Ohio Hunter Education course changing

The ODNR Division of Wildlife recently implemented a new hunter education course manual and test along with additional course options. The previous hunter education manual had served the program well for many years. It was written by volunteer instructors and Division of Wildlife professionals who had extensive hunting and classroom experience. However, the manual was overdue for some needed updates. The new manual is a national product with some areas tailored to meet specific Ohio hunting laws and regulations. The new course is a product of Kalkomey Enterprises, which is headquartered in Texas. The focus of their business is outdoor safety education programs including hunting, boating and other recreational safety courses. Kalkomey courses are used, in some part or fashion, by all fifty states. In order for the Ohio Hunter Education Course to be recognized, and Ohio residents accepted for out-of- state license purchases, the Ohio course must be certified. Since all states use some of their products, the certification process becomes somewhat automatic.

ODNR Division of Wildlife Hunter/Trapper Coordinator Matt Ortman was at the center of the course changes. He explains, "We discussed replacing the old manual for some time. The process started in 2015. and by July 2016 we were ready to receive bids. At that time there were three full time vendors, however Kalkomey was the only vendor to meet all the requirements. A major requirement is to provide written curriculum and matching online curriculum. We didn't want different course options from separate vendors. Updating our manual was certainly discussed. However, at that time our graphics section had only one person. We didn't have the capabilities to handle the online development."

The new course is more than just a new manual. A new online course option has been added and the process for completing a home study course is changed. The traditional classroom course is still available. The traditional course requires the student to register through the Division of Wildlife website, select a class in their area, and attend all classroom sessions. Upon passing the course test, the student is certified as completing the hunter education requirements. The traditional courses are led by certified volunteer hunter education instructors.

The changes to the home study course, where a student completes the course work and quizzes at home prior to scheduling a hands-on instructor led session, are minor. The student registers online with through the Division of Wildlife website. The student must complete the new course online and successfully answer the quizzes at the end of each chapter. The student is not permitted to proceed until the chapter quiz is successfully completed. When the online course is completed, the student must pay a $15 fee to Kalkomey for a certificate of completion. Next the student can return to the Division of Wildlife website and register for a home study classroom session in their area. Once the hands-on session is completed and the student passes the test, they are certified as completed hunter education.

The major new option is the ability to take the course, including the test, online without attending any classroom sessions. The student must go to the Division of Wildlife website and select the option to take the online course. When the course is completed, the student must pay $15 to the vendor in order to take the online test. If the student successfully passes the test, they receive a certification of completion. The age limit to take the online course and test is now set at age 12. This has caused much concern among the volunteer hunter education instructors. Many instructors feel that students benefit and learn the most regarding hunter education and safety from instructor led classes.

There were some implementation issues. According to the Outdoor Skills Section, the new products were tested in each of the five districts prior to release. However, shortly after the release problems began to surface. The initial class failure rates skyrocketed. As a result of these issues, the Division of Wildlife lowered the passing grade from the long time 80% down to 75%. Additionally, the Division is working with the vendor to develop a new test. The new test will be written at a lower grade level, approximately fifth-grade, reading comprehension. The new test is scheduled for completion in the early spring. The course manual, however, will remain at the higher reading comprehension grade level.

As with any major change, there has been some confusion and difficulty with the new course. Reports from around the state indicate that class attendance has been down last fall and winter. Certainly in southwest Ohio Greene County area a number of courses at the Greene County Fish and Game Association, plus the Wright Patterson Rod and Gun Club, were cancelled due to the lack of registrations. Whether this is a result of the new online training option or some other reason remains to be seen.

The Ohio Hunter Education course is required for all first-time hunting license buyers. There is an option to purchase an apprentice hunting license for a maximum of three years. The apprentice hunting license, whether for a youth or an adult, requires the holder to hunt with a licensed adult mentor. The new course options are designed to make it easier for busy families to take the course. The object is to recruit more hunters and get them involved in the outdoors. Hunter education is regarded as a key component in keeping hunting incidents and accidents low making it a safe outdoor recreational opportunity. Compete information on Ohio's hunter and trapper education programs and classes may be found online at: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/education-and- outdoor-discovery/hunter- and-trapper- education.

Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Foundation and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year and the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year.

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