volunteers also play a key role in helping the National Rifle Association (NRA) offer its numerous services, programs and events to safeguard the Second Amendment and benefit American hunters, shooters, hunting and wildlife conservation. For example, hundreds of NRA volunteers assist with the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program. Established in 1988 by former NRA President Marion P. Hammer, the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program brings this vital message to thousands of school-aged children every year: “If you see a gun: STOP! Don’t Touch. Run Away. Tell a Grown-Up.”
“Volunteers for the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program come from diverse backgrounds but share a commitment to keeping children safe,” said Eddie Eagle GunSafe program National Manager Eric Lipp. Those involved include NRA members, teachers, law enforcement officers and community activists who teach the program, as well as private donors and Friends of NRA volunteers who raise funds to help pay for the program's educational materials. “Volunteers make most, if not all, events possible. Whether doing it on their own or working with local law enforcement, volunteers are essential to the Eddie Eagle program,” said Lipp.
Approximately 3,600 volunteers assist with various programs within the NRA’s Recreational Programs & Ranges Division. For example, volunteers work at various levels of the NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC), which is considered the “graduate school” course in hunter education. These volunteers do anything from working local and/or state YHEC events to acting as volunteer statisticians for the annual National YHEC Championship.
“NRA volunteers are the life blood of all our programs” said Robert L. Davis, Jr., National Manager for the NRA’s Recreational Programs & Ranges Division. “NRA staff alone could not operate all of our programs without its many committed and dedicated NRA volunteers.”
Feeling inspired? Learn more about the NRA’s many volunteer opportunities by clicking here. For more information on becoming a Volunteer Hunter Education Instructor, visit ihea-usa.org. And last but not least, be sure to check out NRA Hunter Services’ new free online hunter education course, designed to be the most comprehensive online hunter education instruction in the United States. Thanks, NRA, for working to make it easier for new hunters to join us afield.
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