Cumberland Times-News

May 18, 2013

W.V. apprentice hunting license circumvents safety

Dave Long
Cumberland Times-News

— This is the first of a two-part series about the

West Virginia apprentice hunting license and

hunter recruitment. See the Outdoors page of

May 26 for the second part.

Regular readers of the Outdoors

page saw the (April 7) article about

the new apprentice

license that is being

offered by the West

Virginia DNR.

But, in case you

missed it, in a nutshell

the apprentice

license will allow a

novice hunter to purchase

a base-level

hunting license without

completing a

hunter education course, which has

been a license prerequisite for many,

many years. The novice hunter can

purchase up to three of those licenses

during a five-year period.

That means that these new guys

can be out there for three years without

having first learned the basics of

safety, gun handling, ethics, wildlife

management, etc, that you and your

kids learned when you took your

required class. How does that make

you feel?

Personally I am pretty ticked off.

The idea behind this license, at least

from the State of West Virginia’s

point of view, is that if you make it

easier to obtain a license maybe

more people will buy them and

increase the revenues for the state.

They call it hunter recruitment, but

what it amounts to is trying to pay

the bills.

I worked for state government long

enough to understand budget issues.

The DNR obtains the bulk of its funding

through hunting and fishing

license sales. There is often very little

general revenue that goes to DNR

programs. We all know that things

are more expensive today than they

were 30 years ago, and there are

fewer people buying hunting and

fishing licenses today, despite what

the recent federal survey said to the

contrary.

So, faced with declining revenues

and rising costs, the DNR is casting

about for ways to recruit more outdoorsmen,

excuse me outdoors people,

to purchase the licenses that pay

the bills. They tried the trick of putting

ladies on the cover of the hunting

regulations, hoping that would

induce a mass influx of outdoor

women, but that did not work.

That was pretty harmless. This

apprentice license, on the other

hand, is sacrificing a long-held mandate

that hunter education training

be completed before the hunter can

buy a license. For the sake of money,

for the sake of paying the bills, the

DNR is throwing away a foundation

principle of our hunting tradition. A

requirement that not only keeps

hunters and the general public safe,

but produces informed and ethical

hunters who will carry our cherished

tradition into the future in a responsible

manner.

DNR Director Frank Jezioro was

quoted as saying that hunter education

can be a “hurdle” for the novice

hunter. Ya’ think? Well, director,

some things require a higher standard,

and being in the woods with a

firearm, shooting at living creatures

is one of those things. Sorry, but if a

person considers the standard

hunter education class to be a hurdle,

then that person is not qualified

to hunt.

We teach our young hunters that

privilege comes with responsibility.

Until now the commitment to attend

and pass a hunter education class

was one of the responsibilities that

came with the great privilege of

hunting.

This apprentice license is granting

a privilege that has responsibility

deferred to a later date. In my family

it does not work that way. Show me

the responsibility, and then you get

the privilege.

Hunter education works. In Mineral

County we have an active education

program with a diverse group of

volunteers supported by the Natural

Resource Police, and well attended

by the public. The last fatal hunting

accident with a firearm in Mineral

County was in the late 1980s. There

were only two non-fatal firearms

accidents while hunting during that

same time period, both of them self

inflicted.

Those statistics are a direct result

of a good hunter education program.

Other counties with higher accident

rates often do not have an active program

in place. Further, hunter education

gives credibility to our tradition

and a sense of competence and confidence

about hunting that is projected

to the general public.

I have always wanted to fly an airplane,

but never had the time or

money for flight school. How would

you feel knowing that I was up in the

sky over your head in an airplane for

three years without training?

I do not want to share the woods

with anyone who thinks that hunter

education is a hurdle. I am tired of

society’s tendency to make things

easier for the lowest common

denominator. The WVDNR should

find another way to pay the bills, not

at the expense of the safety and

integrity of sport hunting.

And Mr. Jezioro, if you read my

next column I will tell you how to

increase hunter recruitment, safely

and honorably.

Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural

resources police officer and a frequent contributor

to the Outdoors page.

DAVE LONG