Lisa Clemons has been helping out with hunter education classes for the last year.
This fall, she will be the lead instructor for the first time.
Clemons, a hunter for the last dozen years, is one of about 2,500 instructors in New York State’s training program, the nation’s first when it debuted in 1949.
All first-time hunting license buyers must complete the course, which has contributed greatly to training competent, safe hunters and significantly reducing what had been an appallingly dismal number of “incidents” over the last 70 years.
Clemons will give a course September 27 and 29 at the Deerfield Fish and Game Club.
“They needed help and I enjoy helping kids get their licenses,” said Clemons, a member of the Deerfield club, as well as the Trenton, Greenfield and Greenway-Verona outdoor clubs.
New York’s hunter education program now requires homework prior to class attendance, which in itself totals seven or more hours. Topics include firearms and crossbow handling and safety techniques; the history of firearms; knowledge of firearms and ammunition; proper gun handling and storage; marksmanship fundamentals; laws and regulations; principles of wildlife management and wildlife identification; outdoor safety; hunter ethics, and hunter responsibility toward wildlife, the environment, landowners, and the general public.
Clemons said tree stand safety is a new point of emphasis for the program. Last year, for the first time, the Department of Environmental Conservation began investigating tree stand accidents. There were 12 such accidents – the number is believed to be significantly under-reported – and an astounding six of them were fatal. That kind of makes me not want to ever climb into a stand again. There were 19 shooting incidents, with one fatality, that was the result of an especially egregious illegal hunting action and something that makes all the other statistics relatively irrelevant.
The program, though, does work. In the 1960s, there were an average of 137 incidents per season, and fatalities were generally in the double digits. Over the last decade, with about 20 percent fewer hunters, the incident count is 23 per season. The goal, of course, is no incidents and no fatalities.
There is a lot to learn about hunter safety, and the final exam students take in the program has 50 questions, but in terms of firearms safety, it doesn’t hurt to keep things simple. The following three points should be etched in every hunter’s mind:
1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded: You’re sure it isn’t loaded? Maybe someone handled that gun after you last did. Maybe you absentmindedly put your rifle in the rack because you needed a glass of water real quick. Check that gun every time you pick it up.
2. Keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction: This seems easy enough, but it can be a problem when in a group. You turn or bend down and suddenly that muzzle is in someone’s face. I’ve had to scramble up ridges on all fours, and I don’t like people behind me when I’m doing so. If it has to be, I want the guns unloaded and the chambers open.
3. Be sure of your target and beyond: You shot at a sound or movement or color? You’ll never hunt with me again. You have to be aware of you companions, and other possible hunters, as well. Plus, if you are not in the big woods, you have to be aware of houses, barns, and other buildings.
Those are pretty simple rules, but they have to be branded into your brain. No deer, turkey, grouse, rabbit, woodchuck is worth some bad thing that could happen.
You can find Information on New York’s hunter education program at dec.ny.gov/outdoor/92267.html. A list of courses is available at register-ed.com/programs/new_york/165. Don’t wait to schedule a course. They fill quickly and generally are not available from November 1 through February 28.
Write to John Pitarresi at 60 Pearl Street, New Hartford, N.Y. 13413 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 315-724-5266.