Hunter Ed Docs Bring Back Great Memories
Searching my own files in preparation for the work that lies ahead, I found the course materials from when I took Wisconsin’s Hunter Safety Course … a few years back.
It was 1974. In May of that year, I turned 12 years old. It was a BIG birthday.
In Wisconsin, the state law said kids could hunt — actually carry a gun in the field, with their own license and bag limit — at age 12 if accompanied by an adult and if they passed the Wisconsin Hunter Safety Course. Then at 14, they could hunt on their own with the certification. Without it, they couldn’t legally hunt until age 16.
Since I’d been old enough to walk, my dad took me on pheasant hunts and duck hunts just to go along. I remember the wonderful view riding on his shoulders when my little legs tired before the cornfield ran out. As I got older, I was his shell bearer and carried the birds when we were lucky enough to get some. However, the rule in the Miller household was no deer hunts until age 12 and completion of the Hunter Safety Course.
So, in the summer of 1974 attending and passing the Hunter Safety Course was the most important thing in my life! The classes at the Hermitage Sportsmen’s Club in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin began in August and ran into September — right up to the opening of the earliest hunting seasons for squirrels, rabbits, and ruffed grouse.
Even before the class began, I knew there would be materials and homework, so I used some of the money I’d earned that summer helping a neighboring dairy farmer bale hay to buy a special folder. I stenciled “HUNTERS SAFETY COURSE” on the cover, added my name, and glued on the joker card from a deck of playing cards featuring a golden retriever and a Lab to add some illustration. I was ready!
Each week of the course there were new reading assignments and homework. After my dad, or my friend Kenny’s dad, picked us up and delivered us home, I’d refuse to go to bed until the reading and homework were done. It always vexed my mom because I didn’t revere my algebra assignments with the same enthusiasm.
In those days, there was no defined course manual from the state. Instead, the instructors cobbled together texts, booklets, and pamphlets from gun and ammo makers, NRA, NSSF, Boy Scouts, and 4-H. Looking back at them, the messages and the rules have barely changed, but the style, voice, delivery, and media are completely different.
As you might expect, I didn’t miss a single second of any of the eight weeks of classes. Exam night was scheduled when the seventh graders of St. John’s Lutheran school (of which I was one) were at overnight environmental camp about 50 miles away from Elkhart Lake. Yikes!
Before I agreed to go to camp, I made my parents come into school weeks ahead of time and meet with the teacher and the principal to ensure arrangements for me to leave camp that night to take the exam. My buddy Kenny did, too. So on that long awaited night, my dad took off early from work, drove up to the camp, picked us up, took us straight back to Hermitage, waited while we took the exam and the instructors scored the tests, then drove Kenny and me back to camp — arriving around 11:00 and with more than an hour for him to drive home to do the delayed farm chores and then go back to work the next morning. (I think it was all pretty important to Pa, too!)
Kenny and I sat next to each other to take the exam just like we did in class each week. However, he provided a major distraction during the test when a housefly flew up his nose inducing a coughing fit from which he nearly passed out! Somehow, I persevered to score 100 percent on the exam.
Field day was the following Saturday. Unlike today’s program which requires demonstration of field carries and such, ours was just a shooting test with a .22 and a shotgun. No problems there. The toughest part of the whole course was then sweating out the certificate showing up in the mail so I could buy my first hunting license in time for “opening day” of squirrel season.
It all worked out!