Missouri Department of Conservation offers hunter education in schools despite COVID-19 challenges

Missouri Department of Conservation Website

COVID-19 presented considerable challenges to Missouri schools, staff, and students in 2020, including closures, cancellations, remote learning, and more. The pandemic also presented challenges to schools and instructors teaching the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) hunter education courses.

“Many schools were closed for much of the year, which reduced the number of kids who could get hunter-ed certified in schools,” said MDC Education Program Coordinator Justin McGuire. “However, MDC staff, teachers, and other volunteer instructors responded to these challenges and were still able to teach hunter education in 244 classes at 150 schools as part of their 2020 in-school curriculum. Thanks to their efforts, nearly 4,300 students were certified in hunter education in 2020.”

He added that MDC offers the course at about 160 schools per year and has provided 820 skills sessions over the past several years that resulted in certifying 15,390 students.

“The past year was obviously a little lower, by less than 20 percent, but the minimal reduction is a testament to how valuable the course is to teachers and students,” said McGuire.

McGuire, who manages MDC’s hunter education program and MDC shooting ranges around the state, added that many hunter-ed offerings were done through online sessions and staff adapted in-person sessions to meet COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

“We offered fewer public classes due to COVID-19 restrictions at many available venues,” he noted. “And we reduced the number of participants at our in-person sessions to accommodate social distancing guidelines. We also worked with individual school administrations to follow their COVID-19 policies and procedures.”

McGuire added that many schools chose to use MDC’s digital version of the hunter education student manual for distance learning while they satisfied the knowledge portion of the course. They then completed the skills session and test requirement when they were able to return to the classroom.

“MDC is fortunate to have several hundred volunteer hunter-education instructors around the state, many of whom are teachers,” McGuire said. “The growth of hunter education as a part of in-school curriculum is really exciting. Teachers are discovering that the program pairs well with physical education, agriculture, environmental science, life sciences, and other courses already being taught.”

MDC encourages teachers who would like to add hunter education to their in-school curriculum to reach out to their local MDC Conservation Educator. Find contact information by the county at mdc.mo.gov/regional-contacts.

McGuire added that MDC Conservation Educators can also assist teachers with the MDC Discover Nature Schools (DNS) Program and the Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program. Learn more about DNS at this link. Learn more about MONASP at this link.

TALK FROM TWO TEACHERS

Many instructors in rural, suburban, and urban school districts around the state help teach MDC history, wildlife management, hunting ethics, and safe firearms handling through hunter education offerings.

Caleb Martin is an Agriculture Instructor and FFA Advisor for the Hallsville R-IV School District.

“Since we are a rural school district, hunting is a part of many of our students’ lives,” Martin said. “Hunter education helps reinforce many of the concepts they already know, such as firearm safety.”

Brandon Weldy is a Physical Education teacher at Republic Middle School, one of the largest middle schools in the state.

“When I came to Republic Schools seven years ago, I saw a need for our urban students to be introduced to the outdoors,” said Weldy. “I presented the benefits of hunter education to our school administration and immediately had their support. We have added hunter education to our sixth-grade physical education curriculum and 400 students a year take the course with a 97% passing rate.”

Weldy added that the response from students has been overwhelming.

“With our students living in an urban area, most of the material is brand new to them,” he said. “This causes them to be more attentive to what they are learning and more excited to learn, as well. I have received numerous emails from parents who thank me for this opportunity our district provides for their children.”

MORE ON HUNTER EDUCATION

McGuire noted that MDC’s hunter education program has been adapted over the years to meet the learning styles and expectations of new generations, including online learning while still offering self-study guides and in-person classroom sessions.

“Our Hunter Education Program provides a  foundation in hunting safety and ethics,” he said. “It instills responsibility, improves skills and knowledge, and encourages interaction between beginner and veteran hunters. The program provides interactive videos, hands-on learning, teamwork, group discussion, and provides a well-rounded education for those ages 11 and up.”

He added that, while vitally important, the MDC hunter-ed course covers much more than simple safety.

“We teach hunter responsibility and ethics, how firearms work and firearm safety, wildlife identification, game care, survival, first-aid skills, firearm-handling skills, hunting techniques, awareness about wildlife conservation and management in Missouri, and rules and information unique to Missouri,” McGuire explained.

Missouri’s hunter education course is required for any hunter born on or after Jan. 1, 1967, unless exempt by age or other factors. Learn more about the MDC hunter education program and offerings at this link.