It was in the middle to late 1950s when I was learning how to hunt. I have emphasized in past columns how strict my father was when it came to gun safety and complying with the hunting regulations, which are now considered the rules of fair chase.
I remember a situation in the late 1980s when I was out at the Kanawha State Forest Public Shooting Range. This was on Sunday, the day before the traditional two-week buck gun season. When I arrived at the shooting range, all of the spaces at the shooting benches were occupied by hunters getting their rifles sighted in. Among them was a young lad who could not have been more than 12 years old, who was firing what looked like a .22 rimfire double-action revolver at a close-range target.
I was sitting at a picnic table behind the firing line waiting for someone to finish shooting so I could have a space at one of the shooting benches. The state forest caretaker was also out there just observing everything that was going on.
All of a sudden, the caretaker jumped up and yelled in a very angry voice at the boy, "that gun is to be pointed down range at all times, especially when you load and unload it." The boy's father or guardian quickly got up, took the pistol away from him, and then made him stay in the truck.
Naturally, the youngster was very disappointed and upset. However, if the youth learned anything at all about gun safety from this unpleasant disciplinary action, then all is well. Ruth feels that an opportunity to educate the kid was lost when the caretaker and father didn't take the chance to use a hands-on method to actually show the kid the proper way, instead of isolating him in the truck.
Up until about 1990, more than half of the hunting and shooting incidents in West Virginia involved youth; most of this has been changed. Today, all persons born on or after January 1, 1975 must successfully complete a certified hunter education course before they can purchase a hunting license (Chapter 20-2-302, West Virginia Code).
This past hunting season I think there was only one shooting hunting accident involving youth hunters. This particular incident was in Kanawha County in the Coal River Area near the community of Tornado. A 17-year-old was shot by a 16-year-old who had never been hunting in his life. From the information that was released by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Police, the shooter was clowning around with a shotgun. This bit of foolishness is a clear violation of the basic rules of gun and hunting safety. The 16-year-old youth needs to take the required hunter safety course.
The first hunter education safety class taught in West Virginia was in 1968. It consisted of a short lecture and a movie. In 1971, West Virginia won a National Rifle Association award for outstanding contributions for hunting education and safety.
Today, this course takes an average of 12 hours to complete. More than 360,000 students have passed this course over the years, which includes my wife and me. All this could not have been achieved without the help of over 500 trained volunteer instructors. This course is free. Topics include: gun safety, wildlife management, hunting ethics, outdoor survival with first aid, game identification, and how to safely hunt.
I enjoyed listening to the conservation officers and volunteer instructors pass on their hunting experiences and expertise. I also enjoyed talking to other fellow hunters during class breaks.
Now would be a good time for any youth hunter to consider taking the "Hunter Education Course". If the youth turns 15 years old this year, they will be required to have successfully complete this course in order to purchase a required hunting license.
For more information about this, call toll free 1-866-495-4868 or go online at www.wvdnr.gov and visit the Hunter Education search page.