Hunter education has been around for a long time. While the concept itself is obviously far older, the idea of a standardized program began stateside in 1949 New York, when the state mandated a program to increase firearm safety among hunters. Known for its dedication to marksmanship, and long incorporated in the Empire State, your National Rifle Association helped New York develop and administer the program, cementing the organization’s involvement with such safety initiatives.
As time marches on, change comes with it. That original, NRA-designed program became the bedrock for hunter safety programs in most states for the next 20 years. Nowadays, however, some form of hunter safety course is required in all 50 states before a hunter can legally take to the field for the first time, prompting your NRA to seek further innovations.
One of the primary concerns accompanying such requirements is accessibility. While hunters hail from a range of backgrounds and environments, it is no secret that many folks who enjoy the outdoors choose to live far from civilization, making it tricky to attend any sort of in-person course like the traditional hunter-safety programs found in all states. Luckily, your NRA found a modern-age solution to this dilemma, choosing to bring hunter education into the online space.
Starting in 2017, the NRA debuted NRAHE.org, the online home of NRA Hunter Education. Utilizing such a platform, the NRA solved the issue of accessibility in one fell swoop, eliminating the need for a would-be hunter to drive anywhere for classes, and even allowing the student to take the course at whatever time and pace is most conducive. This latter feature has proven particularly helpful for hardworking hunters, many of whom cannot manage to spend common working hours away from the jobsite. Not content to simply revolutionize one aspect of the hunter ed process, your NRA took things a step further and made the course completely free. As any hunter knows, every dollar counts when it comes to the chase, and eliminating the sometimes up-to-$30 cost for a course can go a long way toward feeding a favored rifle, or outfitting a new hunter.
The original course was made up of seven primary components. The first—an introduction—explained the importance of hunter safety for those in the field. The next four, however, brought the real substance to bear. These four modules comprised the educational section, beginning in module one with an overview of the operation of various firearm designs. The second educational module took things a step further, detailing how to safely handle firearms. Module three expanded the theory of safe practices into the field, detailing safe hunting practices, treestand use, navigation, survival and first aid. Finally, the fourth module covered ethical hunting, game recovery and after-the-shot care. Educational modules finished, the sixth and seventh components of the course comprised a final exam, and upon successful completion a voucher of achievement.
This may sound rather in-depth for an online course, but there is good reason. For starters, your NRA wanted to field a program that went far beyond the traditionally available courses in terms of knowledge imparted. “We wanted to create the most encompassing hunter education course in the world,” says Peter Churchbourne, director of NRA Hunter Services and now a director of the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum. The idea was also to make the program more engaging for participants than a traditional offering. To such ends, the course was “gamified” to ensure graduates would pick up and retain the maximum amount of information, rather than simply flipping through an endless stream of mind-numbing slides. But the work didn’t stop there.
Part of the requirement for a hunter education course is its acceptance by state regulatory agencies. This means the NRA needed to create a program both in-depth and flexible enough to satisfy requirements across many states—the hope eventually being all 50. While the detailed nature of the materials easily satisfied the first requirement, having it online makes it possible to fulfill the latter obligation, no matter what shape it may take. As Churchbourne again explains, “We are willing to program any technology and add any state-specific content, at our cost, so that each state can have a custom course. This includes unique certificates, test questions on state-specific content and custom student-information data transfers back to the agency.” Thus while that original course—which was accepted in Florida, Oregon and Texas—comprised the aforementioned seven components, there are now even more iterations out there, including courses that provide a way to fulfill a state-mandated mentor component.
Such foresight in the program’s modular design paid off, as 12 states total—Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—have begun to accept your NRA’s Free Hunter Education Online in the four short years since its inception. An ongoing trend, those last two states came on board this very year, and more can be expected to join their ranks in the future.
For more information on NRA Free Hunter Education Online, our gift to hunters and hunting from the nation’s oldest civil rights organization aimed at reducing barriers to hunters and thus safeguarding hunting’s future, please visit NRAHE.org.