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Alabama boasts successful Hunter Education Program

The highly successful Hunter Education Program in Alabama thrives on volunteers who help teach young and inexperienced hunters safe firearm handling and safety in the field.

Showing appreciation for those who volunteer is an aspect the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFFD) deems essential to maintain its treasured volunteer workforce.

In Baldwin County recently, Conservation Enforcement Officer Thad Holmes and Hunter Education Regional Coordinator James Altiere made sure those volunteers knew how important their help is via a jam-up dove hunt at Alligator Alley in Summerdale.

“We’ve had a lot of volunteer instructors help us,” said Thad Holmes, one of three conservation enforcement officers in Baldwin County, the largest county in Alabama in terms of land area. “These volunteers make it easier and more accessible for the kids coming of age (16) and younger to take the hunter education course.”

Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries personnel and volunteer instructors supervise and instruct at the field day, and students must learn and demonstrate skills such as loading and unloading different types of firearms, safely crossing fences, and other hunter safety activities.

Students who successfully complete the hunter ed course receive a certification card that is recognized by other states across the nation.

Altiere said the volunteers are especially crucial for the field days for the online and CD courses, which have become the dominant methods used to complete the hunter education training. He said the traditional three-day course instruction could get by with only a few instructors. However, the online/CD field days take from 10-12 officers and volunteers to deal with a typical graduating class.

“Sometimes we just barely have enough instructors,” Altiere said. “At a field day, it takes about a dozen volunteers. The advantage and disadvantage of the field day is it’s a shorter period of time, but it takes a lot more people to do it. We need to do whatever we can to show our appreciation for these volunteers, so the dove hunt was for them.”

Holmes and Altiere said the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association provides some funding to offset the cost of the volunteer events, which also includes a sporting clays outing at Gary Cox’s Bushy Creek Clays.

Not only did Altiere achieve the goal of showing appreciation to the volunteers, he was also able to introduce a youngster, 10-year-old Clay Newton of Greenville, to the world of dove hunting.

“Clay had a big time,” Altiere said. “It was his first time to shoot doves. He had never shot a 20-gauge before. I took him hunting on my farm a few days after the dove hunt and he got five squirrels and a rabbit. Now he wants to know when are we going to have the next one.

“The main things I set out to do were done. That little boy had a blast, and the volunteer instructors had a good time.”