Taking an online hunter education course
by Jeff Barnard, an AP environmental reporter in SW Oregon for 30+ years (now retired) who is learning to hunt
I just completed one of the online hunter safety courses offered on the ODFW website. They are not required for adults, but as someone with no hunting experience, I thought it a good idea to take it. Many of the authors of books on starting to hunt as an adult took a course also, though the ones I have read took the in-person class. And I am glad I did. I think I will review the course periodically to keep the lessons of safe firearms handling and hunting fresh in my mind.
If there is one lesson the course drills into you, it is how to handle your firearm safely. That would include always pointing the muzzle away from other people, keeping the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire, unloading your firearm when covering rough ground or crossing a fence; unloading it, leaving the action open and putting it in a case whenever driving, and being sure of your target, including what is in front of and behind your target. That includes not taking a shot at a target on a ridgeline with no idea what is behind.
Taking the course online is a lot more convenient than taking the in-person course. You don’t have to drive anywhere, or feel embarrassed at taking a course with a bunch of kids under the age of 18.
While young hunters who take an online course are also required to take an in-person field day when they practice shooting and crossing obstacles, adults are not — though it is recommended. Certainly you need to get some actual practice handing and shooting your firearm before going hunting.
The course I took, www.Huntercourse.com, starts with lessons on different types of rifles, handguns and shotguns, and ammunition. It includes sections on hunter ethics, conservation, hunting techniques, where to aim for a clean kill, taking care of your game once you have killed it, firearm maintenance and marksmanship. There is also a section on survival skills and first aid. One useful thing in there was a list of things to keep in your pack. The section on field dressing is not very detailed, so to learn how to do that I plan to do some reading and take a course. One fun thing was a virtual firing range that gives you a chance to fire at targets with different sights, understand sighting in your rifle, and how a bullet drops over distance.
There were also sections on archery and muzzleloaders, and a virtual field day, which presents a variety of scenarios where safe practices were not carried out and how to correct them.
The course I took spent quite a bit of time on tree stands, and how to safely use them. It noted that tree stands are a leading cause of accidents — apparently from falls and firing inadvertently. Making your ground blind safe was also covered.
Though tree stands offer some advantages, I don’t think I want to go to the trouble of hauling one into the woods, setting it up, and sitting in it for hours at a time. I think I will be doing my hunting on foot. And without a blind.
I finished the entire course in about a week, spending an hour or two each day and sometimes skipping a day. I finished with a score of 100 percent after getting a chance to correct one wrong answer from the field day section. The questions were straightforward, and the answers pretty obvious once you ran through the videos and narrations.
Hunter education has only been required in Oregon since 1958. Back in 1954, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife statistics show that 13 people were killed while hunting, and 37 wounded. The numbers improved as a greater proportion of hunters took the course, and in 2014 only one person was killed and two people wounded.
The online option was first offered in 2007, and last year about 650 adults took it. In all, about 5,500 people take hunter ed each year, so the great majority are kids. State hunter education coordinator James Reed says most of the adults taking the online course are fulfilling the requirements for hunting in other states.
Reed says while many states require hunter safety courses for adults, Oregon does not.
I still think the course is a good idea. It’s easy to forget safety when the excitement hits of seeing a buck in range. And over a lifetime, people can easily forget the four basic safety rules — assume all firearms are loaded and treat them as such, point the muzzle in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, and be sure of your target, in front of and beyond.
To get going, just go to this site, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/education/hunter/adult_online_hunter_ed.asp and pick from the three different courses. They range in price from $39 to $25, and one offers a Spanish language option. The $39 version includes a virtual field day. Of that, $10 goes to ODFW for the hunter safety card. One course offers your money back if you don’t pass, but it is pretty easy. The lessons are aimed more at ingraining safe gun-handling habits, not trying to stump you.
Also if you do just want a refresher and don’t need the actual certification, some online courses (including https://www.hunter-ed.com/oregon/) can be reviewed for free.