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Survival sense If you've got hunting, you must have hunter education

By  Steve Vantreese

There was a time when hunters and shooters weren't mandated to undergo safety training, but many got it anyway.

Fathers, grandfathers and such hammered common sense safety practices into the hard heads of juveniles bent on sporting pursuits. Hunting and shooting came natural to more families decades ago when more of our environment was rural. And indoctrination into responsible behavior with firearms was part of the package.

Maybe we were set loose on our own a bit early, but it worked â “ perhaps only because of the prerequisite stressing of safety do's and don'ts.

I can remember when one of the golden rules was tested. During an encampment of young urchins, we were sprawled around the tents and campfire on what we knew as Blackbird Hill. I don't recall exactly, but I think the activity of the moment was pass shooting at migrating blackbirds.* Shotguns were among us.

Maybe it was between shots at passing fliers, but one waif was standing, examining another's Winchester Model 12 pump gun. Another kid was seated on the ground before him.

Particular to that model of firearm, if you should happen to hold the trigger down and work the slide, the firing pin finds the primer as soon as a live round slaps into the chamber. Apparently that's what happened as the green Model 12 inspector worked the action and tromboned a 12 gauge shell into the launching pad.

The surprise discharge sprinkled the ground-seated youth with dirt and sod particles. The blast tore into the earth uncomfortably close to the onlooker's feet â “ but with the prevailing commandment of "never point a gun in a direction it's not safe to shoot" intact, there was no harm, no foul.

Well, no harm at least. Indeed, style points were deducted from the perpetrator for shooting a hole in the earth near a living human, but all parties survived and probably sensed more closely from then on what the consequences of a lethally misdirected shotgun muzzle could have been.

Recognizing that tutelage into the ranks of safe, responsible hunters is not a given nowadays â “ and probably never was â “ Kentucky long ago now established hunter education requirements. Those are, any hunter at least 12 years old who was born on or after Jan. 1 of 1975 must have and carry into the field proof (certification) of having successfully completed a hunter education course.

The course is free, provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and other sponsors around the state. It's about a 10-hour course typically offered in three class meetings and concluded with a live-firing, shooting range experience.

Hunter education teaches several practical elements of the sporting pursuits, but the center of the study is how to do it without creating dangers to yourself and others.

It's highly recommended even for those who aren't required to take it and, at least in their minds, don't need it. Many veteran hunters have benefitted by taking the course in conjunction with a child or grandchild as the youngster fulfilled his or her hunter ed requirements.

Wildlife managers quote statistics that suggest hunters per capita are safer than ever today, presumably because the percentage of hunters who have taken the formal hunter education class keeps getting higher. Older hunters â “ those "grandfathered" in, born before the start of 1975, and therefore not required to have hunter ed certification â “ are a diminishing segment. And as the safety-certified hunter segment increases, the rate of accidents drops.

Statistics show that hunting is a rather safe endeavor anyway, far less injurious to participants than many pursuits. But hunter education is working to reduce accidents farther because any is too many.

As stated, hunter education certification is not needed for a kid younger than 12. However, for a youngster under 12 to hunt, he must be accompanied by an adult who does meet hunter education requirements.

There is one more alternative for the person who is required to have hunter education certification but beats around the bush and doesn't get the course and range day under his belt before time to go hunting. It's a one-time hunter education exemption permit.

For $5, a hunter can get a permit that's good for a single hunting year, one that excuses him or her from that certification requirement. The kicker is, to hunt, that person must be accompanied closely in the field by another adult who meets hunter certification requirements. And after that hunting year, no more exemptions are allowed.

It's still not unthinkable for someone to not have computer connection to all this information and process via the Internet nowadays. Folks who don't still can check on hunter education pursuits through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources by phoning 1-800-858-1549 during office hours (Eastern Central Time).

*Footnote: This is not an endorsement of shooting blackbirds, technically a violation because several species are protected. In those times, however, entire communities were at virtual war with sky-darkening flocks of blackbirds. I would hope such activities therefore might be excused. And besides, the statute of limitations should have long expired.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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