State plans to boost number of hunter education classes

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HARRISBURG — Paid hunter education instructors might be coming to Pennsylvania, starting in Allegheny County.


The Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking into hiring instructors on a contractual basis to help meet the need for offering more classes in key areas.


Keith Snyder, chief of the agency’s hunter education and outreach division, told board members at their work group meeting Monday that the classes — required of all first-timer hunters and trappers — have, at times, actually been a barrier to getting people into the sport. Students weren’t able to find classes to get the training  needed, he said.


The commission has tried to address that using “strategic scheduling,” offering more classes at those times when, according to visitors to the commission’s website, people are seeking them, he said. That’s borne some fruit. The commission certified about 41,000 students last year, its most in years, he said.


But more needs to be done, he added.


Last year, for example, Pittsburgh ranked first among all cities in terms of where people were located when getting online to seek out a hunter safety course. Based on those visits, the commission should have offered 131 hunter education classes in Allegheny County last year, Snyder said. In only offered 45. That’s the most it could handle with its 91 volunteer instructors, he said.


Likewise, in Philadelphia, the commission should have offered 70 classes. It offered 12, using 15 instructors.


“Those two areas have a significant gap where the volunteer instructor system is just not getting it done,” Snyder said.


To correct that, the commission will look into paying two-man instructor teams to teach more classes. They will earn $150 each per class, but be required to teach at times of the commission’s choosing, likely during periods of peak demand between September and November, in venues that can hold a minimum of 100 students at a time, Snyder said.


The commission isn’t relying on paid instructors entirely, though. Snyder said it’s looking to recruit more volunteer instructors, and make it easier for them to get trained.


That might pay dividends, commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County said.


“If we can make it more convenient for them, I think that will be an improvement,” Hoover said.


Another change might be coming, too. Increasing the number of classes offered will likely necessitate the end of requirements that a wildlife conservation officer be present at every one, commissioner Tim Layton of Windber said. How long might it be after that until all hunter education training is offered online, he wondered?


Not long, Snyder said. Pennsylvania offers online training now, though students must still show up in person to take their test.


Six states last year went to the kind of online training that can be done completely, start to finish, Snyder said. That’s a trend that will only grow, he predicted.


“We’re starting those discussions already,” he said. “It could be another tool in our toolbox to reduce barriers.”

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