Stop the Nonsense: Centralize Hunter Education Certificates

There we were, 11 of us, all eager hunters and anglers with cash in our pockets. And fish to catch and birds to hunt.

We were standing around a fly shop in Boise, Idaho, minutes before departing for a fly-in float trip down the Middle Fork Salmon River and four days without so much as a single bar of cell service.

We had fly rods and shotguns. But we didn't have Idaho hunting and fishing licenses, which is why we were at Idaho Angler, waiting our turns at the state's automated license sales kiosk. Thing is, some of us were stopped in our tracks.

See, Idaho is one of a majority of states that requires license buyers to prove that they've completed Hunter Education courses in their home states. It's a reasonable request: ensuring that all hunters in the field have at least some familiarity with gun safety, hunter ethics, and hunting regulations. Idaho requires all license buyers born after Jan. 1, 1975 to show proof of passage of Hunter Ed. in order to buy a hunting license.

Some of us on the Middle Fork trip are grandfathered in, meaning that we were born prior to 1975 and didn't need to show our Hunter Ed cards. But half of this young group was born after that cut-off, and that's the heart of our problem.

It was looking like at least two of our party, both young ladies eager to experience their first hunting trip, would not be able to purchase Idaho hunting licenses because they couldn't produce their Hunter Ed cards, or come up with a number that might satisfy the license-selling apparatus.

These girls were devastated. Here they were, all dressed up, all loaded up, and nothing to hunt. They had both taken and passed Hunter Ed in their home states, but because they couldn't recount their numbers, they were frozen out of a remarkable opportunity to become license-buying hunters.

There has to be a better way.

And there is. It's time that states centralized their unique Hunter Ed certification data bases into one national repository that can be accessed anywhere, at any time. We do that with firearms license sales--we are each required to pass an instant check system in order to buy a gun of any type. Let's do the same with Hunter Ed numbers, and end the nonsense of keeping eager, interested, and legitimate license buyers out of the game.

Do this, and watch the number of hunting participants increase year over year.

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to two very helpful Idaho backcountry game wardens, the two women who weren't able to buy hunting licenses in Boise were able to buy licenses over a satellite phone at our put-in point, deep in the wilderness. The women were able to find their Hunter Ed numbers and the wardens did the rest. Kudos to that sort of problem-solving initiative by a couple of game wardens who could just as easily have left the women cussing the rest of us, hunting abundant chukar partridges on the ridges above the remarkable Middle Fork Salmon River.