By Tony Young
Media Relations Coordinator
Division of Hunting and Game Management
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The National Safety Council reports a 17 percent decrease in accidents involving firearms from 2014 to 2015. This decline in unintentional firearms-related fatalities is the lowest since record-keeping began in 1903. And this decrease came in a year that saw record-high firearms sales to millions of Americans.
“This latest data shows that the vast majority of the 100 million American firearms owners takes firearm safety seriously,” said National Shooting Sports Foundation President and CEO Steve Sanetti. “More people are storing their firearms safely and securely when not in use, and following the basic rules of firearms safety when handling them.”
Safety education programs such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Junior Hunter Safety Program and Hunter Safety Program are a large part of the reason for this downward trend in firearms accidents.
“FWC’s Junior Hunter Safety Program is one of the best resources for firearms safety, outdoor ethics and conservation that is available to educators and parents,” said Bill Cline, FWC’s section leader for hunter safety and public shooting ranges.
This program provides a series of three free courses for grades K-5. Each of the courses has a printable student book and instructor’s manual that can be downloaded for free at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety.
If you’re over 12 years old and haven’t completed the state’s hunter safety course requirement, now’s a good time to sign up. Many of these classes, offered statewide, fill up fast during hunting season as people scramble to get certified, so summer is the best time to take a class.
People born after May 31, 1975, must complete the FWC’s hunter safety class before they can buy the type of hunting license that allows them to legally hunt alone. A law passed a few years ago by the Florida Legislature enables individuals to hunt without having to complete the state’s hunter safety certification, but they may only hunt while supervised. It’s called the mentoring license, and it allows people the opportunity to purchase a license to hunt while under the supervision of a licensed hunter who is at least 21 years old and meets the hunter safety requirement.
It’s designed to encourage experienced hunters to teach novice hunters safety, ethics, conservation, wildlife and hunting skills, and respect for the great outdoors. Mentoring is a valuable and much-needed component to the future of hunting and conservation. The mentoring license helps provide a great incentive for getting more people to try hunting. However, to hunt by yourself unsupervised, you still have to take and pass a hunter safety class, and purchase a regular hunting license.
If you’re a youngster and already into hunting, I suggest you go ahead and take a hunter safety class before you turn 16. And you can purchase your very first hunting license that’s good until your 17th birthday.
Even if you were born before June 1, 1975, and are exempt from having to take the class, it’s still a good idea because you’ll learn so much. The FWC encourages beginning hunters to do so. Even the most experienced hunters will learn something new, which will help them become even better hunters or mentors – and safer ones.
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. 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, for your convenience, there are two ways to take the course.
Two Course Options
There’s the traditional course, which is six hours of classroom instruction plus a six-hour skills day. If you’d prefer to complete the classroom portion from the convenience of your own home, you can opt for taking the online course. But you’ll still have to sign up for the skills-day part of the course, which includes time at a shooting range.
The traditional course is offered during two weeknights 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 six hours Saturday in the classroom and six hours Sunday morning for the Skills Day.
During the skills day, each segment is roughly 50 minutes long, followed by a 10-minute break. The first thing you’ll learn about is Florida’s hunting laws/regulations. An FWC law enforcement officer gives this introduction. Volunteer hunter safety instructors teach the remaining curriculum.
The longest segment of the program covers ethics, parts of a firearm, bowhunting, the proper way to shoot, all the various bullets, calibers and gauges, how to identify animal species, wildlife conservation, outdoor survival techniques and first aid in the field.
If you choose instead to take your hunter safety class online, 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.
Skills day takes about five hours to complete, which includes time on the shooting range and serves as the completion for the traditional course and the online class.
During skills days, you get hands-on training and must demonstrate proper firearm and tree-stand safety, taking only an ethical shot, loading and unloading a firearm, and shooting rifles, shotguns and bows from various positions. All guns, bows, targets and ammo are provided – all you have to do is take aim!
In your last hour of the skills day, you’ll be given a standardized test of true-or-false and multiple-choice questions. You need to score 80 percent or better, and then you’ve completed the course.
The Last Steps
After you pass the test, you’ll be given your hunter safety card. At that point, you can purchase your very first Florida hunting license and be ready for opening day.
Just a couple of things for parents to remember: The course is designed for youth ages 12 to 16. If your child is younger than 18 years old, you must fill out our parental 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 are required to accompany him or her to all classes.
Register to take a hunter safety class today, ’cause the 2017-18 hunting season will be here before we know it, and you or a loved one doesn’t need to become a bad statistic. Remember, safe hunting is NO accident!