Hunter education proves critical in preventing incidents

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COLUMBIA - Hunting education classes could help prevent injury and even death when hunters head out for spring turkey season.

Missouri Department of Conservation Hunting Education Coordinator Kyle Lairmore said last year was one of the best in state history when it came to preventing incidents.

"In 2015, we were at the lowest hunting incidents we've ever had since we started recording them," Lairmore said. "Obviously we'd like to get to zero. It's just a matter of hunters paying attention and following all safety rules and making sure they're aware of their surroundings. We're about where other states are, if not lower, because it's the lowest we've ever had."

Hunter education is a critical part of a young hunter's development.

"Hunter education is required for anyone 16 and over before they can purchase a hunting permit, but our program is for anyone 11 and up," Lairmore said. "So youth 11-15 can hunt without hunter education, but they have to be in the presence of someone that is certified."

A hunter education skills course was scheduled for April 12, which allowed young hunters to get a hands-on education with firearms in addition to book knowledge and lectures. This hands-on portion came around in 2013 and has been well received.

"We went away from that 10 hour lecture because kids and even adults learn in different ways, with technology and using different methods of retaining information," Lairmore said. "We now have a blended format with a knowledge portion and a skills portion."

Lairmore said there is a basic rule hunters should observe to increase safety.

"The number one rule is to point your muzzle in a safe direction. If that's the one rule they remember, it'll prevent a lot of incidents from happening," he said.

Lairmore said it is easy to see the impact education has had one reducing incidents.

"Before hunter education was required, we were at 80 or 90 hunting incidents a year," Lairmore said. "The requirement for hunter education and hunter orange during deer season both came at the same time, but we've reduced hunting incidents by 70 percent since that time."

Hunting education courses tackle more than just how to handle a firearm.

"Hunter education goes into ethics, it goes into hunter responsibility, asking for permission to hunt, taking care of the land and also respecting the game you are pursuing," Lairmore said.

He said the Conservation Department takes safety and education seriously.

"It's the Conservation Department's job to make sure everyone out there hunting is doing it safely, responsibly and ethically," Lairmore said. "Because, we want to make sure that hunters are seen in a positive light. We're out there for positive reasons and want to encourage individuals to take up hunting."

 (Photo and hunting video courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation)