FILE - hunter safety

A bipartisan-backed law passed last month gives Illinois public schools the option of offering hunter safety education for course credit.

Currently, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1980, must take a class and get a certificate in order to qualify for a valid hunting license. Classes are offered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are affordable, and generally take place over the course of two days.

Jeff Hopkins, the department’s safety education administrator, says that allowing students to take the classes in high school makes it more convenient for them and exposes more people to the idea of hunter safety.

Before the law was passed, some schools offered hunter safety as part of a larger curriculum, such as natural resource management, he said. Now they can offer it for credit. And the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is happy to help.

“It (the law) is a wonderful thing,” he said. “If more teachers want to become certified, we'll put them through the process, make them certified instructors, and they can offer and can teach the program in the schools. We already have the standardized materials and manuals for the students.”

The department’s course meets international standards, Hopkins said, and Illinois hunters who have state certification can hunt in all 50 states, which is not the case for older hunters who might have just purchased licenses.

Hopkins stressed that hunting safety is about much more than handling firearms.

“Hunter safety features how to be safe in the field, and that incorporates everything from hunter responsibilities, hunter ethics, wildlife conservation, wildlife management," he said. "We talk about state regulations and laws.

“Archery, bow hunting – that’s a big thing now, and then we definitely have to cover tree-stand safety, because individuals now are doing a lot of hunting out of the trees. Actually, the majority of hunting incidents that we have now are tree-stand falls.”

So the new law, he said, “is definitely a plus for the students.”