PGC’s online hunter safety course is a misfire


They say desperate times call for desperate measures — let’s just hope the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s most recent desperate move doesn’t backfire in catastrophic fashion.

I see the reasoning behind the agency’s decision to offer a completely online hunter safety course. License sales continue to dwindle and young people hold the key to hunting’s future. Families are increasingly busy — pin-balling their way through youth sports events, social activities and a plethora of other extracurricular obligations.

The state requires all prospective hunters to take and successfully pass a hunter safety course provided under the direction of the game commission before they can obtain a hunting license. And safety courses have proven extremely efficient in passing along the fundamentals of hunting ethics, gun safety and overall outdoors etiquette. In fact, since the state started requiring the course, hunting related accidents took a massive statistical nosedive. Hunting today is one of the safest youth-related activities — safer statistically than playing youth sports.

Part of that success was giving our young people some face-to-face time with the experienced, well-trained and ethically driven hunting veterans who doubled as instructors at the courses. The bar was set high. The message that you could be a safe, ethical hunter and still enjoy all aspects of the sport definitely seemed to ring true. The sessions offered hands-on instruction in everything from gun safety to general outdoor skills and first aid.

I’ve been told that the hunter safety courses today aren’t as hands-on as they used to be. In many cases, the participants allegedly don’t get to handle a firearm personally — but there is still an element of in-person training that no online course could ever replicate.

In an age where guns are increasingly taboo and gun safety opportunities are few and far between — we need our hunter safety courses to set the example.

To educate our young people where schools and other public groups fail.

If a young person is too busy to carve out a couple days for in-person hunter safety instruction — than perhaps he/she is too busy to get involved in hunting in the first place. What if teenagers become “too busy” to make time for something like PennDOT’s in-person drivers exam?

Are we going to make that a completely online option some day? Maybe just have the candidate successfully make it through the first level or two of Grand Theft Auto before we print out a drivers license?

Another concern with an online hunter safety course completed at the candidate’s leisure at home: Who’s to say that mom, dad or some other interested party isn’t coaching in a few answers for the tests required to successfully pass the course?

Again, I see the point in making it as easy and convenient as possible for young people to get involved in hunting — but there comes a point where those compromises go too far. The consequences of crossing that line could be very dangerous.

“I am a certified instructor under the game commission. The class used to be much longer than it is currently. They cut a number of hours out of it and much is passed over,” said Lawni Zimmerman, a certified instructor under the game commission. “Now the idea of just an internet course without the nuances of interaction with instructors who pass on their insights and experiences and tips frankly makes me uneasy. Parents contribute, yes, but a structured interactive experience is important. Somebody will be injured and who will be the responsible party for teaching him/her? Glad I’m not signing any of those cards.”

~ by zaktansky on March 4, 2015.

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