By Fred Dixon, volunteer hunter education instructor
Four years ago, I found myself sitting in a hunter education classroom with my 10-year-old daughter.
Like many parents, I couldn't help but think of the time commitment issues this course was going to cause for my daughter, myself and the rest of my household. Like many families, our weekly schedule is filled with work duties, children's after school activities and homework. This two-week course was going to push all of us to the max, and to be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to it. But, it's a state requirement, and I really wanted to experience hunting with my daughter.
As we headed out the door for her first session, I could tell she was very nervous, and so was I. This was a big step for my little girl. Would other girls be attending the course? Would her friends pick on her for wanting to hunt? Would she feel intimidated or overwhelmed? With all of these thoughts running through my head, I decided to take the course with her. After all, hunting with my daughter was going to be as much of a joy for me as it was (hopefully) going to be for her, and I wanted to show her my support.
The course began with me having a bit of an attitude. I grew up on a cattle ranch and have hunted since I was a young boy. What could these instructors possibly teach my daughter that I couldn't, or haven't taught her myself?
Several instructors helped teach the course; all of them had unique insights into the sport of hunting. As the course continued, it was very apparent that each instructor shared a love for his sport and wanted to share that love with each student.
They brought to our attention aspects of hunting that are too often ignored. They mentioned things like ethics, conservation and respect; respect for wildlife, for landowners, for other hunters and for non-hunters. I quickly realized that I had taught my daughter how to safely handle a firearm and had shared some great stories of spending time with family and the thrill of the hunt, but I had missed some very important points about hunting that also needed sharing.
Ethics: We all know what this is and like to think that we have high standards that are being passed down to our children. In the hunter education classroom, the definition is repeated during several course sessions. It's what a hunter does when no one else is watching. I took these words to heart and realized that through my hunting years, I hadn't always made the best choices. Some of the things I had done may not have been illegal, but were they ethical? Was it the right thing to do?
Conservation and respect for wildlife: Instructors pointed out that a true hunter is a conservationist. We give back to our sport in a variety of ways. Perhaps we help with a habitat improvement project. Maybe we fund wildlife management efforts through the purchase of our hunting license and sporting goods. Being a true hunter means being involved, and because hunters have been involved over the past century, some wildlife populations today rival those present when pilgrims came to the continent.
A true hunter does more for his or her sport than just carrying a firearm afield a few days a year. They make a commitment to the wildlife they pursue; a year-round commitment to ensure that wildlife populations are managed so the next generation of hunters can enjoy the same experiences, or better, than we do today.
Respect for landowners, other hunters and non-hunters: The instructors' stories of how the actions of a few can hurt many made me think of situations I have seen in my life, and they made me realize why some people have such a negative image of today's hunter. They made a point of saying that hunting is a privilege, not a right, and by disrespecting landowners and non-hunters, we are putting that privilege in jeopardy.
They gave examples of how to show respect for landowners and told stories of why some may be offended by seeing dead animals displayed inappropriately. They also mentioned the little things we can do to improve the image of hunters and hunting; some as simple as picking up trash and used shell casings left behind by others.
When the two-week class ended, I was so glad for the chance to experience it. It caused me to reflect on what hunting meant to me and what an important role it has played in my life. It made me realize how important it was for me to be involved and help pass on not only the lessons of firearm safety, but also those things that too often go unmentioned.
My daughter loved the course, and it really boosted her enthusiasm for hunting. Hunting has given us some great bonding moments over the past four years.
The course also inspired me to pass on to others what I have learned. I now volunteer as a Hunter Education Instructor. My work schedule does not allow me to assist in teaching as many courses I would like, but I hope that the students in those courses are getting half as much out of each session as I am.