The Gift That Keeps Giving: NRA’s Hunter Education Course Generates $173,911 for Tennessee Conservation Efforts

The Gift That Keeps Giving: NRA’s Hunter Education Course Generates $173,911 for Tennessee Conservation Efforts

Above—showing off the big bucks! From left: Angie Box, Chairman of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, Peter Churchbourne, Director of the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum, Jenifer Wisniewski, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Director of Marketing and Special Projects, and Jason Maxedon, TWRA Executive Director, show off the in-kind matching funds Tennessee may claim in federal aid for its conservation programs thanks to NRA Free Hunter Education Online.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) recently presented a ceremonial check for $173,911 to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), thanks to Tennessee residents’ use of the NRA’s award-winning Free Online Hunter Education Course. The check amount represents the additional funds TWRA is receiving in federal aid for its conservation programs now that state agencies are permitted to claim a dollar value of the NRA’s free Online Hunter Education Course as in-kind match dollars to access federal Pittman-Robertson grant funds.

“We are so grateful for the partnership with the NRA to provide completely online and free hunter education for all Tennesseans,” said Jenifer Wisniewski, TWRA Director of Marketing and Special Projects, during the check presentation at a TWRA meeting on Sept. 16. “This course is truly cutting-edge and the best course out there for someone looking to get their hunter education online. We are also grateful for the funding that the agency receives as a result of our residents taking this course.”

“We are pleased that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency adopted our free alternative for hunter education and that it capitalized on the opportunity to use the match to receive Pittman-Robertson funds,” said Peter Churchbourne, Director of the NRA’s Hunters’ Leadership Forum, while presenting the check. “It is good to see all the hard work come full circle to benefit the state’s agency and residents statewide.”

So, by offering resident hunters the option of using the free NRA Hunter Education Course, each time a hunter completes it, the TWRA can claim the course’s dollar value to apply for P-R funds. At the same time, the TWRA recognizes that the NRA course offers a fresh and fully comprehensive approach to hunter education. The 15-chapter, online sequence features attention-grabbing videos, eye-catching graphics and diagrams, interactive modules, audio recordings and dozens of action photos—all of this content presented in appealing, and easy-to-access components that provide the best method for teaching future hunters lessons they will remember for the rest of their lives.

As the organization that spearheaded America’s first hunter safety course in 1949, it was a natural step for the NRA to offer this free online hunter education opportunity. The course had its origins in 2015 when, in the face of declining hunter numbers, NRA Hunter Services began assessing the hunter education landscape. It discovered that most hunter ed programs were not terribly engaging, were available on limited dates and, for many hunters, were quite costly.

For example, a hunter who missed a free state-run course offered by volunteer hunter instructors then had to pay for courses offered by for-profit businesses costing up to $29.99. This reality often posed a barrier to hunter recruitment for families introducing multiple children to hunting. The solution: Develop an NRA online course, offer it free and tailor it to meet every state’s specific requirements so it could be adopted in all 50 states.

In 2017, the NRA rolled out its online course in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, making it free to all users. It was a huge plus for hunters and conservation, but to make the course even more valuable to state agencies, the NRA recognized that the next step was for it to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to consider use of the course as an in-kind, third-party contribution. The USFWS approved this “in-kind” designation for the NRA Hunter Education Course in 2019 so a state’s game agency could claim matching federal conservation funds based on what the course would have cost had it been offered by a for-profit company.

“Thanks to the USFWS policy, state agencies now benefit from the course by accruing match dollars while American hunters, and their families, can enjoy the best online hunter education free,” added Churchbourne, who played a role in getting the USFWS to embrace the NRA course.

He continued, “Current for-profit online courses offered by the state through third-party vendors do not qualify for even one in-kind match dollar because hunters are charged for the course. But the NRA course is free so each time a hunter completes it, the course’s value can be used by the state agency to apply for their Pittman-Robertson (P-R) funds. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

As covered on this website, the much-celebrated P-R Act, also called the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, established a funding mechanism for wildlife conservation, habitat enhancement and related activities by imposing an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. Later, a similar tax was placed on archery equipment and handguns. The P-R Act was prompted by the knowledge that populations of many wildlife species, particularly game species, had declined due to poor or no management.

Years later, P-R funds continue to be collected by the USFWS and are then appropriated to state fish and wildlife agencies based on a state’s size and number of license holders. The P-R Act stipulates that the funds can be used only by a given state’s wildlife agency specifically for wildlife conservation and hunting management.

Currently, Florida and Oklahoma are the big winners in using the NRA’s free online Hunter Education Course when it comes to using the “in-kind” designation to collect P-R funds. In 2020, these two states generated a combined total of $151,880 in P-R funds through resident hunters’ use of the course. For another example, Oklahoma made news again in 2022 when it received $122,720 through use of the NRA course.

The NRA’s check for $173,000 to TWRA also counts towards matching federal contributions. These NRA funds can be used to apply for P-R grants that would result in the state receiving more than $521,000 in federal matching funds to support hunting, conservation and shooting programs in Tennessee.

To take the free NRA Online Hunter Education online course or learn more, click here.

About the Author contributor Brian McCombie is a field editor for the NRA’s American Hunter and writes about firearms and gear for the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats, Peanut Morgan and MikaBear.