Hunter Education Trains Novice Nimrods in Skills and Safety

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

I led the way, feeling the crisp October air in my lungs and the narrow switchback trail in the tops of my legs. I stopped to look back. Tiffany was coming up the trail, the Ruger 243 slung on her shoulder and a grin on her face. Behind her, on the valley floor, the rancher's Black Angus and Herefords were mere specks now.

We topped out on a bench and worked to the west, using the folds of the treeless terrain for cover and binoculars to probe each new vista. A cool breeze blew in our faces, but the morning sun warmed our backs. It was the last day of my 12 year-old daughter's deer season and her last chance to fill her tag.

At the end of the hogback we ran out of cover. On hands and knees we inched over the top of the final rise and looked down into a dry canyon. About 800 yards away, we saw deer filing across the opposite slope. They'd doubled back and ditched us. Now they were at the fence that marked the property line. We watched through our binoculars and rested. What now?

Up the canyon were several feeder canyons. After a few minutes, we low-crawled over a hump of ground and set up the rifle on its bipod. Surely we'd find a deer here, I told myself.

Movement on the far hillside. There. A coyote, running low along the ground. And there, a deer. Tiffany saw it too, and snugged the rifle butt into her shoulder. The deer walked broadside, then stopped to look at the coyote.

"How far is it?" Tiffany asked.

I kept my eye at the spotting scope. "It's far. But it's probably the last chance you're going to have this season. With the gun on the bipod, you'll be steady." I was silent then, and the deer stood, watching the coyote. Tiffany had practiced on paper targets throughout the summer and into the fall. The gun was zeroed with the 95-grain Nosler Partition for 300 yards. If she held eight inches high, putting the crosshair just under the line of its back…

"I think I'll let it go," she said.

"Good." She'd made the decision I hoped she'd make. The mule deer walked along the side of the hill and we watched it until it was out of sight. We looked at each other and smiled. It had been a good hunt and now it was over and we had next year to look forward to.

Now is the time to plan for this autumn's big game seasons. In Oregon, a Hunter Education certificate is mandatory for anyone, under the age of 18, that intends to hunt anywhere other than on their family's land.

To legally hunt small game and birds in Oregon, a young hunter must hold a license and a Hunter Education certificate. To pursue big game, the hunter must also be at least 12 years old.

Early in the year is the best time to take the class. Classroom sessions and a field day prepare new hunters for field situations. Since learning new skills takes practice, spring classes can prepare for the summer outdoor experiences that will add confidence to the book learning.

Safety and awareness are constantly stressed. Students are taught and tested on the techniques of crossing fences, and how to safely carry a gun in a vehicle. They learn basic first aid and survival skills. They are also taught in what situations a shot can be taken and, more important, when NOT to shoot.

Hunter Education classes are taught by volunteers working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. To register, call the nearest regional office. In the Northwest region, call 503-657-2000. In the Southwest, call 541-440-3353. In the High Desert, call 541-388-6363. In the Northeast, call 541-963-2138.

Even those who do not intend for their child to hunt, should consider enrolling him or her in the course. Even children whose families do not own guns will be exposed to them at some point in their lives. Safety education teaches a respect for firearms that may keep young people and others around them safe.

Beyond respect for firearms, the course taught my daughter respect for the animal and its habitat. At the end of her hunt, we sat on the ridge and talked about what we'd seen during our four days afield and what we'd do different next time.

She'd tested her aim throughout the pre-season in target practice. Later, she tested her knowledge of the animals and the habitat in sagebrush flats, creek bottoms and on the tops of windswept ridges. And at the end of it, she tested herself.

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