In celebration of providing 50 years of Hunter Education courses, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) recognized its 1.5 millionth student. The recognition took place during the November 3 Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Commission meeting, according to a press release.
The first hunter education course in the state took place on February 28, 1972. Passing this program became a requirement to legally hunt in Texas in 1987. There are over 800 agricultural and outdoor education teachers in Texas who conduct these courses.
The student recognized on November 3 was Austin Zurek, who was taught by Brian Moss from the Midlothian Independent School District. Zurek and Moss were each given a commemorative .22-caliber “Golden Boy” rifle, the press release shares. The rifle was donated by a company called Henry Repeating Arms. The firearms manufacturer honors hunter education programs in Texas each year.
Steve Hall, the TPWD hunter education coordinator, said that the department has recognized students at other milestones.
“This is a special occasion and if you look over the 50-year history of the program, you will see that we honored the 100,000th, 500,000th and millionth student in the same way,” Hall shared in the press release. “It is thrilling to know that in a state with 1.2 million licensed hunters, most have completed a basic course, which, overall, has greatly reduced the hunting accident rate (see Hunting Accident Reports), significantly increased compliance rates to game laws and enhanced the image of hunters and hunting.”
The executive director of TPWD, Carter Smith, stated in the press release that educating hunters has become a part of the cultural heritage of the Lone Star State.
“Hunter education is a proud tradition for Texas. It has become the proverbial rite of passage towards safe, responsible, and knowledgeable hunting and target shooting practices. We are so pleased to honor Austin and Brian and highlight this significant milestone for this important program,” Smith said.
Texans are required to be at least 9 years old to complete the Hunter Education courses, according to the official website. Texas recognizes courses from other states, as well. Texans under the age of 17 can hunt without having completed the education courses if they are accompanied by a certified hunter. Proof of a Texans Hunter Education certification should be kept on hand by a person when actively hunting, according to TPWD.
“As more Texans continue to take to the field and begin their own hunting traditions, TPWD Hunter Education continues to be the first stop for the next generation of safe, legal, and ethical hunters,” the TPWD press release shares. “Today, along with basic Hunter Education courses, the program provides advanced learning opportunities like Hunting 101s and Bowhunter Education to bolster [a] hunter’s skills.”
There are online hunting courses, as well as in-person courses.
Examples of in-person hunting courses, according to the Hunting 101 website, include Modern Sporting Rifles, Bow Hunting, Outdoor Survival/First Aid, Wildlife Management, and Outdoor Ethics. Online courses include Rifle Fundamentals, Handgun Fundamentals, and Shotgun Fundamentals.
There are also courses offered on specific animal species, the website shares. These courses include Turkey Hunting 101, Waterfowl Hunting 101, and Deer Hunting 101.
Once a hunter has been certified, the certification is good for life.
At the same November 3 meeting, the TPW Commission recognized the Game Warden of the Year, Houston-area game wardens for their contributions to the state, and K-9 Teams.
Following six years as a game warden, Bo Hancock was named Game Warden of the Year.
“Externally, Bo created opportunities to share an appreciation of nature with younger generations through kid fish events, water safety programs, and wildlife identification teams,” the TPWD press release shared. “Internally, he leads the Critical Incident Response Team, a role he has held for three years.”
Houston-area game wardens were honored for being nominated by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for the 2021 Mothers Against Drunk Driving Outstanding Law Enforcement Award, which comes on the heels of an increase in cases filed for driving and boating while intoxicated.
Commenting on the nomination Captain Jennifer Weaver stated, “[T]hey stepped up and out of their comfort zone to ensure intoxicated drivers were held accountable.”
The press release also highlighted the induction of six new K-9 service dogs into service by the Texas Game Warden K-9 Team, as well as the retirement of 10 more.
“Each dog commissioned specializes in a certain aspect of tracking, including licensed skills like wildlife resource detection, search and rescue, and evidence recovery,” the TPWD press release states.