First, a huge thank you to my friend Brett French, Outdoor Editor of the Billings Gazette, for alerting me to his story.

Secondly, I wanted to say thank you to another friend, Bob Culp, who for decades taught hunter ed classes in the Missoula and Frenchtown areas. Bobby, you were one dedicated dude, and I know there are many others around the state who shared your passion and dedication, all doing your best to make sure youngsters were ready to get out on the hunt.

And that issue of readiness is a bone of contention. But for now, Brett informs us that the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks is making its online-only hunter education classes permanent. The classes were started last year out of COVID-19 concerns and   social distancing. That means students 12 years old and older can take an online class with no field day. Prior to the pandemic, those classes were restricted to students 18 and older and a field day was still required. The changes are being made because there was a huge uptick in students last year, since it was easier for them to attend. That, and of course, what other options were available?

This is part of the department’s push under new Director Hank Worsech for FWP to offer better customer service. But some volunteer instructors are concerned about no longer requiring a field day. As one of the approximately 1,000 volunteers who teach the in-person classes for FWP put it, “That’s kind of shocking to me. There’s no hands-on training with a firearm at that point.”

Discussions between volunteers and FWP staff are pending to work out the details of when and how the new rules will go into effect. The goal is to resume offering in-person classes after June 1. Traditionally, classes are scheduled in the early spring, so new hunters can apply for special hunting licenses, and in the fall before rifle season opens.

FWP insists that in-person learning will continue to be a priority and that they will continue to look to volunteers in the coming weeks to help schedule, implement and promote in-person courses.

So...where do we go from there?

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