Some of my fondest kid memories date back to the late 1960s when I roamed the woods and pastures of my grandparent’s farm in Collin County near Parker. Summer weekends were spent shagging grasshoppers and fishing in stock tanks, but come fall I always reached for a single-shot Winchester and chased cottontails, fox squirrels, dove and quail long before the country was gobbled up by urban sprawl.
I’m not sure how old I was when I drew first blood with that old 20 gauge, but I know I did it without a hunter education certificate stuffed in my pocket. Hunter education wasn’t mandated by Texas law back then as it is now.
Like me, many Texas hunters who are now middle age relied heavily on close friends, family or other mentors to show us the ropes before we were cut loose to go at it alone as kids.
The only education regarding safe gun handling and hunting ethics I had as a youngster were taught by my dad. He was a good teacher whose important lessons made an everlasting impression.
Dad was a stickler about treating every firearm as if it were loaded, always keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction (up or down) and never pulling the trigger unless you were certain of the target. In his book, you never, ever shot a bird or any other animal unless the intention was to eat it, protect yourself, others or personal property.
Steve Hall agreed that those were all good lessons. Hall is a gun safety and hunter ethics advocate who has headed up the hunter education program for the Texas Parks and Wildlife department for more than a quarter century.
He is a firm believer that hunter education breeds safer hunting practices, which helps prevent accidents and ultimately saves lives.
There is plenty of solid trend data to support the claim.
Hall says TPWD began logging data on hunting related accidents in 1966, but didn’t mandate hunter education until 1988. Since then, all hunters born on or after Sept. 2, 1971 have been required to complete a hunter education course before hunting alone in Texas. In 1949, New York became the first state to create a law making hunter education certification mandatory for legal hunting.
The downward curve witnessed in Texas’ hunting-related accidents since hunter education was made mandatory 32 years ago is a definitive one.
Hunting accidents reached an all-time high in Texas in 1968. There were 105 accidents documented that year resulting in 37 fatalities. Approximately 855,000 hunting licenses were sold that year.
In 1988, the same year Texas became the 38th state to implement a hunter education law, there were 70 accidents, 12 lives lost and nearly 1.2 million hunting licenses sold.
Texas hunting accidents hit an all-time low of 17 in 2018, surpassing the previous record low of 20 set in 2015. The number of accidents increased to 21 last year with one fatality and nearly 1.3 million hunting licenses sold.
Though one hunting related accident will always be one too many, Hall says hunter education is clearly working.
“The trend data is convincing,” he said. “Hunter education has reduced hunting incidents in Texas by more than three-fourths since 1988. It also has improved the compliance rate of hunting regulations and improved the image of hunting and hunters.”
Hall says more than 1.5 million Texans have taken a hunter education course since 1988, and that Texas issues more certifications each year than any other state — about 55,000-70,000.
The annual figure includes about 18,000-20,000 certificates issued to students enrolled in agriculture science and the state’s outdoor adventures program. Hall said an additional 25,000 people are certified through online courses, while about 10,000 certificates are issued through traditional classroom courses administered by volunteer instructors around the state.
Hunters are advised to keep their hunter education certificates with them at all times while hunting, just in case they get checked by a game warden.
It will be interesting to see how traditional classroom course certification numbers hold up through the rigors of the COVID-19 pandemic. These courses are designed for novice and young hunters ages 9 years and above. A $15 classroom course typically lasts for 6 hours.There is no age limit for taking the course, but you must be at least nine to become officially certified.
Hall says the coronavirus hasn’t stopped in-person, instructor-led courses from taking place. However, class participation sizes have been reduced and instructors are required to follow safety protocols such as social distancing, hand washing, equipment sanitizing and mask wearing to help keep everyone healthy.
“The classes are definitely smaller and the quality of education isn’t has ‘hands on’ as it has been in the past,” Hall said.
People interested in taking a hunter education course should visit the TPWD hunter education website (tpwd.texas.gov/education/hunter-education). You can search for classroom courses in your area by clicking the classroom course link or you can contact the department directly at 1-800-792-1112, ext. 4999.
Hunters ages 9-16 must either pass the course before hunting, or be accompanied in the field by a Texas licensed hunter who is at least 17, hunter ed certified or exempt. Accompanied means within normal voice control.
Persons 17 and older who have not passed the course may defer certification for one year. The one-time deferral costs $10. You must be accompanied in the field by a Texas licensed hunter who is at least 17, hunter ed certified or exempt if you have a deferral.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.
Texas Hunter Education Certification Options
1.) Under Age 17: Instructor-led, also for parents and/or adults seeking instructor-led courses.
* OPTION 1 - Classroom Course, 6 hours of basic instruction.
* OPTION 2 - Online, plus field course, free online course plus 4-hour "field day" including live-fire and hunter skills trail.
2.) Age 17 or older: On-line only.
Online-Only Course: Must be 17 years of age or older to register.
3.) 3. One-time, one-year Hunter Education Deferral: A $10 deferral available through license vendors allows hunters ages 17 or older to defer completion of their mandatory hunter education for up to one year, as long as the person is accompanied by a hunter who has completed hunter education or is exempt. Deferrals may only be obtained only once.
Kansas youth, 14, bags monster 40 pointer in early season
By Matt Williams
Here’s an early season deer hunting tale to whet the appetites of Texas hunters with opening day of archery and youth hunting seasons just around the corner……
Southwestern Kansas is well known producing some bruiser whitetail bucks, and 14-year old Paslie Werth of Cimarron recently put her tag on a free-ranging Kiowa County monster that may be the highest scoring buck ever taken by a female in all of North America. It is sure to rank among the top bucks ever recorded in the Sunflower State and one of the best ever taken by a youth hunter.
Werth, a high school freshman, bagged the buck on the afternoon of Sept. 6 while rifle hunting with her father, Kurt. It was a the second day of Kansas’ special youth only hunting season.
Sporting 40 scoreable points, the 6 1/2-year-old non-typical buck has been unofficially gross green scored at 282 6/8 Boone and Crockett inches. The current Kansas state record by firearm is a 280 4/8 net whopper shot in 1987 in Shawnee County.
The enormous buck didn’t take the Werths by surprise. The hunters have been watching buck on trail cameras for the last three seasons.
Kurt Werth claims he passed on the opportunity to take the buck when it was a 5 1/2 year old estimated to score in the neighborhood of 230.
“I thought he still and some growing to do, and he did,” Worth said. “He really blew up this year. A couple of other landowners were after him, so I figured it would be a good time for Paslie to take him if she got the chance.
The buck’s antlers must dry for 60 days before undergoing official rescoring. Werth believes the deer will net in the upper 260s after drying. If that’s the case, he said his daughter’s deer will easily surpass the current North American non-typical record for lady hunters — a 257 1/8 inch Kansas whitetail shot in 1997.
“I’d love for Paslie to have that title,” he said.
Either way, the Werth buck is a shoo-in to qualify for entry in B&C’s all-time records, which requires a minimum score of 195 net on non-typical white-tailed deer.
Matsushita wins at ‘Rayburn
Masayuki Matsushita was a long way from his native Japan when he topped a 215-angler field stacked with local talent to win the Bassmaster Central Open held Sept. 10-12 on Sam Rayburn.
Matsushita, 37, weighed in a three-day total of 60 pounds, 14 ounces on 15 bass to nail down his first Bassmaster win. He has been competing on the trail in 2016. His previous best finish came in 2017, when he finished third on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.
In addition to grabbing a $50,167 pay day, Matsushita punched his ticket to compete in the 2021 Bassmaster Classic set for March 19-21 in Fort Worth on nearby Lake Ray Roberts. A ‘Classic win pays $300,000, plus the opportunity to capitalize on lucrative sponsorships.
Matsushita could probably use the extra dough. He wrote in a recent column on bassmaster.com that he spends about $40,000 a year flying back and forth from Japan to the United States to compete in BASS events.
The Japanese pro said he used a Deps Sakamata Shad soft jerk bait rigged on a 7/0 hook and a 10 1/2 inch Zoom Ol’ Monster plastic worm to target big bass relating to offshore brush piles and timber in water ranging 20-30 feet deep.
Matushita’s winning weight was anchored a massive, Day 1 limit of 27 pounds, 10 ounces that turned out to be heaviest single day catch of the event. Longview’s Brian Schott and Louisiana’s Darold Gleason also cracked the 27-pound mark in a tournament that produced 11 limits of 20 pounds or more.
Rounding out the Top 12 finishers were Josh Douglas, 59-5; Kris Wilson, 57-11; Keith Combs, 55-12; Darold Gleason, 52-15; Shaine Campbell, 51-12; Gerald Swindle, 50-12; Brian Schott, 50-1; Logan Latuso, 49-15; Albert Collins, 49-8; Jason Christie, 47-15; and Brian Post, 43-15.
Hayden Heck, 20, of Lufkin, took the top spot in co-angler division with 28-5 on nine fish. Co-anglers were allowed to weigh three fish per day. Heck won $23,800.