Online hunter education programs working well

Nov 5 2009 - 10:06pm

WICHITA, Kan. -- For years, some outdoors experts have said the Internet is a distraction that keeps many from being outdoors.

Last week, Billy Hamm spent a few hours online and now can hunt for a lifetime.

Hamm, of Canton, Kan., was one of 51 students to complete the state's online hunter education program.

"It's a super way for us to present information," said Wayne Doyle, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks hunter education coordinator.

"Most kids have gotten so used to getting stuff off the Internet. This gives them something well within their comfort zone."

Hamm liked the option of going online instead of traditional classrooms.

"It let me go at my own pace," said Hamm, 18. "I've always wanted to learn these skills. It was very simple to do."

This is the fourth year part of the Kansas hunter education program has been available online.

A fan of the concept since the beginning, Doyle said some instructors have been slow to try the new tool.

"We've probably had 50 courses use online this year, but each year it goes up. Last year we were in the 30s," he said. "I'll tell you, though, I've never had (an instructor) who tried online go back to strictly the old way."

Most years, about 250 courses are taught in Kansas.

Traditional courses require students to attend at last 10 hours of classes taught by volunteer instructors.

Doyle said traditional Kansas classes average about 12 hours and are usually scattered amid two to four or five days.

The electronic option allows students to go online and read what used to be the lecture portion of the courses.

Students are credited with four hours for their online work. They're then required to attend a field day of at least six hours.

On Oct. 23, McPherson instructor Floyd Peterson hosted his first online field day.

"What was outstanding was how much they all knew when they showed up. They took a pre-test and I'd guess about 80 percent got (all of the questions correct)," Peterson said. "The only thing they didn't know was about handling guns and that's why we had the field day. I highly recommend the online courses."

Peterson and several other instructors spent six hours working with students at the McPherson County Fairgrounds near Canton.

A little time was spent on review from the online lessons. A lot was spent teaching students to safely handle the various kinds of firearms.

The students were split into small groups and taken outside to learn how to safely walk in the field and cross fences with firearms.

Each student was coached as they shot a .22 rifle, shotgun and muzzleloader.

"A lot had never shot before," Pearson said. "It's important we were able to work with them."

The class contained many adults.

"We seem to get quite a few adult women in the online courses," Doyle said. "I think part of it is fitting a regular course into their schedule. Some, if they don't know a lot about it, they may not want to be in a class where they're surrounded by men."

Allyson Cantrell, of Kechi, spends most of her time as a stay-home mom who's home-schooling six of the seven kids in her family.

That she was able to complete much of the course on her computer helped greatly.

"It meant a lot less time away from my family. I liked it," she said. "I'm looking forward to getting out with my husband and some of our kids."

Doyle said less time in classrooms can also make things more appealing for instructors.

"Everybody's busy these days," he said. "I think it'll be easier to get guys to teach if it's just part of one day instead of an entire weekend or several days. Once they try it, it'll probably be the only way they want to teach courses."

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