To purchase or apply for a Montana hunting license, anyone born after January 1, 1985 must complete a hunter education course issued by Montana, any other Canadian state or province.

These courses are free and cover basic information and skills related to the safe handling of firearms as well as basic instruction on wildlife management, game identification, owner/hunter relationships, hunter ethics and Montana hunting laws and regulations.

For the past two years, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Hunter Education courses have been online-only, another derailment due to the pandemic. This is a self-paced course and available to anyone 12 years and older. (Youth must be 12 years old by January 16 of the current license year).

Once certified, graduates can purchase or apply for licenses. The online course is convenient for those who are comfortable with online learning or who already have a solid background in firearms and hunting.

No in-person field course is required, however, FWP strongly encourages participation in a voluntary in-person field day. And on June 18, one of the first field days was held at the Mineral County Shooting Sports Association building and range near Lozeau.

Tom McCloskey, FWP Firearms Education volunteer instructor, said: “When Covid hit, classes were only online, and they will continue to be offered online as well as in person. But as instructors, we felt that they (students) needed hands-on experience. Even if they haven’t taken Hunter Education yet, now is the time to give them a chance to handle firearms and archery equipment. And we put on demonstrations calling turkeys and elk to try to get them more interested in hunting. Something to attract them.

It was Mineral County’s inaugural course, so there was no strict agenda but a mental list of what the instructors wanted to cover that day.

John Benda has been a volunteer bow instructor for the FWP Hunter Education program for 28 years. Ken Quitt started as an archery instructor in the Thompson Falls area in 1986. These two took the class outdoors to share practical knowledge, experiences and information vital to archery hunters. seasoned bow and some future hunters.

“As accurate as bowhunting equipment is these days, a lot can happen when you shoot between you and this animal using a string propellant arrow that is different from a firearm. For beginner hunters, we want you to limit your shots to 30 or 40. Typically 30 meters when you are in a wooded environment and if you are hunting in the plains or in a field, no more than 40 meters. We want you to take accurate photos up close,” explained John Benda.

It was at the start of the yardage exercise where five different slats had been laid out with a 3-D bear target at the end that became the first question: “How far is it from here to the bear ?

He asked everyone to write down their answers to discuss later, then approaching each slat, “Now how far is the bear?” (The batten A to the bear was 88 yards).

There were informal explanations of why archers should always carry an orange hunting vest with them. The different rattling techniques of the deer during the rut. The safest way to install and mount in a tree stand. Benda demonstrated how you start low and work your way up a few feet creating a “Z” pattern to create a low fog screen when using bear spray.

Bill Pickett, a range officer for MCSPA who has extensive law enforcement/SWAT experience, shared that bear spray is ineffective on many dogs.

“Of course, when we sent out our shepherds, they were full of adrenaline, but they were blowing through the gassed chambers to catch the bad guys. The bear spray was the same for them.

The day was filled with shooting skills, survival strategies in case of loss, blood trail, orientation with a compass when your GPS becomes ineffective. Gun calibers and safe handling of the muzzleloader took place in the late morning with the call of different creatures.

This educational class was run by the Montana FWP with volunteers as instructors. They are optional and not required for any certification, but are a great addition for those who have already completed a hunter or bowhunter training course.

Instructor-led in-person classes are back, and students ages 10-11 can take the in-person class and hunt as apprentices, but won’t be fully certified until their 12th year. -Individual course must attend all classroom sessions, field course and pass a final exam. These are led by volunteer instructors who are passionate about preserving Montana’s hunting tradition, teaching gun safety, ethics, and other outdoor skills.

For more information on the Hunter Education course, visit: fwp.mt.gov/education/hunter-education.