A year ago, the pandemic created a unique set of circumstances for the North Dakota hunter education program. With a goal of training safe hunters, the Game and Fish Department and hundreds of volunteer instructors were faced with a challenge – providing the necessary coursework and gun safety while adhering to safety protocols.
“We developed and modified our home study courses, which are traditionally in-person for the first class for firearm handling and North Dakota-specific content,” said Brian Schaffer, the department's hunter education coordinator, explaining how the transition evolved. “We were able to include that in our online learning. Students were able to complete the 10 to 13 hours of online instruction at home and then finish later. To meet the requirements and not compromise safety, the department offered over 100 in-person testing opportunities across the state, which included the written and practical exam.”
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Most years, over 4,000 students attend and complete North Dakota hunter education training, and even in the pandemic year, more than 3,500 students successfully completed the required coursework, training and testing. It was a monumental task put together in a matter of weeks to meet the needs of North Dakota hunters.
In 2021, a combination of some of the traditional courses continues with the new available technology and instruction.
What hasn’t changed is the window of opportunity.
“The vast majority of our courses are offered from January through about the end of May, as most of our volunteers have some off time during the winter months to teach hunter education,” Schaffer said. “Also, our deer lottery is held in June. So, if you are required to have it this year, we recommend you try and find a course before the end of the school year and the deer application deadline.”
Game and Fish and volunteer instructors continue to adjust while also looking to expand traditional courses and start offering some more courses year-round.
Understand while larger communities may have several classes to pick and choose possible dates and times to work within a schedule, many North Dakota towns may have one each year, so even if it’s not the best timing, it might be the only option until next year.
The most effective way to find out when the next course is in your area is to sign up for email and text alerts on the Game and Fish Department’s website at gf.nd.gov.
Schaffer points out new volunteers can help provide these classes for your area.
“For the last 40-plus years, our hunter education program has been led by our volunteer instructors across the state,” he said. “And as any organization can see in recent years, we're always looking for more volunteers and more people that are willing to share their knowledge and their passion for the resource and to pass that on to the next generation of hunters here in North Dakota.”
Simply put, if you, your son, daughter, neighbor or grandchildren need hunter education and you're unsure of class availability, become a volunteer instructor and help pass along the hunting legacy and heritage to the next generation.
Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.