The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is making it easier for Oklahoma residents to get hunter education certified by offering an online course. But is this a good thing?
Last month, the Wildlife Department began offering hunter education certification online to Oklahoma residents on its website, www.wildlifedepartment.com.
More than 1,300 students have already taken the online class and received their hunter education certification, said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the agency.
In Oklahoma, anyone age 30 or younger must receive hunter education to legally hunt alone, Meek said.
An apprentice hunting license is available to Oklahoma hunters who are not hunter education certified, which allows them to hunt with someone who has received hunter education training.
Oklahoma is the second state in the nation to offer hunter education online and the first to offer its own curriculum online.
Indiana offers a hunter education course online but uses a private company that charges a fee for the course. Hunter education classes in Oklahoma are free, whether in a classroom or online.
“We developed this course,” Meek said of Oklahoma's online hunter education class. “We worked with UCO (University of Central Oklahoma) and did our own hunter education manual then took it to Career Tech to make an online class.”
Taking the Oklahoma hunter education class online will virtually be the same as taking it in a classroom, Meek said.
“We show the same videos,” he said. “It is the same course material.”
But wouldn't taking a hunter education course from a real instructor, who can answer questions and share first-hand experiences, be better for students?
Indiana officials initially had the same concern, but the Hoosier state has been offering hunter education online for four years now without seeing an increase in hunting accidents, Meek said.
“They have been tracking those (online) students, and they have been just as safe or safer than regular students,” he said.
“You can get a college degree online and take a boaters education class online for several years now, and hunting has a lot better safety record than boating.”
The Wildlife Department will still offer its traditional eight-hour class and home study course for hunter education.
However, Meek admitted the agency might reduce the number of those classes in the future if there is an overwhelming response to the agency's online class.
Less than 5 percent of hunters in Indiana are obtaining their hunter education certification online, Meek said. Indiana requires a person to be age 18 or older to take the hunter education class online.
In Oklahoma, the Wildlife Department is making the online hunter education course available to any resident age 10 or older.
“That's the level where we felt someone was mature enough to get their education online,” Meek said.
Oklahoma certifies between 15,000 and 17,000 new hunters each year. The vast majority of hunter education in Oklahoma involves classroom instruction and coursework.
Only a handful of classes actually offer hands-on training on the use of a firearm, Meek said.
“If a parent and a son or daughter sit down and take this course together and talk about it, as far as we are concerned, that's the best possible benefit of taking hunter education online,” Meek said.