Historic legislation is headed to the governor’s desk that will make West Virginia the first state in the U.S. to offer a hunting and firearms safety education course as public school curriculum for students in grades 6 through 12.
Supporters of the bill said they hoped the measure would help stem the decline in the growth of hunting in The Mountain State by making the classes more accessible to potential hunters. In the past decade, West Virginia has seen a marked drop in the number of deer-hunting licenses, and, like many similar states, is looking for ways to reverse the loss of license revenue.
In addition, you may remember a report we blogged here last October, in which data from the State Farm Insurance Co. cited West Virginia as having the most deer/vehicular accidents per capita of any state in the country. In a state where a motorist’s chances of engaging a whitetail with a car bumper are one in 57, you can bet that folks would prefer to see the deer population reduced by hunters.
While the legislation passed last week stopped short of mandating the course in every state school, the legislation provides funding for classes in all schools where at least 20 students express interest. In addition, it was stressed that actual firearms will not be used in the instruction.
Lawmakers and game agencies in other states that are looking for methods to remove barriers for young people to participate in hunting and the outdoors are already studying West Virginia’s example.
Though he has not openly committed to signing the bill into law, Gov. Joe Manchin voiced his support for the provision that made the classes voluntary and up to individual principals and school boards.
Billy Wayne Bailey (D-Wyoming County), the bill’s original author, said he believes the state has a responsibility to protect cultural traditions like hunting.
“It’s hard to find too many 55-year-olds that are still playing basketball or football, but a lot of people well into their 80s enjoy hunting,” Baily said. “For us, this is a pastime we want to preserve.”