To The Editor;
I've been teaching hunter safety for approximately eight years and each year I say to myself, "This was our best year." But as each successive year is completed I find that every year is a "best" year. The enthusiasm and intense will to learn by our students overwhelms me. And this is good. They want to perform well in the woods and do the right things. Their questions are to the point with a real need to know. They want to understand and they attack every problem as if their very life depends upon their individual decision. Whether it's, "What should I have in my survival pack?" or "Why doesn't the needle on my compass point to true north?" or "How should I approach the landowner for permission to hunt on his or her land," never ceases to amaze me that these students really want to know every possible situation before taking up a firearm and heading to the woods. At the beginning of each class, I ask the students what the letters UCS means? And it's incredible that within a few minutes someone will pop up and say, "Use Common Sense." Those three words encompass the whole program and its teachings.
Before purchasing a first hunting license, one must take a hunter safety course. It's a state law. Once taken and completed the certificate is good for the purchase of a hunting license in every state in our nation plus Canada. To a very few of the participants, taking a hunter safety course seems a waste of time. I was one of those students who thought that taking such a course was totally unnecessary. After all, I've had plenty of experience with firearms. I've been hunting since I was thirteen. I shot small bore for Morse High School in Bath and also shot for the University of Maine. I shot expert rifleman in the Army. During the celebration of the bicentennial I became a Revolutionary War reenactor and have been using black powder for almost 30 years. The national reenactment group I belong to is intense when it comes to safety. Why should I have to take a hunter safety course? I'm probably a safer hunter candidate than most in the woods currently. Unfortunately, I neglected keeping my hunting license up to date. Well folks, as I found out, much to my chagrin, hunter safety is much more that how to use a gun. I found the training to be so important that I wanted to teach it.
This is the second hunting season that there were no hunting fatalities in the Maine woods! And this season extended from the first of September, with the expanded archery hunting of deer, to the first week in December. It's an incredible record when considering that there were over 200,000 licenses sold in the state and that there were over 30,000 deer taken this year. Somebody had to be doing some shooting! Do you suppose the hunter safety course requirement had something to do with this record?
However, there were five hunters who suffered gunshot wounds. Three of the woundings were self-inflicted and two were one on one. The hunter safety program is emphatic about the proper way of loading and unloading a firearm. It is of utmost importance that a firearm be unloaded when not in use, when crossing a stream or a fence, climbing a tree to a tree stand or climbing a hill where one may slip and fall. Knowing the direction in which the firearm muzzle is pointed so as not to endanger others is also stressed. Maine has a stiff game identification law where a hunter must identify game before shooting. If you accidentally shoot a human being, the point is that you identified the target as a human being and you discharged your firearm. Folks, if there is a fatality, the offender could be up on manslaughter charges.
Nevertheless, it's been a great year for hunters in the Maine woods. I, personally, am very pleased with the results regarding safety. I'm extremely proud of our students and want to congratulate them for a job well done. I'd like to close with a story I heard from the father of a hunter safety student. The father told me that he must take a hunter safety course. I reminded him that he was grandfathered in that he already had a hunting license. He said that he has to because his son was telling him all the things he was doing wrong while hunting! That's what it's all about, folks – education.