Hunter education classes have been around for over 50 years in Iowa, but today’s classes are a far cry from the one I attended as part of a school assembly around 1960. Hunting and the skills associated with it were still largely a tradition that was passed down through families at that time. State Conservation Officer Warren Wilson led a voluntary school assembly in the gym, which I attended. It might have lasted a couple of hours and stressed safe gun handling in the home and in the field. I got a little yellow card from the Iowa Conservation Commission saying that I had attended the session, but there were few laws or standards regarding what was taught.

Fast forward to today, and there is still a great deal of interest in hunting. Many TV programs are devoted to it with their own cast of stars who pursue game all over the country and the world. Hunting is still a family tradition for a few, but the typical tradition that carried hunting through the generations from the earliest roots of America’s past is no more. Virtually every farm had huntable game back in the ’60s, but vast areas of clean-farmed corn and beans have no game at all today. Kids today may hear some stories from Grandpa, but more than likely it’s the TV (or worse yet, video games) where they learn what little they know of hunting.

Iowa started its hunter education program in 1960 and has had mandatory hunter education since 1983 for hunters wanting to buy their first hunting license. The typical student today is in junior high school and could be a boy or girl. Some adults attend classes, as well, when they marry into a family who still hunts or when they discover that the class is required in order to purchase a non-resident license for some other states. The traditional class is a minimum of 10 hours that includes both a written and hands-on test that must be passed with a score of 80 percent or better in order for the student to be certified. The course covers a range of topics including history, safe gun handling, rules and regulations, wildlife management, archery and black powder hunting, survival and first aid. Hunter ethics are stressed throughout the program. Supervised live firing of rifles and shotguns is offered at courses where adequate range facilities are available. The course may be offered all in one day, but is more typically spread out over two to four class sessions. A new option is an online course that’s optimized for busy adults. It still requires that the student attend a field day for hands-on training at some point before they can be certified. These are scheduled around the state throughout the year.

Registration for hunter education courses is now entirely online through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website ( The prospective student can find available classes in their area on the site and must sign up for their desired class prior to attending. All course materials are provided free by the State of Iowa and the all-volunteer instructor corps is certified by the state. Students must be at least 11 years old to attend, but cannot be certified until they are 12. Students cannot bring personal guns or ammunition to a class.

One of the last traditional courses in our area for this fall season is being offered by Nevada Parks and Recreation at Gates Hall, just south of the Nevada High School. The course begins on Tuesday evening, Oct. 8, running from 6:30 to 9 p.m. It will continue on the evenings Thursday, the 10th; Tuesday, the 15th; and Thursday, the 17th. Students must attend all sessions in order to receive the required ten hours of instruction. A student who will have conflicts for any of the course sessions due to athletic practices or events, concerts, etc. should choose another course where conflicts can be avoided.

Hunting is still a popular pastime for many Iowans, but the sport and those who pursue it continue to change with the times. Pheasants may be few again this year, and much of the fall waterfowl flight may bypass Iowa if wetlands fail to refill. Deer numbers are somewhat less than they were a few years ago, but they’ll still provide lots of hunting opportunities for those who want them. Huntable private land is far less common than it once was, but more public land is available. Regardless of the changes, I, for one, still hope to get out a few times this fall.

(Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.)