By Tony Young
With the dog days of summer upon us, it's hard to think about hunting. But if you're between the ages of 16 and 36, and haven't yet taken the state's hunter safety class – now's just the time to be thinking about it. Many of these classes, offered statewide, fill up fast during hunting season while people scramble to get certified. Summer months offer smaller class sizes and offer a better opportunity for students to attend, because they often have more free time then.
People 16 years old or older and born after May 31, 1975, must complete the FWC's hunter safety requirement before they can buy a Florida hunting license.
There is an exception though. A law passed a few years ago that allows individuals to hunt under the supervision of a licensed hunter, 21 years old or older, without having to complete the state's hunter safety certification.
It's called the Hunter Safety Deferral License, and it allows those people who purchase one to hunt on a one-year trial basis. It's designed to encourage experienced hunters to teach novice hunters about our sport and is a great incentive for getting more people to give hunting a try. Individuals taking advantage of this would have to pass a hunter safety class to be eligible to buy a license and hunt the following year.
If you're a youngster and already hunt, I suggest you go ahead and take a hunter safety class before you turn 16. Of course, until then, you may hunt under adult supervision.
You can register for a hunter safety class by going to MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by contacting your nearest FWC regional office. Also, there are two versions for your convenience.
There's the traditional course, which is 12 hours of classroom instruction plus a four-hour "field day," or you can opt for taking the online or CD-ROM version at home. But, you'll still have to sign up for the "skills day" part.
The traditional course is offered during four weekdays or on a Saturday-Sunday. If you take it during the week, each session is three hours and offered after normal working hours. On the weekend, you'll spend eight hours Saturday and four hours Sunday morning in the classroom. The remainder of Sunday you'll move over to the shooting range to complete your certification.
The first thing you'll learn about in the traditional class is Florida's many hunting laws. An FWC law enforcement officer gives this introduction. Volunteer hunter safety instructors teach the remaining curriculum.
You'll be taught ethics, hunter responsibility, parts of firearms, various hunting lingo and the proper way to shoot. You'll discover the differences between various bullets, calibers and gauges; how to identify game animals; and learn wildlife conservation and best management practices for native species. In addition, you'll find out about outdoor survival techniques and learn how to administer first aid in the field. Archery and fundamentals of bowhunting also are taught.
In your last hour in the classroom, you'll be given a standardized test of true and false and multiple-choice questions. All you need is to score an 80 percent or better, and then you get to move outside to the shooting range for the field day portion.
This part takes about four hours. During that time, you'll get to shoot clay pigeons with a shotgun, practice your archery skills and target practice with a .22 rifle. You'll also receive a muzzleloader demonstration, where you'll have the chance to shoot one if you'd like. All guns, bows, targets and ammo are provided. All you have to do is take aim!
After you complete the field day, you'll be given your hunter safety card. At that point you can purchase a Florida hunting license and get ready for opening day.
If you choose to take the hunter safety class online or by CD-ROM, you'll learn all of the above-mentioned material and be given a practice test to prepare you for the last segment – the skills day.
Skill days take about four hours to complete. You'll learn much of what is taught during the traditional course, including hunting laws and ethics, how to handle firearms safely, when to take a shot and where to place the crosshairs. Then you'll get to shoot on the range and be given the same standardized test.
Register today to take a hunter safety class 'cause the 2011-2012 hunting season is just around the corner!
(courtesy Florida Wildlife Commission)