AUSTIN — According to the 2019 Texas Hunting Incident Analysis, Texas has seen a substantial decrease in hunting-related accidents and fatalities since Hunter Education became mandatory in 1988. That year, over 18,000 Texans received their Hunter Education certification, but 12 fatalities and 70 accidents were still reported throughout the state. As more Texans have taken to the field and obtained their Hunter Education certification, these numbers have improved, with over 56,000 certifications in 2019 and only 1 fatality, and 21 accidents, reported statewide.
“The number one hunting incident during the general season is careless handling of a firearm in and around vehicles,” said Steve Hall, the Hunter Education Coordinator for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). “Keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times. This is the cardinal rule of hunting and shooting safety.”
Even prior to Hunter Education becoming mandatory in 1988, TPWD has offered hunter education courses since 1972 which have certified nearly 1.5 million students. Today, Hunter Education is required for every hunter in Texas (including out-of-state hunters) born on or after Sept. 2, 1971. The minimum age for certification is 9 years of age and certification is good for life.
There are two course options for anyone who needs to take Hunter Education. The basic classroom course is six hours of instruction and includes skill exercises, a review and then a final exam. These types of courses are most often held in schools or in an indoor venue. The online course, combined with the field course, has two parts: a free online course that should be completed first, and then a field course that typically takes a minimum of four hours to complete. The field course contains a presentation on ethical and responsible hunting, participation in a hunting skills trail, a live-fire exercise, a review of regulations and a final exam.
There is also an online-only course that is restricted to anyone 17 years of age or older. Online coursework varies from 2-4 hours depending on pre-knowledge, age, reading level and other factors.
Hall offers other tips that will help ensure a safe experience for anyone whether they’re at their home, in transit to their hunting spot, or spending time in the field.
- Unload all firearms when not in use, especially in the home, in transport and in the field until ready to shoot.
- Keep your fingers outside of the trigger guard until ready to take a shot.
- For waterfowl hunters, the number one hunting incident is drowning, mostly because of capsizing and exposure to cold waters. Always wear protective clothing, waders and approved life jackets while in boats or around water, especially in the winter months.
- For dove, quail and pheasant hunters, the number one incident is swinging on game outside of your safe zone of fire. Communicate and stick to your safe zone of fire and never shoot towards another hunter, domestic animals such as cows, buildings or structures.
- Be sure of your target, what is in front of and behind the target.
- Wear blaze orange to be seen by other hunters.
Hunters must have proof of their Hunter Education certification on their person while in the field. Hunters have access to their Texas proof of Hunter Education in the free Outdoor Annual mobile app for iOS and Android.
Learn more about Hunter Education, how to sign up for a course and find resources for students on the TPWD website.
Firearm safety doesn’t just include knowing how to property handle a gun, it also includes knowing how to keep it from getting in the wrong hands. The Texas Department of Public Safety has launched a statewide campaign to encourage safe gun storage. Find resources, including safe gun storage checklists, and learn how to “Keep ‘Em Safe, Texas!” at SafeGunStorageTexas.com.