Letter to the Editor: Utah’s hunter education is being dumbed down

OPINION — To the people of Utah, particularly those who enjoy the outdoors,

For 14 years, my wife and I were Utah Hunter Education Instructors. We taught urban professional adults from Salt Lake and farm/ranch kids from places without names. This is a voluntary thing. We did it because we enjoyed doing it and we thought it was important.

We taught Hunter Education in the standard Classroom or “instructor led” version, the “Internet” version, and I also taught the Furharvester course.

First, let me acknowledge that many HE students learn nothing in the class. Their families have been active hunters and outdoor people since the dawn of time, and they were brought up around all things related to the outdoors. On the other hand, some people are brought up in urban or suburban settings in families that left the ancient traditions behind generations ago, and literally, it is all new to them. They don’t think about weather, fire dangers, what’s beyond the hill, equipment failure, or other things that don’t normally happen in urban areas, but that are very common in the outdoors, away from cell phone service and paved roads.

Let me also state that in my opinion, Hunter Education is less about the safety and well being of the individual taking the course than it is about the safety and well being of those around them and the environment itself. Much of the class has always been about being responsible in the outdoors; “Tread lightly,” “ leave nothing but footprints” and “don’t be a slob” have been a big part for as long as I can remember.

The classroom version used to be two nights a week for three weeks. The internet version could be done partially online, taking six hours or thereabouts, then being completed during a “Field Day” taking seven-eight hours, and could be done without  the “two nights a week for three weeks” commitment. The actual class wasn’t much different. The main difference was mostly that the knowledge development was done online, or in a classroom. Some people do better with a hands-on type course done in one day or over two evenings.

Taking either class ensured that the students learned things that would have prevented them from doing what I read about this morning about some folks taking a hike in the evening and requiring rescue. That’s what happens when folks aren’t taught anything about the outdoors.

In “our” classes, we also always covered what happens when you ride your all-terrain vehicle 14 miles back into the hills, then have it go the way of all things made by the hand of man. (That’s in case any of my former students are reading this.) There are people that don’t even consider planning on a night in the cold dark woods or hot dry desert or how to prevent it.  In reality, the course was never a pass/fail thing, it was exposing the students and involving them in the things they needed to know.

Both classes covered hunter responsibility, wildlife management, ethics, basic firearm and ammunition knowledge, gun safety, game care, some very basic information about archery and muzzle loader hunting, a little more ethics, basic outdoor survival (mostly how to stay out of trouble and a little bit of what do do if you’re beyond that), very basic boat and water safety, some basic information about hunting specific game,  ATVs, a bit more safety, some more ethics, a very little bit about trapping followed by a range session at which the students demonstrated safe firearm handling and very basic marksmanship ability. There were some very well-produced, thought provoking videos as a required part of the course.

Now, the courses that took over  50 years to develop and refine and delivered amazing results have been slashed back. The time necessary has been cut in half or more. The courses have been seriously watered down.

They have lowered the “suggested” classroom time to two-three hours for the internet-based class and six-eight hours for the instructor-led classroom version. Actually, there is no minimum for either. Even the videos in the classroom version are only “optional support media.” Question and answer time and general discussion of the issues involved are now not a part of the courses. There would not be time to go over the list of “accidents” and how they happened, there is no time for some of the less formal things a real,experienced person brings to the effort, outside of the book. There is a place for “how and why.” Now they will get,  “teach to the test” and get them out the door. There’s not much time for teaching some things that aren’t in the book, but should still be known.

So, in a nutshell, here’s the new Hunter Education requirement:

Take an online course, then get, maybe, three hours of class time. The three hours of class time includes greetings, registration, a possible 30-minute talk on regulations and ethics by a conservation officer, walking through some scenarios with mock-up firearms, a session (45-60 minutes) on the range, possibly with just a BB gun or a bow, without  needing to achieve any score and taking a written, multiple choice test and the correcting of that test.

The old Hunter Education course was developed over 53 years and has proven to be very effective. Now, with considerably more people in the outdoors at all times of the year, this is no time to dumb it down.

It is my belief that the changes that have been made serve the financial and political interests of the of the Division of Wildlife Resources hierarchy and staff much more than they serve the interests of the Hunter Education students and the public in general.

It seems I have been released as an instructor for being outspoken on this matter. In my opinion, the manner in which it was done and the reason stated were less than entirely honorable. I have never been one to listen to people that tell me to shut up about things I consider important. I will be glad to share the emails pertaining to their actions, and to discuss this matter with any interested party.

Dissent is never tolerated. We’re sure they will never let us teach Hunter Ed again, but we had a good time, met some amazing people, made some good friends and we hope our students would say that we made it interesting and informative.

Y’all be careful out there.

Submitted by Ted Recupero of Kanosh, Utah.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

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  • Brian August 16, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for your service.

    I think a lot of this boils down to this thinking: “We can make it hard and charge a $30 fee and have 1,000 people a year do it, or we can make it easy and charge a $30 fee and have 5,000 people a year do it”. Revenue speaks louder than citizens, especially when most citizens won’t speak up until their internet goes down or their EBT card doesn’t go through at Walmart.

    It’s very clear that revenue is king when it comes to all hunting and fishing decision-making.

    I took a big group of Scouts through hunter education a few years ago and the curriculum was very beneficial, and the time involved was reasonable considering the material that needed to be covered. We’re pretty rural, but a lot of these kids still had very little experience with hunting, guns, or the outdoors.

  • RealMcCoy August 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Of course it’s being dumbed down. EVERYTHING is being dumbed down- look at the way high schools push kids through to graduate now. 59% is now only a “D-” and a ‘passing grade’, but in my day 69% was a solid “F” and you actually failed the class.
    Just realize the long term effects of a dumbed-down Hunters Ed class:
    Less training means more accidents, and more accidents makes it easier for government to come in and regulate guns for “our safety”.

  • Henry August 16, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    What an informative yet troubling article. The state shouldn’t issue anyone a license to operate a machine (whether a weapon, automobile, or airplane) unless they can demonstrate a basic level of proficiency.

    I was very surprised to learn that Utah doesn’t require Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) applicants to both fire their weapon and attain a basic level of marksmanship before obtaining their license either. Probably even more of these CCW applicants lack prior weapons experience than the hunting license applicants. As the author said, “Y’all be careful out there.”

    • RealMcCoy August 17, 2016 at 11:41 am

      I’ll agree to that when they require a license to procreate or have more than 2 kids.

      • Henry August 17, 2016 at 1:12 pm

        I didn’t clarify well enough in my comment. As anyone that has followed my comments on previous articles knows, I believe most gun control laws are unenforceable. I don’t support requiring any sort of licensing prior to purchasing a weapon.

        CCW is a different matter, because it requires a higher standard for people to obtain it. A CCW application requires a personal background check; there are wide variety of disqualifiers – criminal record, mental illness, drug abuse, etc. CCW also requires completion of training about firearms laws and operation (similar to what the author said about hunter certification). I believe that to obtain a CCW, as well as a hunting license, a,person should be required to demonstrate a hands-on ability to fire their weapon and obtain a basic level of marksmanship proficiency.

        I obtained my CCW from another state before moving here. That state had the hands-on requirement. In the CCW class that I attended, there were 3 people that failed the hands-on portion. These 3 obviously needed a lot more range time before they could safely operate a weapon, let alone be trusted to quickly deploy that weapon to defend themselves if the need ever arose.

        • RealMcCoy August 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm

          I agree with this. I just read it wrong before.

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