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Aiming for a bullseye. Robert Queen © 1997
"I shot an arrow into the air...it fell to earth, I know not where." After you complete a Wisconsin Bowhunter Education Course, you'll never again wonder about errant arrows. As a responsible archer, you'll know where to shoot, how to shoot, and why.
Many people have heard about DNR's Hunter Education and Firearms Safety program, usually referred to as Hunter Safety. But few know there has been a separate course for bowhunting since 1967. Back then, the course lacked a standardized curriculum, certified instructors, and a recordkeeping system; it was held sporadically throughout the state. Enter the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF). In 1991, with the help of the NBEF, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources adopted the International Bowhunter Education Program (IBEP) curriculum, a carefully developed program of study. Many other states and Canadian provinces also follow the IBEP program.
Sixteen states now require mandatory bowhunter education. In Wisconsin, bowhunter education remains voluntary. Our 700 teachers make up the largest volunteer instructor corps in the country, and we've certified more than 12,000 students in bowhunter education – the highest number of any non-mandatory program. Because we adhere to IBEP standards, our program is recognized and honored anywhere in the world a bowhunter education certificate is required.
What the course targets
The goal of the Wisconsin Bowhunter Education Program is to train both experienced and new bowhunters in the sport's fundamentals, and to instill in all bowhunters an ethical, responsible attitude towards people, wildlife and the environment. Because the future of bowhunting rests on the actions and attitudes of those who bowhunt today, we aim to ensure that Wisconsin bowhunters are knowledgeable, skillful and aware.
A typical class consists of no less than eight hours of interactive classroom study and at least three hours of practical field training . Classes cover a range of topics including:
Classroom techniques aim to provide practical advice and engage the student. For example in one exercise that many instructors use, a silhouette of a deer is placed in front of the class. Students are asked to place paper cutouts of the animal's vital organs in the appropriate spot and proper relationship to each other. It's an interesting mix of biology and a hunting lesson as students learn how ruminant animals digest and where to place their shots for a quick, effective kill.
In a second exercise, three students stand in front of the class holding posters with phrases on them. Each poster is shown to the class for just a few seconds. Here's what each poster says:
The catch is that the last word on the first line of each poster is repeated at the start of the second line. Very few students notice that because the mind tends to override what the eye sees. Since most people are concentrating on content and the general picture instead of detail, they miss the fact that some words are duplicated. The same thing can happen in the field. The hunter thinks he or she sees an animal and the mind starts to fill in part of the image. You need to train yourself to be certain of what you are seeing and to judge if you can shoot safely without injuring yourself or anyone else.
By actively involving the students, they learn faster, enjoy the lessons more and have fun. Before the classes start, many students want the classes to be short. After the bowhunter education course is over, many wish it had lasted longer. The field training portion of the class always receives high marks from everyone.
Why do we hold specific courses for bowhunting? Well, it's true that many of the skills you need to hone for firearm hunting will help you as a bowhunter, but the skills are not identical.
Bowhunting is more physically demanding and bowhunters need more practice time to become proficient with a bow. Developing muscles to shoot a bow consistently requires both strength and endurance. That only comes with time and practice. To get closer, or let the quarry come closer to you, you have to remain motionless for long periods of time. People with less than good conditioning have greater difficulty remaining still.
Stealth and camouflage are very important to a successful hunt. To take a clean shot, the hunter must get much closer to the prey, and exercise greater critical judgement and hand-eye coordination. Whether a bowhunter uses a compound bow with single cam, overdraw, fiber optics, carbon shafts, razor broadheads, mechanical release or an old-fashioned long bow with cedar shaft arrows, each hunter must hunt within his or her own personal abilities. Fancy equipment will not make up for lack of practice and knowledge of the quarry. You also have to overcome "buck fever" to prevent lost opportunities.
Conditioning is also important because bowhunting is generally a solitary activity as opposed to a group effort. Being alone at the end of a hunting trip with a large animal to attend to creates certain dilemmas. First, the hunter must be prepared to care for the game through proper field dressing, skinning, quartering and so forth. The next issue is getting your game out of the field and back to camp or home. Every year, hunters suffer heart attacks from overexerting themselves while trying to drag or carry game from the field. Since bowhunters are typically alone, each must condition carefully to avoid the stress and complications of overexertion.
Every person who has taken a bowhunter education course since Wisconsin adopted the International Bowhunting Education Program in 1991 has learned something new. Field data shows graduates of the program have greater hunting success than those who have not taken the class.
To find a bowhunter education course, call the nearest DNR Service Center. Staff there can access our statewide computer network and find information about bowhunter education classes anywhere in the state. If you represent a club or organization that would like to sponsor a bowhunter education course, you may wish to contact your local DNR Law Enforcement Safety Specialist. He or she can connect you with certified volunteer Bowhunter Education instructors in your area.
If you plan to hunt out-of-state you may be required to have a bowhunter education certificate before you can purchase a license. It's best to check with the specific state or province before you arrive. After all, planning is a part of preparing for a hunt.
Draw on a proud tradition
For 35 years I have pondered the question "Why do you hunt with a bow?" And by accident one day I came upon a good answer while listening to an impromptu discussion about the future of hunting. Here's what I heard: "I hunt because I enjoy everything I do in preparing before I go, I have a great time when I'm doing it, and I feel better when the hunt is over for having done it."
Bowhunting goes back to man's earliest times. For me and many other hunters, it is the chance to participate in one of life's great disciplines that prompts us to take up the bow. A successful bowhunt demands excellence in a number of skills. I'm a better backpacker, photographer, camper, bird watcher, orienteerer, and cook, all because I am a hunter.
You, too, can become part of Wisconsin's proud bowhunting tradition. Plan to take part in a bowhunter education course soon.
Get that certificate!
Hunters must take and pass National Bowhunter Educating Foundation (NBEF) certified courses to hunt in Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Nova Scotia. Also, the course is required to hunt on certain federal lands and/or military reservations in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Quebec.
Tim Lawhern administers DNR's hunter education program.