Hunter Education Course Review: a wasted opportunity for CPW to meaningfully educate a first-time hunter

The Hunter Education Course included 12 hours of instruction, including a 1-hour "live fire" component at a firing range in Erie.

The Hunter Education Course included 12 hours of instruction, including a 1-hour “live fire” component at a firing range in Erie.

Last month my friend Rob and I took a Hunter Education Course offered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). This course is a prerequisite to applying for or buying a hunting license, and it’s taught by volunteer instructors that are trained and certified by CPW. The twelve hours of instruction were split over a Saturday and Sunday — roughly, eleven “classroom” hours in the back storage area of JAX Mercantile in Louisville, and a one-hour “live fire” component at a firing range in Erie.

At the end of the course I was pleased to receive my Hunter Education Certificate by passing a 50-question multiple-choice test (my score: 50/50) and by firing ten 22 caliber rounds without error. But otherwise I was grossly underwhelmed by the course’s rigor and comprehensiveness. It was a wasted opportunity to meaningfully educate two first-time hunters, and possibly the thousands of others who take it each year, too. It was also an embarrassing introduction to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

When I arrived at JAX on Saturday morning, I was excited, open-minded, and ready to learn. For I am exactly the type of person who should be required to take an introductory hunting course:

  • I have never hunted, or joined others on a hunt, or shot or harvested an animal;
  • I have never had formal instruction on firearm operation and safety; and,
  • I was only vaguely familiar with Colorado’s hunting rules and regulations.

Rob was even greener than me: he’d never shot a gun before, and had never reviewed any of the hunting regs.

What I was hoping to learn

Twelve hours is a generous amount of instructional time — enough to at least thoroughly cover the basics, it would seem. I figured that my education would continue long after the course, like through personal research on niche subjects (e.g. Cameron Hanes-style backcountry hunting, and the compatibility of my rifle with different ammunition ballistics) and then an actual hunt.

In the course I mostly expected to learn about general hunting topics, such as:

  • Firearms: types, ammunition, operation, and safety;
  • Wildlife: species identification, habitat, behavior;
  • Planning a hunt: hunting styles, fitness training, scouting, trip scheduling, gear selection;
  • Backcountry skills: gear selection, navigation, first aid, emergency;
  • Hunter responsibility and ethics; and,
  • After the shot: tracking, field dressing, transporting, processing.

I also expected to learn about topics that are more specific to Colorado:

  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife: purpose, funding, structure;
  • Hunting licenses: types, and how to obtain one;
  • Game Management Units;
  • Harvest statistics; and,
  • State-specific rules and regulations.

What did I actually learn? And room for improvement.

On the way home after our first 8-hour day, Rob and I agreed that we’d learned almost nothing, and that we would have learned much more if we’d simply stayed at home and self-studied for a few hours. The second day did little to change how we felt.

There were four main faults — and thus room for improvement — with the instruction:

1. Scattered. I was rarely aware of what we were supposed to be learning, to the point where I wondered if the instruction was simply stream of consciousness. A tutorial on species identification, for example, was diverted by a tangent on private land access, which led to a conversation about navigation. No syllabus was ever shared with the class; if there was one, it seemed to have no logical structure, or it wasn’t followed.

2. Superficial. Most of the aforementioned topics were referenced, but rarely in great detail. The worst offense was game processing: we were dismissed for lunch just a few minutes into a tutorial video, which the instructor prefaced by describing as “not very good.” Personally, I’ll definitely watch a few processing videos on YouTube before my hunt, but CPW lost its opportunity to ensure that I know what to do after pulling the trigger. Ironically, CPW has an excellent video on their website — I’m bewildered why it hasn’t been sent to instructors with a “Required Viewing” label.

3. Antiquated. The course materials desperately need to be modernized, for the purposes of both appearance and relevancy. Instructional videos from the 1970’s about hunter ethics and safety (one clip is embedded below) were literally laughed at by the class and not taken seriously. And a CPW handbook about “The Art of Survival” omits any mention of modern “signaling” devices like cell phones and satellite-enabled communication devices, e.g. Iridium phones and SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger.

3. Heavily verbal. Students have different learning styles. For example, I best retain information when I can see it, in the form of text, maps, graphs, objects, etc. Unfortunately, the instruction was heavily verbal, reducing its impact on me and other visual students. I’m unsure why the available projector and screen were not used more often.

How did I still manage a perfect score?

That I managed to score 50/50 on the final test despite the instruction’s shortcomings is telling.

First, it was a super easy test, to the point where I’m unnerved by this being the only barrier to other hunters sharing the woods with me. Second, the instructors were “teaching to the test”: topics that were not the subject of a question were lazily addressed, and topics that were the subject of questions were preceded by a friendly wink and a head-scratch. Was the goal to educate, or to simply make sure that everyone received a Hunter Education Certificate?

Some might argue that my expectations were too high for a $10 course and volunteer instructors. My response is simple: If the honest objective of this program is hunter education, then I’d say it’s failing and needs to be reevaluated, including its cost and instruction quality. Currently, the course seems to be more of a control mechanism and a political talking point, since little meaningful “education” actually seems to occur.

Online courses

It’s surprising to me that CPW encourages sit-in courses, despite there being online courses that offer a number of advantages:

  • Consistent, comprehensive, and high-quality instruction;
  • Forced student engagement, via mid-module quizzes and exercises;
  • Improved access to aspiring hunters who have limited free time or who live in remote areas;
  • Opportunities for advanced-level modules specific to states, species, and firearms.

Live fire is perhaps the sole course component that should not be replaced with a virtual experience.

A final complaint

With this being a CPW-sponsored course, I was surprised and disappointed by its politicization by the instructors, notably the assistant. In their roles as CPW representatives, I felt it inappropriate to do the following:

  • Encourage the joining or giving of money to firearm and hunting advocacy groups;
  • Comment on — and distort the true facts about — pending gun safety legislation; and,
  • Not show equal respect for other outdoor recreationists and their viewpoints.

Hunting and firearms are already hot-button issues, and I would think that CPW and its certified instructors would see this as an opportunity to share their passion and knowledge with first-time hunters, and perhaps to bring atypical and open-minded hunters — like me and Rob — into the fold. Instead, my experience only reinforced cultural stereotypes.

Posted in on May 7, 2013


  1. Rob T. on May 7, 2013 at 8:25 am

    As “Rob”, I share the same thoughts expressed throughout this review. Andrew is correct in that I’d never even held a firearm prior to the class. It should be noted that the test took less than 5 minutes to complete and I was one of the first few done. The concerning part, for me, was that a large portion of the class was comprised of youth. Maybe my standards for myself are high, but I’ll be doing quite a bit of self-study to really feel confident about my safety when operating a firearm in the wilderness, where a 9 year old, who also took the class, could also be hunting. I can only hope he’s done the same self-study.


  2. Bernard Wolf on May 7, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Sorry to hear that this course has deteriorated to its current state of being more political than practical. I completed this course in the late 1970’s. We had a course syllabus and manual that was thoroughly covered. The films we saw back then were antiquated, but informative. The film scenarios were based on cases reported to Colorado Division of Wildlife, of hunters getting lost, or one that I found humorous involving a hunter shooting his jeep, which he mistook for a deer. The instructor reiterated the importance of gun safety while we were at the range. Not sure if he was more cautious with our class, since we were all junior high students (13-14), but we appreciated his concern.

    I enjoyed hunting sage grouse with my dad in the North Park region of Colorado during the late 70’s to mid-80’s. During our last hunting trip in 1986, we were shot at twice by different groups of hunters that apparently missed the test question about when it is appropriate to shoot at grouse when other hunters are present. I have not purchased a hunting license, or fired my shotgun at a range since.

    The irony is that the people I had hunted with who were born prior to January 1, 1949 (exempt from this course) were genuinely concerned about gun safety, and being a good sportsman. They saw hunting as a privilege, and wanted to leave the land as they found it, especially if they had permission to hunt on private lands.

    In the years since I have hunted, I have met other hunters who avoid the rifle season for big game altogether, and now only bow-hunt. They have told me it feels more natural to be tracking the species as a predator would, and feel safer without the rifle hunters present.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 7, 2013 at 10:02 am

      My experience is that the overwhelming majority of hunters are still great stewards of the land, and care deeply about it. Like off-road motorists and road cyclists, however, it’s the bad behavior of a few (e.g. littering and leaving designated roads and trails, or running stop signs and riding 4-wide on a narrow stretch of highway) that lead to a bad reputation for the rest.

      • Jim C. on May 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        Based on what’s being put out there online (YouTube videos, primarily) one has to wonder what percentage of people who take guns and vehicles into wild areas are ethical. Do only the dregs post videos or is it a valid cross-section?

        You see countless videos of animals being gunned down or bow-shot for entertainment, and crass off-roading with no respect for the landscape. I’d really like to know where the ethical folk are. Maybe they have no need to post videos?

  3. Aimee Kemick on May 7, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hope that you share this with the state agency officials as well as state and federal politicians. How disappointing that this opportunity for education was not apporached in a professional manner. My father was an avid hunter . I grew up around guns but the way I see and hear about gun use today is very unfamiliar and almost scary. Hunting is on the decline here in Pennsylvania and many sportsman organizations are actively trying to encourage youths to engage in hunting activities. However they need to be educated properly. I am concerned that your experience my be more common than not. That combined with the gross distortions that the media perpetuates is also disturbing. Where does one go to find an unbiased source for news and information?

  4. a guy from BPL on May 7, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Andrew you are correct in reporting your experience. You have more courage than me, as I have learned to fear speaking out against gov agencies with potential for corruption and retaliation.

    it’s only now that I am in my wise (what?) age 40, that I realize I was not properly trained to use a firearm when I first got one at a younger age.

    I could have signed up voluntarily for a training class without a law requiring me, but I was 21 with limited income. Instead, I figured it out on my own, with assistance and correction from my peers, friends, and the stern correction from the range master.

    I learn by doing, and have very little attention span to reading books. We all learn differently.

    Sad to say, it’s what I expect from a gov agency. In my teens and twenties, I expected the gov to map out my life for me, tell me where and what to study. As I’ve reached mid-life crisis years 40, I hope that I am slightly more mature than I was in past years. Now I pro-actively seek out education that I need, regardless of gov minimal requirements. Classes do not equate into experience, that is what I learned.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 7, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Retaliation for honest and constructive criticism in a blog post? I hope not.

      I never expected CPW to transform me into an expert hunter. But, heck, if you’re going to require 12 hours of my time, at least teach me the basics so that I have a solid foundation from which I can learn the rest. I think a big cause for my disappointment is that it’s simply a wasted opportunity. I imagine the good that could come if this same requirement existed for other uses of stand land, e.g. hiking and ATV riding.

  5. Joe G. on May 7, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I’ll be taking a hunter education course this summer as well, but mine will be from the PA Game Commis., and I’ll be doing the online course when I’m recovering from surgery.

    When weighing the options for a live class of 12+ hours, or an online course, I knew the online course would be standardized overall and somewhat streamlined and straightforward. Now, I just need to find the time to sit on my butt and get it done.

    I’ll let you know what my feelings are about the online course when I complete it this summer.

  6. Bruce Matthews on May 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Andy–I’d urge you to make sure Steve Hall at the IHEA-USA sees this blog. In fact, I’ll forward the link to him. I’m not sure whether Heather Dugan or Gary Thorson at CPW are in charge of Hunter Ed, but they need to see it too.

    What a shame your experience was not a better one.

  7. Dave V. on May 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    This past fall I took a hunters education class in my home state of New York. I had little experience with guns and had never been hunting, being from a family with no hunters. The class was very similar to your experience. Some of the 6 or so volunteer instructors were pretty good and they covered some material in a concise and informative way. But others were laughable and should have been embarrassed at themselves. There was blatant sexism, even the the presence of a female instructor, regarding firearm caliber choice. There was an instructor who prefaced his demonstration of tree stand safety by pointing out that the stand he was using was “illegal”, the stand being homemade. At the shooting range, you shot clays with a shotgun, shot target with a crossbow, targets with air pistols and a turkey target with shotgun. At no time was there any specific instructions with any of those weapons, except for the crossbow. They assumed everyone had used them before I guess. I had to ask how to operate the auto loading shotgun I was handed. There was no instruction on how to properly aim to line up when hitting the moving clays. Before the classroom portion the the instruction there was a thick workbook that you had to complete with the help of a good sized text booklet. This workbook was educational but geared to young learners with lots of repetition.

    Very disappointing overall, with no talk of field dressing anything and no talk of gear beyond firearms. At least 3 instructors telling us to join the NRA multiple times, along with a lot of other political discussion including talking negatively about state and federal leaders. A missed opportunity is right!

    • Andrew Skurka on May 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm

      Disappointed to hear that my experience was similar to at least one other person’s.

    • Rob T. on May 7, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      There was sexism in our class too. One of the students told a story about being “harassed” by an “ignorant” Wildlife Officer and one of the instructors said “Let me guess, it was a female wildlife officer?”

  8. Dennis on May 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I took a mandatory hunter’s safety course back in the 80’s. Oddly enough it was very good and the instructors were top notch. However I think it differed from your course as it was primarily focused on safety and respecting the rights of land owners

    We didn’t cover topics such as various firearms or recognizing various types of game though. That would have been a huge waste of time given most students knew those topics quite well.

    All the instructors wanted to do was to ensure you knew enough not to shoot someone (“know your target and beyond”) and to not shoot yourself. Most everyone in the course were teenagers like myself who had hunted for years but needed the course to receive a license.

    Sorry you had to hear all the politicizing. Truth is, it is happening on ‘both sides’ of the argument and I get tired of hearing this from both the left and right.

    For example the Boston bombings were being blamed by some for the ‘lax’ in gun control…. even though the terrorists took most if not all of that gunpowder from fireworks.

  9. Jeremy on May 7, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Forget the BS course- typical government substandard offering. I had no expectations, except that it would be a waste of time and tailored for 10 year old boys. Bingo.

    Everything you need to know is written into your DNA. You are a brilliant problem solver. When you are standing over your first harvest, it will all come naturally. If not…you have my number. You can take your graduate level exam in Idaho someday.

    Proud of you pal.


  10. E on May 9, 2013 at 10:12 am

    The HSC I took in PA nearly 20 years ago was almost entirely about determining when it was safe to shoot and safe handling of firearms. I think it was assumed everyone there had an older family member who would be teaching them the actual how-tos of hunting. Then again it was a hunter SAFETY course, while yours was supposedly an education course.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 9, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Several of the other comments have also suggested that there is an underlying assumption about what students know and don’t know when they walk in the door. I suppose if you grew up in a hunting family and if this course is really just a formality, a curriculum that omits some basics is not a huge loss. For new hunters, however, it’s a notable omission.

  11. David E on May 11, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Great use of your blog presence Andrew to get an issue out there. There was a suggestion to get this to people responsible for hunter education, adding to this how about Senator Mark Udall also – as a former director of Outward Bound he would have an interest in the lost education opportunity of a major economic driver of Colorado’s economy.

    I like the idea of required education of other types of Colorado resource users – awareness of the impacts would at least require people to think twice.

  12. Luke Schmidt on May 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Sorry it was a let down Andrew. I can’t teach you how to Elk hunt but if you want to learn more about shooting a rifle or handgun let me know. I’ve run lots of rifle ranges and I’ll be passing through CO this summer or you might catch me if you ever travel to Texas. If you have a rifle question I can probably either answer it or ask my friend.

    My hunter education course was actually a pretty good experience. It was a small class with lots of visuals and fun instructors. However it was still basic.

    I think there is an assumption that most hunters are learning how to hunt from an elder. The goal of the course is to teach basic gun safety, and basic survival skills so you don’t shoot your foot or die of dehydration. I’d say my course did a pretty good job of that but by the time we got done there wasn’t much left for advanced technique.

    A young friend of mine in NY got hooked up with a mentoring program aimed at young aspiring hunters. It was really cool, two men took him out turkey hunting and guided him through the process. One carried a video camera and recorded his first hunt so he could share it with his family.

    I don’t know if there is anything similar to that in CO or not.

    By the way what are you planning on hunting? I’m assuming you’re thinking of some kind of big game hunt.

  13. M. Dean on May 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I spend a great deal of time preparing, before teaching an HE class. My partner and I take very seriously the many facets of what is called Hunter Education. We have had full classes nearly every month so far this year and have never (to my knowledge) had a dis-satisfied student or parent of a student.

    We teach in Grand Junction Colorado where we live and hunt.

  14. Bill on May 13, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I’m sorry to hear that your experience in CO was so poor. I’m even a bit surprised since CO is a big hunting state.
    I have two girls and each of them went through the hunter ed course in Oregon recently when each was 8 years old. Both times, the course was excellent. There was about 12 hours of classroom instruction that took place over four evenings. There was a two hour test at the end and most students used the majority of the time. There were both adults and kids taking the class. There were two-three instructors in the class at all times.
    Long guns of all types were brought into the classroom and used to show how they operate (five different actions) and how to safely handle them. All of the guns were modified to have their firing pin removed for safety reasons. Samples of many types of ammunition were also used for show and tell.
    There was also a field day that included instruction and live fire for shotguns and center fire rifles. There was compass navigation work along with map reading and a walk through course with 3D targets to demonstrate actual hunting, target identification and safe shooting opportunities. There were archery and black powder demonstrations as well. Last was loading and unloading guns from a vehicles safely.
    All in all, I was very pleased with the material covered and they way it was presented. I will have my kids take it again when they are older to reinforce it.
    Instructors were volunteers. Cost was about the same or cheaper. There was a good workbook and students were given it in advance when they signed up and asked to have the material studies and study questions answered for each section prior to arriving to class.
    The only things that I think could have been better is the game processing part. But I realize it is difficult to do this complicated activity justice without any sort of live demonstration and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. First time hunters had better find some videos or take along an expert to learn this in the field.
    Wish your experience had been better. As you stated, a real lost opportunity!

  15. Mark on May 21, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I’ve seen the instructors run the gamut. Mine was fair to middling at best, spending a lot of time talking about the ethics of bird hunting, something I’ve still never done once in my life, and skipping over field dressing entirely. On the other hand, my (now ex) wife took a class in the late 1980s or early 1990s from Papa Bear Whitmore himself as one of the instructors on the wilderness survival component.

    There’s no doubt that there are good instructors out there, but unfortunately the management and oversight of those instructors is shoddy at best. I suggest finding a good mentor who’s hunted for the animals you’re looking for and learn with your boots on the ground.

  16. Darren on June 24, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    As others have mentioned, I too am sorry that the class didn’t meet your expectations. Yet, having said that, expecting a hunter education course to teach the comprehensive fundamentals of hunting and firearms is like expecting the DMV to teach you about how to drive safely. Each is simply a bureaucracy established to satisfy some sense of order. Is it really effective at it’s mission? I suppose it depends on the definition of it’s goal.

    The DMV provides a basic framework of memorizing rules and guidelines for safely operating a motorized vehicle and nothing more. The real learning comes with spending time driving with parents and other adults and gleening their wisdom from years of hands-on experience. The same can be said for Hunter’s Ed courses. They mission is to simply provide a basic framework of rules and safe handling of a firearm…nothing more, nothing less. While it is true that your expectation were not met- it is simply that you had unreal expectation of the course. As others have mentioned, to gain ‘true’ experience you need to seek out others who have had time and experience with hunting and there is where you will find that just as backcountry skills take time and experience- so does hunting. I know this will sound negative but, I mean no disrespect to our public servants. It is not their fault, they are doing the best some of them can, it is simply the nature of the lack of accountability, funding and motivation. Too little resources, too much red tape. To expect a public government entity to provide anything more than ‘adequate’ is the greatest tragedy of all.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 1, 2013 at 12:54 am

      I never expected to become an advanced-level hunter with a 12-hour course. I did expect that I’d learn something meaningful and that I wouldn’t feel like my time was wasted. That expectation was not met.

      • Kirk Moreland on July 25, 2013 at 8:38 am

        Wow i had to do math to be able to write you, thank god i went to CU for 7 years. Well i’m sorry that the course was what it was, and to be honest it was that way 34 years ago too when i took it when i was 8 or 9 years old. My advantage was i came from a hunting family and i already knew the important stuff. I met you about 4 years ago when you did a gear seminar at Neptune in Boulder. Gee does that make us long lost friends? lol In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t mind meeting with you over coffee in Boulder or Denver, and answering some hunting / Firearm Questions you may have or not even know you may need to know. I would say i’m quite good at the back country hunting thing, either that or i’m super lucky! I could teach you things that go against the mass, opinion of how to hunt or what is needed. See most hunting products are made for or by eastern hunters who walk 100 yards to their tree stands and isn’t needed for western big country hunting. Also there are some very important things to know about meat preparation that hardly no one knows or will tell you, and its the reason that a lot of people talk about not liking wild game, because of the gamey taste. I’ll let you in on a little secrete, it’s rotten meat that makes it taste gamey, and it’s not always the hunters fault. Well Hope to hear from you, Hopefully your still in the Boulder area.

  17. Charles Jensen on July 7, 2013 at 6:01 am

    I agree that this was a wasted opportunity, however I also believe your expectations were a little unrealistic for a government agency. Do you set the bar this high for the DMV?

    Being a responsible hunter/gun owner is not dissimilar to being a responsible driver/car owner. Both require long-term experience, self study, and interactions with experts which are not provided by licensing agencies to a large degree.

  18. Danielle on July 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you for writing this!

    I am experiencing the same thing this weekend! I was so excited to take this course because I really want to learn how to hunt well. I don’t have the benefit of being in in a family of hunters, I haven’t been “shooting things since I was 5” like one of my instructors. I’ve shot guns at a firing range but nothing in the context of hunting.

    The class is extremely scattered I’m learning things by piecemeal and inference which I’m certain is NOT the best way to learn how to hunt safely. So tonight I will sit down with my manual…which by the way is an excellent publication…and learn what I should of learned in class.

    It’s very disappointing that CPW has such wonderful material on their website and in their publications but does not hold their instructors to a structured curriculum and prepared (by a professional trainer) presentation materials. I’m very perplexed and sad that what looked to be a top notch wildlife department isn’t putting more effort into ensuring that they are educating hunters well.

  19. Logan on July 16, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I am very sad to hear you did not get the instruction you were looking for. I grew up in the Eagle cap wilderness of Eastern Oregon and took a course as a kid and learned many valuable things despite already knowing gun safety. The course took place each Thursday over several weeks with homework to be done in between each session. We were even quizzed Things I remember covering firearm safety and types and calibers and how they all work. This was actually more of a history of firearms as one of the instructors was a history buff as well as a hunter. He even brought in a black powder rifle and showed proper safety on it as well as all different types of guns. We covered land use laws federal as well as local laws and what to do if you are going to hunt in another state eg who to contact and how to obtain the proper tags and permits. We learned how to use a map and compass. Basic survival like what do you do if you are lost as well as safety precautions like always have a plan and make sure others know where you are when you will be gone and when they can expect to hear from you. The basics of different types of hunting were all covered mostly from the point of view of how to do it safely and legally. Actually as I look over your list of things you would wished to learn about the only thing that the class I took didn’t cover was field dressing and I believe that is mostly because there is a lot of different game that can be hunted and many different techniques for dressing the same animal which really is hard to learn without hands on experience. The whole course was very focused on respect for what hunting is not just respect for the animal but also for nature and the tools used. I don’t know if Oregon still runs it’s courses this way as I took the course back in the late 90’s but I hope they do.

  20. Dimitri on November 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Hey Andrew,

    I enjoy reading your blog, good stuff!
    What a different approach with the European hunting course I have just completed (I live in Belgium). The course takes about a year to complete and consists of 5 tests. Each test needs to be succesfully completed before you can move on…Only 30% of participants succeed.
    We learned in great detail about wildlife management and behavior, law, hunting ethics, firearm safety en usage, etc…



  21. Dogwood on January 11, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    You obviously hold yourself and the expenditure of your time to very high standards. However, to gain in depth understanding, or even anything more than a very rudimentary acknowledgement on ALL these topics, or as you you so label them “GENERAL” hunting topics in a 12 hr govt sponsored govt affiliated Hunting Safety Education Class(which is a BASIC Hunter Education Class) you’re being highly unreasonable in your expectations. I do however, appreciate your suggestions on how to make it a BETTER experience.

    In the course I mostly expected to learn about GENERAL hunting topics, such as:

    Firearms: types, ammunition, operation, and safety;
    Wildlife: species identification, habitat, behavior;
    Planning a hunt: hunting styles, fitness training, scouting, trip scheduling, gear selection;
    Backcountry skills: gear selection, navigation, first aid, emergency;
    Hunter responsibility and ethics; and,
    After the shot: tracking, field dressing, transporting, processing.
    I also expected to learn about topics that are more specific to Colorado:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife: purpose, funding, structure;
    Hunting licenses: types, and how to obtain one;
    Game Management Units;
    Harvest statistics; and,
    State-specific rules and regulations.

    Interestingly enough, when I went through the then New Jersey 10 hr Hunter Education Class similar to the one you did in Colorado, when I was 17 yrs old, I did receive info on these topics: 1)Firearms: types, ammunition, operation, and safety(quite intensive on the SAFETY issues of common hunting type firearms used in NJ!) 2)Hunter responsibility and ethics and, after the shot: tracking, field dressing, transporting, processing(again quite intensive on the hunter responsibility and ethics issues) 3) Hunting licenses: types, and how to obtain one;(intensive and with Q and A sessions about this!) 4)Game Management Units(some info, *** see below) 5) Harvest statistics(received some of that mostly at it applied to the Whitetail Deer harvest though) 6)State-specific rules and regulations( we went over this in a rather rudimentary fashion. The scope of the various details of all the rules and regulations, including as they were applicable to Game Mgmt Units/Lands is simply to extensive to cover in detail in a 10-12 hr class hence we were provided a handout regarding the specific rules/regulations for various Hunting Zones/Game Mgmt Lands.

    The NJ Hunter Education Class covers the entire state’s firearm’s hunting. This may have changed but we didn’t receive specialized localized info in the large majority of information presented.

  22. Dogwood on January 17, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    One thing you left out Andrew in your opening paragraph is the intended MAIN GOAL of Colorado’s Hunter Education Class as intended and stated by the Colorado Parks and Recreation Office. …..”To make hunting safer.”

    Was that main goal achieved, from the perspective of the state of Colorado? Do you feel you are a safer hunter or handler of firearms since having gone through the course?

  23. Jim C. on May 18, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    If YouTube “kill shot” videos represent any sort of hunting majority, there isn’t much respect for wildlife or firearms safety these days. Or are we just now seeing what’s been going on all along? It’s often just about “killin’ stuff” to relive the death scene in taxidermy or video form. Gun-worshiping nature-haters show little in the way of ethics or morality. Emulating Ted Nugent, they mainly kill for entertainment, not survival.

    It’s unsettling that YouTube/Google even allows those videos to stay online in violation of their posting guidelines (no animal abuse, gratuitous violence, dead bodies, etc). YouTube would quickly delete videos of domestic animals killed for sport or even just kicked around, but wildlife is apparently expendable.

    People already know that animals die when hit by projectiles, often slowly and painfully. Posting videos of those deaths serves no purpose except as snuff pornography. There are also videos of trapped animals, doomed to die, while some low-life gloats over their predicament.

    “Mankind” is a misleading term.

  24. Don on July 28, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve taken Hunter’s Safety 4 times – 1st time when I was 12yrs old in Montana (back in the days of dinosaurs and covered wagons) and the next 3 times in the 90’s in Oregon with my children. I can say that Hunter’s safety has always been a very loosely regulated educational effort run on a shoe-string budget by well-intentioned volunteers.

    In the 90’s, Oregon required 15 hours of instruction – which was more than that required to obtain a drivers license. And we know which is the more dangerous activity.

    Hunting is a sport in decline nationwide having peaked in the early 80’s. Hunter’s safety was originally envisioned as a supplement to experience passed down from family. The goal was mainly to educate on safety and to encourage a younger generation to “play by the rules” – thus putting an end to wide-spread poaching and wasting.

    Regarding safety – in days of old, firearms training was common place, e.g. many schools had indoor 22lr ranges. And most folks engaging in hunting came from rural backgrounds where experience with firearms was the norm. But over time many new hunters came from cities with little or no firearm experience. Hunting license sales soared and accident rates rose.

    Regarding rules – With increased pressure on game came the increased need for hunters to obey the rules to protect game from over-harvest. And to avoid general access closures to protect species under ESA listing.

    I think the classroom approach had it’s merits, but unless the instructor(s) were innovative and empowered by their State agencies – they tended to regurgitate the same old, tired, and occasionally flat-out wrong information. State agencies are not always open to innovation and improvement.

    I do believe Hunter’s safety is important. I don’t like people checking me out with their rifle scopes. I detest the pro-hunters who make the great looking videos of hunts when in fact they deliberately killed 4 elk by wounding to get that shot footage of some big old bull. I don’t agree with poaching because every case I’ve seen was not somebody subsistence hunting – it was just a greedy guy. And the world is different today and requires a bit of consideration for the segment of the population that loathes the sport.

    Frankly, I think Hunter’s safety is too important to leave it to some State agency – I think it should be privatized. My experience with two state Fish & Wildlife agencies hasn’t been very good.

    One last thought – we pretty much would agree that it is unrealistic to expect a new backpacker to be perfect 1st time out. Mindset, technique, gear, etc. are refined over time with experience. Same with hunting.

    Thank you for your well-written and inciteful blog on hunter’s safety.

  25. Seth on February 9, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    I had a similar experience when I received my first hunting license in Virginia. Bored and ineffectual instructors, outdated material solely directed towards the multiple choice test, glossing over foundational topics while dwelling on politicized ones. The main problem with these licensure classes is that, while they are required for new hunters of all ages, they must accommodate children as young as 12. Combine that with an assumption that those who take the course already know the basics of firearm usage and game handling and you’ve got the makings for a mostly symbolic process.

  26. Jeremy on February 11, 2015 at 12:35 am


    I grew up in CO and took the class at age 11. From what I remember 24 years ago we covered a lot of survival learning in class and then shot .22 shorts. Difficult, not that I recall. My difference was that I hunted some with my dad growing up, but the bulk of my hunting did not start until after I moved to Idaho and started hunting on my own. Growing up my dad taught me firearm safety and the military taught me how to shoot. To learn how to hunt I learned a lot from ben gay and granola bars because I hiked my a** off for years. Long story short my son is now taking the Idaho course and I am pleased that it is much more difficult than the class I remember taking growing up. I how ever plan to invest years of training into my sons hunting future, along with some ben gay and granola bars for him. If someone had handed me the knowledge I now have and the knowledge I want to gain in the future I wouldn’t be hunting to this day. I know that the course is not intended to be an end of the road type course, but I don’t know any hunter that will ever tell you they know all there is and do not learn something new every year. Good luck hunting in CO and we’ll send you guys some Idaho wolves to make things more interesting.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 11, 2015 at 8:00 am

      The wilderness romantic in me says, “Yes, I hope the wolves get down this far.” (Though I think it’s less likely now than it had been, before the feds turned population control over to the states.) The hunter in me says, “Crap, I struggle enough at this already. Do I really need more competition?”

  27. Rob Winn on March 28, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    After reading this I feel you have missed the entire point of a basic hunter safety course. When it comes down to it a basic hunter safety course is really about one thing safety! It is not meant to teach you all the different types of ammo, the different types of bullets, the over 200 different calipers, the 20 or so different muzzle loading options, the different bow types, etc! It is meant to teach the very basics of hunter safety! This means how to properly handle and carry a gun. How to enter the field and make sure that you return with no accidents! Thus the course focuses on the basics! How to pass a fire arm, how to cross a fence, how to store a fire arm, etc. For most people it is very common sense based, for others it is not! When I look at your list of what you wanted to learn I see each one as a multiple day course to cover.

    Also I would point out that the goal of the course is not to weed out people! It is meant to introduce the basic concepts behind hunting safely, legally and to a certain extent ethically!

    As far as your complaint about politics! Politics is by far the biggest and most disturbing enemy to hunting! It is through politics that we loose hunting opportunity, it is through politics that we loose freedom. In Colorado we have lost Spring Bear hunts, baiting, trapping and hunting bears with hounds simply due to politics! Politics is also responsible for closing off areas to hunt! For example the Elk in Rocky Mountain Natiinal park are way over populated! In the formation of the park it was politics that shut down hunting. Since that time, the population has exploded and too many elk are bad. Since politics were involved, instead of having a limited hunting season where public hunters could have paid for the opportunity to hunt and then used the meat for food. We instead have a system where the government is paying a private company big bucks to bring in hired sharp shooters to kill the animals then dump them!

    Politics took away the states ability to control bear populations! So now instead of hunters paying to hunt bears, killing the Bears and eating the bears, we now have the officers spending hundreds if not thousands of hours dealing with an overpopulated bear speices and the end result is officers shooting problem bears and throwing the bodies in the local dump!

    Wolves are another prime example! Wolf reintroduction was pushed mainly by anti hunting organizations! The idea is simple, if all the wolves eat all the game then we no longer need hunting! There is not one single prowolf group that is not anti hunting! The other political crap behind the move was using the Endangered Speicies Act as the reason! Simply put wolves were not and have never been threatened or endangered! There were large and stable populations of wolves. But the politicians warped and used the ESA to force wolves into states where the wolves were not wanted! With any luck we will never see a viable wolf population in Colorado! We could not support them and they would decimate our game populations!

    Again firearms safety is really common sense! The class is designed so that my 8 year old daughter can pass it! I was really bummed that you mentioned youth hunters and hinted how scary it is that this was the only barrier to getting a hunting lic. This is really just a small step! It is more up to the adults and parents to determine when a youngster is able to handle hunting! Also under state law anyone under 16 years of age not only has to have the hunter safety card, but the law also states that they must be mentored in constant contact with a licensed adult! So there should never be a 12 year old running around unattended with a fire arm!

    Lastly let me put it this way! Let’s look at driving test requirements! For a driving test do you need to know the following:
    What are all the makes and models of cars on the road?
    What about different engine types?
    What about different transmissions?
    Would you need to know how a motorcycle works? How a big rig works? How a hybrid works? How the department of transportation works? How are road projects funded?

    Overall the class is meant to be a bare bones introduction into safety and in the states case some about conservation!
    For example on gear, I could easily take 4 hours just talking about my different tents, why one is good in some cases, why this one is my back country tent, etc. Hell I could easily spend hours just covering the different types of knives and why some blades are better than others!

    Most of us spend a lifetime trying to learn everything you have listed in your post! I have sat in seminars that took 6 to 8 hours covering just budgets and financing!

    Over all accept the class for what it is! A small first step in making sure that you can get a firearm into the field, hunt and get home alive!

    As far as the quality of instructors! They are volunteers there helping for free! Some are going to be good, some dry, etc! They are not professional teachers, while having professional teachers would be nice it would mean having to pay professional teachers and as a result the cost of the program would be astronomical!

    I would strongly encourage they you watch closely as the CPW always has seminars on virtually everything you mentioned!

  28. Eric on September 3, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    You are absolutely correct. But unfortunately you’re looking at this issue from an educated perspective.

    We have an extremely low bar for hunter education in the United States. Germany, for example, has a lengthy course where a number of backcountry-related skills are learned. If you are a hunter in Germany, you enjoy almost universal respect because you’ve passed a rigorous course and demonstrated awareness of environmental concerns. Of course Germany also has a different public policy regarding firearms and the protection of national resources

    Yes, the instructors are volunteers, but the individual states could step up and require comprehensive instruction. I just doubt that will ever happen because the hunting demographic would shrink and license sales would dwindle. Americans love their fast food and everything easy.

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