Hunter education all virtual, still required | Outdoors

New hunters preparing for their first licensed seasons afield may now complete all required elements of Mississippi’s hunter education course online.

Mississippi requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1972 to have passed a state-approved hunter education class before purchasing a hunting license, and it requires the majority of people age 16 or older to purchase a license to be able to hunt. Previously, new hunters in Mississippi had the choice of completing an online course, attending a course that was partly online and partly in person, or attending a one-day in-person course. In light of measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, all hunter education in Mississippi is now being conducted virtually. In addition to no longer being in person, this change means the course is also no longer free of charge to attendees. The all-day, in-person courses were typically presented by volunteers and conducted without charge to attendees.

The fee for the online course is $24.95, but is only paid once. Students may re-take the course materials and test online until they pass without additional fees.

The course material is not difficult, but it is fairly extensive, and single-day in-person classes were usually scheduled as all-day events. The online program can be taken all in one sitting or spread out over any number of days. Students log in and log out of the program, and it keeps up with where they are in the materials.

Once the online course is completed, graduates print out a certificate which serves as their permanent certification for hunter education. This certificate is presented when they purchase a license in person, or its number is entered when they purchase a license online.

The online program adopted by Mississippi is produced by Kalkomey, a Dallas-based company that produces similar products for many other states nationwide. The company also does boating, bowhunting, off-roading and snowmobiling safety courses online as well.

The online course is interactive, can be studied at any pace and includes a number of videos that feature a combination of professional actors, storylines and modern scenarios.

The site is compatible with tablets and smart phones as well as traditional computers.

For more information about the online course, visit mdwfp.com and click the “Education & Outreach” header.

The bad old days

The blaze orange and hunter education requirements that have gradually become an accepted part of the landscape for deer hunters in Mississippi were inspired by scores of tragic accidental shootings over the years. As new generations of hunters enter the field, generations removed from first-hand memory of safety’s bad old days, stressing the reasons for orange and education becomes more important.

Eighty people shot and 34 killed sounds like a report from a war zone, but those figures come from one Mississippi deer season. Just one. According to the state, those were the totals from the 1972-1973 season. At that time, the state’s deer populations had begun to expand rapidly and hunter participation had quickly followed suit.

With more people hunting, especially those who may have spent a lifetime chasing small game but who had little or no experience with rifles, shotgun slugs or buckshot, the table was set for bad things to happen. The 1972-73 run was the worst on record, but it was no fluke by any means. The season before had seen 56 hunters shot and 23 killed. The season after, 75 shot and 15 killed.

First steps to safety

Reacting to the scope of tragedy seen in 1972-73, the legislature passed a law requiring deer hunters to wear at least an orange hat, then expanded that requirement to 500 square inches of unbroken orange a few years later, an act that met with some resistance since part of every hunter’s goal is to remain unseen by whatever they’re after. Biologists have demonstrated deer to be effectively color blind as we would think of it, though. They say deer see blaze orange as a shade of gray, and results have borne that out.

During archery-only seasons still today, bow hunters wear full camouflage because of the necessity of hiding their profile at very close ranges. Although not alarming to deer because of its hue, the solid blaze orange doesn’t hide the human outline. Additionally, the close ranges at which bowhunting shots at deer take place make mistaking a human for a deer wildly improbable. The trade-off for safety when gunpowder is in play was one that had to be made, though, and that’s when the accidental shooting numbers declined dramatically.

In 1987, the requirement that anyone hunting in Mississippi born after Jan. 1, 1972 show proof of passing an approved hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license became law.

Together, the orange and education requirements have made the deer woods much safer, reducing the annual accidental shooting incident rate to the low single digits, but it’s every hunter’s responsibility to remain vigilant still, because even one accidental shooting is far too many.

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