Bowhunters have more than a little in common with Zen masters. They discipline themselves to sit motionless for hours at a time, not swatting when mosquitoes buzz around their ears or flinching when gnats fly up their noses. They learn to move through the autumn woods as silently as ghosts. They draw their bows and hold them until joints ache and muscles quiver, waiting for the precise moment to release their arrows for quick, clean kills. Yet, very few take time to sit through an eight-hour bowhunter education class offered by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Why? For one thing, bowhunter education is not mandatory in Missouri. Firearms hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1967, must successfully complete training that includes firearm safety, hunting ethics and other important hunting knowledge. In contrast, bowhunter education classes remain voluntary, thanks to bowhunters' impeccable safety record.
"Bowhunting accidents are almost unheard of," said Brian Bethel, hunter education coordinator for the Conservation Department. "The nature of bowhunting works against most of the kinds of accidents that firearms hunters are subject to. Bowhunters have to get very close to their game and place their shots exactly. Arrows that miss their intended target don't travel far, and bows are not prone to go off because they were kept loaded when they shouldn't have been. It's just a very safe activity."
If bowhunter education is not required, and if safety -- the main reason for firearms hunter education -- is not a serious concern to bowhunters, maybe the question is not so much why few bowhunters take the training, but why any of them do. Bethel said part of the answer lies in other states' hunting regulations. Missouri hunters must get certified if they want to pursue deer, elk or other big game in states where bowhunter education is mandatory.
Furthermore, some communities in the Show-Me State are working with archers to control urban and suburban deer numbers. In many cases, they only permit hunters who have completed bowhunter training to help in these efforts.
Bethel said a much better reason for taking a bowhunter education course is self-improvement.
"Very few bowhunters are so experienced and knowledgeable that they can't learn something through bowhunter education," he said. "If you have been bowhunting less than 10 years, I guarantee you will be a better, more successful, more thoughtful bowhunter after taking one of these courses."
It is ironic that bowhunter education is not required in Missouri, because the Conservation Department and Missouri bowhunters were instrumental in developing the national bowhunter education curriculum. The course covers the history and motivations behind modern bowhunting, safe and responsible bowhunting, archery equipment, hunting preparation, tree-stand safety, shot placement, game recovery and outdoor preparedness.
Another possible reason that few people take bowhunter education classes is the fact that they are not offered routinely, due to lack of participation. Instead, the Conservation Department organizes classes when they are requested.
"If we have enough people request a class to make it worth an instructor's time and effort, we set it up," said Bethel. "I would guess we have a dozen or so every year, compared to about a thousand firearms hunter education classes annually."
At present, the Conservation Department has one bowhunter education class scheduled in the St. Louis area Aug. 25 and 26.
For information about this class call 636-441-4554.
For information about setting up a class in the area, call 573-522-4115, ext. 3256.