This question seems to be coming up a little more often in recent months on the online forums as well as discussions among bowhunters, and I find myself thinking about the pros and cons. I like to see issues from both sides before making any decisions whenever possible, and this topic is one that I am able to work in both directions to come up with different answers. As a Bowhunter Education Instructor and as one of the WSB Board Members and Vice-President I wanted to share my personal opinion.
First, for those of you who may not have taken the Bowhunter Education class, I’d like to give a little background about the class. Washington’s Bowhunter Education Program is recognized by both the National Bowhunter Education Foundation and the International Bowhunter Education Program, and completing a class which is taught in Washington allows you to receive a certification that is accepted in all U.S. states and foreign countries which require bowhunter education prior to hunting with a bow. A typical class is conducted over the course of two long days. The first day is generally in a classroom-type setting with topics such as shot placement, treestand safety, equipment orientation, and bowhunting ethics along with many others. The second day is generally a field day with many different things being covered: treestand demonstrations including safety harness use, blood trailing, shot placement, shooting tips, and compass navigation to name just a few.The experience level of the instructor team is what leads to good information being passed on to the students, and Washington’s instructors are among the best in the nation; I’ve been bowhunting for 27 years, and I’m one of the least qualifi ed in the room during our instructor training meetings. The typical response from a new bowhunter after completing the class is, “Wow, I had no idea how much went into being a competent bowhunter, thank you for sharing so much knowledge and experience!” The book that the class is structured around is just the starting point.
From the side of the coin that leads one to a “Yes” conclusion, when talking about making bowhunter education mandatory, there are a few good arguments:
1. Making it mandatory could help our sport keep a good image by keeping out those who buy a bow the last week of August and think they are now a bowhunter,
2. the WDFW could grant better or more generous seasons (not at all likely, though),
3. the recovery rate could increase if all bowhunters had the benefit of training by an experienced instructor.
The other side of the coin that leads to a “No” conclusion has valid points, as well:
1. the current bowhunter education instruction staff does not have the infrastructure in place to accommodate that volume of students (we simply don’t have enough qualified instructors),
2. the WDFW does not have the funding readily available and likely would not be able to find the money to run a mandatory program,
3. bowhunting is not expanding by any great leaps and bounds, and excluding any potential new bowhunters for any reason will only lead to the sport shrinking possibly to the point of becoming unnecessary in the eyes of the WDFW,
4. any new mandatory anything is seen as an intrusion on people’s decision-making ability by the state and tends to jade people further against the WDFW.
My personal opinion is that the WDFW should not make bowhunter education mandatory. When I started bowhunting at the age of 12, I had no mentors to learn from or was there any class available other than what was taught in the regular hunter education program. That starting point is about as green as green gets, yet I somehow made it to where I am now without giving up, without losing too many animals, and with a decent-to-good success rate. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and bowhunting experience is something that cannot be conveyed in a classroom; as an instructor, all I can do is get people thinking about what it takes to be a successful bowhunter: they won’t come out of the class and be able to have the same success rate as a veteran bowhunter can expect. Those students who complete the class are glad that they took the time out of their schedule to do it, and they are thankful toward me for passing on my knowledge. That makes being an instructorvery rewarding, indeed. If the class was made mandatory, then the appreciation would be lost, and the students would just be there because the state said they have to be and not because they want to be. That’s a very different conclusion from the same class material.
I don’t foresee any changes at the state level for the simple reason that the WDFW doesn’t want to force anything on us, and it would take a new source of revenue for them to be able to manage a mandatory program. The mandatory huntereducation is a completely different story because accidents with guns often result in other people getting hurt, whereas bowhunting accidents are almost always self-infl icted. It would take a fairly substantial public outcry to force the WDFW to make bowhunter education mandatory, and that is not too likely to occur.
What I would like to see is those bowhunters who have completed the program receive a benefi t of some sort for taking the class. I’d like the WDFW to allow a hunter with a certification number in the system to be able to purchase an extra archery-only doe tag over the counter that is valid only in certain areas: such as only on private land to allow bowhunters to help in herd management without giving up their dream of shooting a trophy buck by “wasting” their one and only tag on a doe, or in areas of the state where deer populations are needing controlled.
Another possibility that I’d like to see is to allow only those who have taken the class to put in for certain “quality” buck or bull permits that are in addition to the current allotment of quality tags. Both ideas have the ability to generate income for the WDFW while not creating administrative nightmares, and they would provide some incentive for people to enroll in the class. I know that I’d like to see a few more seats being filled in my classes, but I don’t want those seats filled by people who don’t want to be there!