Retailers Give Boost to Hunter Education Program

Alabama’s Hunter Education Program is receiving a boost from sporting goods retailers across the state. Several retailers have agreed to host hunter education field days, where students who have completed a CD-ROM or Internet course of study attend a required hands-on session.

Alabama is one of 49 states with a mandatory hunter education program. All hunting license buyers born on or after August 1, 1977, must show proof of completion of an approved hunter education course prior to purchasing a hunting license. In additional to traditional classroom instruction, an alternative CD-ROM or Internet course is available. To obtain a hunter education course certificate through this avenue, students must complete the interactive CD or Internet program, which includes a 50-question test, and attend a one-day hands on field day. At the field day, students must complete a standard written examination and are expected to demonstrate many skills such as loading and unloading different types of firearms, safely crossing fences, and other activities that all safe, responsible hunters should be able to complete. The Department of Conservation’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries administers the Hunter Education Program with a host of volunteer instructors. The classes retailers are holding are in addition to classes already being conducted by the Hunter Education Program.

The partnership with retailers is the brainchild of Mark Whitlock, owner of Mark’s Outdoor Sports in Birmingham. Whitlock became aware that additional venues for obtaining hunter education certification were needed in the Birmingham area, so he offered the use of his store. Whitlock says that his first class maxed out at 100 people, with many parents planning to attend with their children. “We will be dividing the class into groups of 20 and rotating them through different stations,” he said.

Other retailers are following Whitlock’s lead and scheduling field days throughout the fall. Some manufacturers who heard about the program are providing the equipment needed to conduct the classes. Rossi is donating rifles and shotguns to be used as classroom examples. Radians Protective Gear is donating hearing protection to everyone who goes through the class, and Summit Treestands is donating climbing harnesses to be used for training.

Another component of the partnership with retailers is that all who successfully complete an Alabama hunter education class in 2005 are eligible to win a gift certificate to spend at a sporting goods retailer. Summit Treestands is donating $5,000 to be divided between 10 winners randomly chosen in early 2006.

Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley is pleased that Whitlock and others are eager to join the Department in preparing future hunters. “It’s encouraging to see people like Mark Whitlock offer their services to help us certify more hunters. As a state agency we have limited resources, so these types of partnerships are very important to us,” he said. “We will still be conducting hunter education classes as usual, but now students will have additional opportunities as far as location is concerned,” Lawley added.

Retailers currently offering hunter education field days include the following: Mark’s Outdoors, Birmingham; Sportsman’s Paradise, Oxford; Walter Craig, Montgomery; Wilborn Outdoors, Cullman; and Woods and Waters, Tuscaloosa. Other stores will be added as soon as dates for field days are set. For a listing of all hunter education classes and field days, visit Hunter Ed or call 800-245-2740.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.