LITTLE ROCK — Thanks to a new policy at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, any Arkansas resident 10 or older may complete all components of his or her Hunter Education requirement online to be ready for the upcoming hunting season this year.
Hunter Education is mandatory for anyone 16 and older who wishes to hunt in Arkansas. Hunters under 16 must have Hunter Education to hunt on their own but may hunt without certification if under the direct supervision of a licensed hunter, 21 or older.
The change comes from the lack of classes the AGFC has been able to offer during the midst of the covid-19 crisis.
“We have had a lot of calls about when we will be able to get back to regularly scheduled classes,” said Joe Huggins, the AGFC’s Hunter Education Program coordinator. “I wish I could tell them, but we just don’t know.”
Huggins says there have been a few classes held through Zoom meetings and a handful in outdoor settings, but they could have no more than 10 people, including the instructor, and had to be outdoors if they were in-person.
“Months like July, August and September don’t lend themselves well to sitting in an outdoor class for 10 hours,” Huggins said. “The online option will help people get certified before September hunting seasons begin.”
In January, the AGFC made the decision to begin expanding opportunities for people to complete Hunter Education online. Any Arkansas resident 16 and older could complete the course and become certified entirely through the AGFC’s online program. Youth 12 to 15 could take the course online as well but still needed to complete a short, in-person course to complete the process.
“Things have changed a lot since January,” said Grant Tomlin, assistant chief of the AGFC’s Education Division. “Social-distancing restrictions have prevented us from hosting many of those completion courses. So we have had to explore new options.”
Tomlin and Huggins say that any courses planned to be administered through Arkansas schools will still be conducted at that school’s discretion in accordance with their approved social distancing measures. They also stress that people can still hunt without Hunter Education as long as they are under the direct supervision of a licensed hunter at least 21 years old.
“Anyone 16 or older just needs to get a Deferred Hunter Education Code and abide by that code if they have not completed Hunter Education yet,” Tomlin said. “But getting certified through the online course is easy and has been improved over the years.”
Joe Huggins, Hunter Education Program coordinator for the AGFC, says the decision didn’t come lightly.
“We don’t want to do anything that could cause an unsafe hunting condition down the road,” Huggins said. “We looked at many other states that have allowed young people to complete the entire course online for the last few years and did not see any noticeable increase in hunting accidents.”
Huggins says most hunting accidents and fatalities still are the result of tree-stand falls, and they are usually by adult hunters who have many years of experience.
Once restrictions from covid-19 subside, the online class will still be allowed for any hunter 12 and older.
“Hunters under 12 are encouraged to take in-person courses once the social-distancing restrictions are lifted and we can resume classes,” Tomlin said. “The course is based on a 6th-grade reading level, so we’ll need to restrict the course to that age when covid-19 concerns have lifted. For now, 10 and older can take the course in its entirety online.”