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Great Outdoors: Educating the next generation

My father was a hunter, but growing up, he never really offered to teach or take my sister or me with him. Looking back, I’m not sure that we ever showed much interest in hunting at all, either. I don’t know about you, but at 13 years old, the idea of sitting in the woods being quiet and freezing for hours was not my idea of a good time. So, when my daughter wanted to learn how to hunt, I enrolled her in a Massachusetts Basic Hunter Education Course being offered at our shooting club, Lee Sportsmen’s Association (LSA), because her idea of fun at 16 years old is much different than mine.

The Mass Wildlife Hunter Education Program’s mission is to protect the lives and safety of the public, promote the wise management and ethical use of our wildlife resources and encourage a greater appreciation of the environment through education. The Basic Hunter Education Course provides training in the safe handling and storage of hunting arms and ammunition, hunting laws and ethics, care and handling of game, and wildlife conservation. The course is funded by the sale of hunting and sporting licenses, and by federal excise taxes on firearms and archery equipment. Therefore, the course is free to the public.

Hunter Education was first offered in the commonwealth in 1954, and is required to obtain a Massachusetts Hunting or Sporting License. If under 18 years of age, a parent or guardian’s written permission is required to take the course. The course is offered in two formats: traditional and independent study. The traditional format requires students to attend multiple sessions for a total of 15 to 18 hours of classroom instruction. Whereas, the independent study format requires students attend two class sessions and complete some of the coursework on their own. Candidates must attend all dates of the course, complete any and all homework given, and earn at least an 80 percent on the final exam to pass the course.

LSA has been training Berkshire County youth through the state Hunter Ed. Program since 2010. The class is taught by Certified Volunteer Instructors. The current President at LSA, Doug Frank, has been teaching the Basic Hunter Education Course to Berkshire County residents for six years now.

“What I like most about it is being able to see how young kids are still interested in hunting and fishing, and realize that this is something that the world needs and is a positive influence in kids’ lives today,” Frank said.

Since 2009, LSA has supported the community’s heritage with youth pheasant and youth turkey hunts. These programs are designed for Hunter’s Education graduates ages 12 through 17, and are supported by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Each youth receives one-on-one training with a mentor to guide them. These programs include instruction on firearms safety in the field, hunting ethics, regulations and game preparation, as well as supervised shooting practice. From harvest to dressing, it is a complete lesson that preserves our rich Berkshire County hunting history.

LSA raises Massachusetts state supplied pheasants. They receive approximately 500 birds in the beginning of the summer, and they are responsible for the care, feeding costs and health of the birds. Their volunteers keep a watchful eye around the clock, until they finally stock areas for local hunters to enjoy. The Youth Pheasant Hunt is conducted on one of the six Saturdays prior to the start of the regular pheasant season.

The Youth Turkey Hunt, developed through a partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation, allows for a mentored hunt after completion of a pre-hunt workshop. A special permit is issued that allows for a mentored hunt on the Saturday prior to the last Monday in April. This permit remains valid for the regular spring turkey season following the youth hunt date.

I am proud to announce that my daughter earned a perfect score on her Basic Hunter Education exam. Although she has been involved in the shooting sports for seven years, she found herself still learning new things through this course. She is excited for the ability to participate in an upcoming youth pheasant hunt at LSA, and she already accompanied her grandfather in attempting to hunt squirrels in the Pittsfield State Forest; even though they were unsuccessful in harvesting anything, they were able to share a love of the wilderness and spending time together doing something they enjoy.

For more information about Hunter Education in Massachusetts or to sign-up for a course, visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/basic-hunter-education-courses or call (508) 389-7820 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Stephanie DuPont is on the board of directors for the Lee Sportsmen’s Association and a columnist for the Berkshire Record. You can contact her at dupontfam5@gmail.com.

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