Iowa has offered hunter education programs of one form or another since at least 1960, when I went through a program that was conducted by then State Conservation Officer, Warren Wilson. Officer Wilson came to our school and spoke to us about the safe use and storage of firearms in the gymnasium. Students weren’t required to attend this program, but I remember that there were lots of us on the bleachers. I don’t recall a test of any kind, but I did receive a heavy yellow paper wallet card attesting to the fact that I had attended the program.
I was a young park ranger a little more than 15 years later, and began helping Warren Wilson teach a somewhat expanded hunter education program at the Ames Izaak Walton League clubhouse. The clubhouse could hold about 60 students and was typically filled to capacity. Attendance was still voluntary, but a growing corps of volunteer instructors were taking on a larger share of the teaching load. A more standardized ten-hour program became mandatory in 1983 for anyone who had been born after January 1, 1967. The courses then included a text booklet and required passage of a written test, in addition to being present for the full ten hours. Demand for the course grew during the 1980s and we began offering it in other communities in addition to the courses that were still being offered by the Ames Izaak Walton League. Roland-Story High School even included the Iowa Hunter Education Program for several years as part of their junior/senior PE life skills program.
Today’s Iowa Certified Hunter Education Program still requires a minimum of ten hours of instruction on a range of topics, including safe handling and storage of archery equipment and firearms (including black powder muzzle-loaded guns), hunter responsibility and ethics, wildlife identification and management, game care and hunting regulations, survival, first-aid and water safety. Live firing of rifles and shotguns isn’t offered at all courses, but is offered with instructor supervision at the Ames Izaak Walton League’s courses where they have appropriate range facilities. A person must present a course completion certificate in order to buy their first hunting license once they reach 16 years of age. Younger hunters can hunt without a license up to their 16th birthday, as long as they are with a licensed adult hunter. Younger students may attend the courses that are offered, but cannot receive certification until they reach their 12th birthday. It’s been my experience over the past 40+ years that younger students in classroom courses (even 12-year-olds) do better when they are accompanied by a parent or other older mentor. An on-line course is now available, as well, but requires attendance at a certified “field day” program and written test passage within 12 months in order to be certified.
It was only 45 degrees as I sipped my coffee this morning, so it finally feels like hunting weather. One more hunter education classroom course is being offered this fall here in Story County. Nevada Parks and Recreation is offering the program at Gates Hall, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 16, 18, 23 and 25. Preregistration of students is required through the Iowa DNR’s website at http://www.iowadnr.gov. The course is limited to 20 students, and is about half full at this writing. All course materials are provided at no cost, and teaching will be by state-certified instructors. A State Conservation Officer will teach the conservation law section. No live firing will be offered. Students must attend all four sessions and pass a 50 question written test in order to be certified.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.