Gov. Schwarzenegger
Proclaims Hunter Ed Week
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) highlighted Hunter Education Week by hosting the International Hunter Education Association's conference in San Diego beginning May 22. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the state's Hunter Education Program.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed the week of May 23 through 29 as Hunter Education Week, noting that the success of the safety program has reduced the annual rate of hunting-related accidents by more than 87 percent.

"Many Californians enjoy hunting, and with the help of the California Hunter Education Program, California hunters practice the highest standards of safety," Gov. Schwarzenegger said. "Over one thousand hunters volunteer to provide instruction on firearm safety and handling, sportsmanship and ethics, wildlife management and conservation, along with first aid and survival. Hunter Education Week provides an opportunity to encourage safe hunting practices throughout our state."

DFG has offered hunter education safety training to well over a million hunters since the program first began. It continues to reach as many as 23,000 California hunters annually, said Assistant Chief Joe Gonzales, DFG statewide coordinator of the program.

"Hunting remains one of the few sports that require a comprehensive safety training program be completed," Gonzales said. "Because of that, hunting in California remains one of the safest sports that people enjoy. In terms of safety measures for hunters, Fish and Game's Hunter Education Program has done more to ensure and promote safety in the field than nearly anything else."

Launched in 1954, DFG's hunter safety program originally required all hunters under 16 years of age to take a mandatory hunter safety class prior to purchasing their first hunting license. Modifications in the program in 1965 boosted the age requirement to 18 years old, and then in 1970 the program determined that everyone who wanted to hunt, regardless of age, was required to pass the program.

The modern course consists of a minimum 10 hours of classroom, homework, and field instruction in firearms safety and handling, sportsmanship and ethics, wildlife management and conservation, archery, black powder, wildlife identification, game care, first aid, and survival. DFG volunteers charge nothing for the instruction, but some fees may be necessary to cover targets, slides, flip charts, and other training aids.

Gonzales said parents are encouraged to participate with their children in the course and its related activities. There is no minimum age requirement to take the course, but young children may find the course demanding, he said.

"The whole concept behind the program is to promote hunting in a positive and safe manner," Gonzales said. "And our statistics show that when it comes to safety, California hunters are some of the country's safest."

According to statistics available through the International Hunter Education Association for the United States and Canada, there has been an overall decline in hunting-related accidents. Total number of accidents between 1987 and 1996 saw a drop from approximately 1,600 to less than a thousand. During that same period, fatal accidents peaked at just above 200 in 1987 before it dropped through the reporting period, finishing at an estimated 100 in 1996.

The statistics involved in the safety of hunters was to be one of the topics discussed during the International Hunters Safety Conference in San Diego, said Gonzales.

Titled "Leading the Tradition into the Future," the five-day conference presented industry exhibits, instructor classes and several committee meetings. Presentations included open sessions on range surveys concerning the effect of lead shot and condors, and the association's incident report database.

The international association is an organization involving thousands of instructors across the country, plus cooperators in the shooting sports industry, conservation organizations, advisors and 63 state and provincial hunter education administrators in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Educating hunters to be as safe as possible has become the norm for most states, Gonzales said. Requirements differ from state to state, but California is one of the few that requires training of all first-time residents and nonresident hunting license buyers.
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