Outdoors

Even Army sniper requires hunter education

He’s clearly not a kid anymore.

The 24-year-old soldier has been in the service for nearly seven years, survived two tours in Iraq and earned a spot in the U.S. Army sniper corps.

He’d be a star in any hunting blind.

But when his uncle recently invited him from Fort Lewis to Eastern Washington for a weekend of pursuing spring gobblers, a license dealer couldn’t sell him a state hunting license.

The soldier had not passed a certified hunter education course.

In one theater, he had a government license to kill human beings.

But he couldn’t get a license to kill a turkey in Stevens County.

“I was really taken back,” said his uncle, Glen Brooke of Springdale. “I just can’t imagine why a trained Army sniper would have to go through a firearms safety course with 11-year-old kids.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of firearms safety for the younger generations. Every one should do it. My kids did it 50 years ago.

“But here’s a kid who wasn’t able to go hunting when he was growing up. Now he gets a chance; he’s clearly had firearms training, yet he couldn’t go hunting. Why?”

Brooke wanted some answers. Here they are.

First, the original “firearms safety” courses were replaced long ago with comprehensive “hunter education” courses that go beyond gun handling and shooting skills to cover everything from hunting ethics and rules to wildlife conservation and game identification.

Hunter education certification is required in one form or another for purchasing a hunting license in every state and province with the exception of the Yukon.

Washington lawmakers have set hunter education training as a prerequisite to purchasing a hunting license for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1972.

Military personnel can opt out of the firearms training component of the Washington’s hunter education requirement – even though military training is based on pointing weapons at people.

However, military still must complete the other portions of the class, said Lt. Eric Anderson, state Fish and Wildlife Department hunter education program coordinator in Olympia.

The course and most of the requirements can be completed online.

Even more appropriate for Brooke’s case is the hunter education deferral option offered in 31 states.

Since the National Shooting Sports Foundation launched the “Families Afield” concept in 2004, these states have changed laws and regulations to lower the barrier of initial entry requirements for hunting.

NSSF says 598,500 new hunters have entered the ranks in the 24 states able to report current numbers of apprentice hunting licenses sold.

The 2007 Washington Legislature joined the bandwagon by approving a measure that allows a one-year, once-in-a-lifetime deferral of hunter education training.

Requirements are simple but specific: The deferral is available to individuals accompanied by an experienced hunter who has held a Washington hunting license for the previous three years.

The application must be made to the WDFW headquarters in Olympia along with a $20 fee.

“License dealers don’t have ability to verify that the mentor has been licensed for three years or process the deferral,” Anderson said. “We ask that people allow two weeks for these requests to be processed, although normally they will be done faster.

“In some special cases, we’ve been able to process the requests in one day if both the mentor and the new hunter are able to come to the Olympia headquarters.”

Washington and other states take hunter education seriously because of its proven value in reducing accidents, violations, conflicts with landowners and appreciation of wildlife.

“I’m a full supporter of our troops,” Anderson said. “The state has made it possible for them to hunt with just a little bit of prior planning.

“But firearms training is only part of the course. Law enforcement officers can’t get an exemption for the hunter ed requirements, either.”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email richl@spokesman.com.

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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