Hunter education has come a long way in Alaska since I was first certified to be a basic HE instructor back about 1992. In those days, HE wasn’t required in Alaska and two of the current four different courses didn’t exist. The course structures were different as well.
The student basic course I took, in order to be eligible to get my instructor’s rating, was offered over a two-week period. The course was presented three nights each week for about three hours each and two consecutive Saturdays for about eight hours each, for a total of between 35-40 hours of course work. Part of this time involved a field walk, learning about zones of fire, shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, and a proficiency shooting session. Passing a written exam, attitude and interaction during the field walk, and passing the proficiency shooting session were required to get the student certification.
As you might surmise, that 35-40-hour time commitment was considered extreme by lots of folks and requests for a shorter version began. Over time, a condensed version was developed which required the student to read a workbook and provide written answers to all the questions contained in the workbook.
Instructors were told to check individual workbooks before the class started, and if the questions were not answered in writing, to send the student home to complete the workbook. That requirement still is being enforced today for all the various courses.
Courses currently offered involve a one-day, “long” course or a half-day “online” course. The online version requires that all the course work and the written test be taken online. Assuming the student passes the written test, a certificate in available which the student must bring with them to the half-day class they signed up to take.
Instructors will quiz the students to assure they learned the material (so that Mom or Dad didn’t do the work for them)and any field walks and proficiency shooting will be done at this time. If the student successfully passes these activities, a temporary certificate will be issued until the permanent card is sent to the student.
All four current HE classes tend to work similarly to what was just described, although some of the material is specific to the course. Crossbow classes concentrate on proper crossbow safety and function while muzzleloading classes explain the use of a “front stuffer” for hunting. Likewise, the bow and arrow HE course deals with archery hunting specifics.
Hunter education requirements have also expanded over the years. In order to even hunt with a crossbow (any hunting) or a bow and arrow (in a weapons-restricted hunt or archery only), you must have successfully completed the respective course work and have the certification card in your possession while hunting.
If you were born after January 1, 1986, you must have the basic certification to hunt in the game management units along the highway corridors and everybody needs the certification to hunt in certain “special” hunts or areas and on military bases. You must have the muzzleloading certification to even apply for permits for muzzleloading hunts or to hunt in special hunts where muzzleloaders are one of the approved hunting tools. See the current hunting regulations for details.
I’m certified to teach all four disciplines and assisted in teaching a muzzleloading class this past Saturday. One of the students asked an interesting question. He wondered if the requirement to have a muzzleloading certification would eventually be necessary in order to even hunt with a muzzleloader, like the current requirements for crossbow. I told him I didn’t know, but I would not be surprised if the Board of Game passed such a requirement soon. The same situation might develop for the basic certification and all archery HE as well.
I’m not a big fan of government mandates in my life, but, in my opinion, this educational requirement, across the board, is a good thing. The average age of hunters is increasing while fewer young people are entering the hunting fraternity. If the older mentors are not available to instruct the new hunters, these new folks need to learn safe gun handling, responsible hunter ethics and hunter responsibilities somewhere. Hunter education is a good place to start.