by Brent McNamee
One of the things I enjoy most about being a hunter and angler is sharing my passion for the outdoors with others. When pursued responsibly, these activities connect us to the natural world in a unique way. There’s just nothing like it.
I’ve also been teaching hunter education in Ontario for several years now. I love teaching, and I firmly believe in the value of instructor–student interaction. It’s a tremendous privilege to share my experience with others and, in the process, help contribute to the great Canadian outdoors tradition.
But today we face a challenge in carrying on that tradition. Young people, faced with a huge number of sports options, digital entertainment distractions, hectic schedules and so on, are spending less and less time outdoors.
And it’s no surprise that the traditional method of providing face-to-face hunter education over one to two days in a classroom holds little appeal for this new generation.
Those who have to travel hours to get to a class are even less inclined to participate. No doubt, we are losing potential lifelong hunters—their passion for the sport is only likely to take hold after they actually get out in the field. And for that to happen, they must first undergo hunter education. So, how do we connect with this new generation? Online education is one critically important avenue. Why? For starters, today’s youth are completely comfortable in the online environment—it’s as familiar to them as the back 40 was to us older folks during our younger days. E-learning also has three distinct strengths.
First, online courses can be completed at home, at the student’s own pace, without the need to find two uninterrupted days to sit in class. Instead, the student can fit the course into his or her schedule, studying the material in small chunks. That means there’s a greater chance of youths actually taking and completing the course, and retaining the knowledge they gain.
Second, online courses engage students through interactive features, such as online shooting and archery ranges where participants can practise their aim. This brings the hunting experience to life, makes the information memorable and, perhaps most importantly, makes learning fun.
Finally, online courses make hunter education accessible to those who are uncomfortable taking a class. This might include students with different learning styles (who need narration or visual cues, for example), or those who find it hard to maintain attention for long periods. And youths aren’t the only ones who can benefit from e-learning. For people who are accustomed to working online every day, online hunter education is convenient, engaging and comfortable. I believe this will lead to more and better educated new hunters.
Government agencies across North America seem to agree. Many have recognized the safety value of these courses and have approved them for use in their jurisdictions. Here in Canada, seven provinces are now using online hunter education. Working with these provinces, my company has developed course material and testing for their particular needs. In some provinces, students complete the online hunter education course before scheduling an in-person proctored exam. In others, students complete a portion of the course online, then participate in a follow-up classroom course or fi eld day with an instructor.Instructors who’ve led these field days have been impressed. “In our last online class, not only did the students do well in the follow-up exercises, but all scored 100 per cent on their test,” says one veteran instructor. “We’ve never had that happen before.” Not only is online education convenient and accessible, it’s clearly effective, as well.
I’m excited to be playing a role in making hunter education relevant and accessible to a new generation of hunters. While it’s important to protect our hunting traditions, it’s also imperative that we recognize how new technologies can help us reach, recruit and educate new hunters. The future of our sport just might depend on it.