The record number is primarily the result of the hunter education course now being offered online by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department.
Kelly Newman of Edmond took this mule deer with a crossbow on New Year's Day morning near the Black Mesa in the Panhandle. About 250 mule deer are harvested in Oklahoma each season. They are mostly found in the Panhandle counties of Cimarron, Texas and Beaver and northwestern counties of Harper, Ellis, Woods and Woodward. Bow season for deer in Oklahoma continues through Jan. 15. PHOTO PROVIDEDSince the online class debuted in late September, almost 7,500 Oklahomans have completed it, Meek said. “We still offered just as many conventional classes as we had last year and still tons of kids decided to take hunter education online,” Meek said. “They can take it at their own pace that way and they don't have to interrupt mom and dad's schedule.”
In Oklahoma, anyone age 30 or younger must receive hunter education to legally hunt alone, Meek said.
An apprentice hunting license is available to Oklahoma hunters who are not hunter education certified, which allows them to hunt with someone who has received hunter education training.
Oklahoma is the second state in the nation to offer hunter education online and the first to offer its own curriculum.
Indiana provides a hunter education course online but uses a private company that charges a fee for the service. Hunter education classes in Oklahoma are free, whether in a classroom or online.
Nebraska and Alabama have contacted the Wildlife Department about copying Oklahoma's hunter education online course, Meek said.
In addition to the online classes, hunter education also has been taught in some public schools in recent years.
With the help of a grant from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, teachers received a $400 stipend from the Wildlife Department to obtain hunter education certification so they could teach the course in their classrooms.
Many of the instructors already were teaching Wildlife Department designated curriculum such as the popular Archery in the Schools program.
Now, several instructors are teaching a semester-long outdoors skills class which include such things as hunter education, wilderness first aid, wildlife photography and more.
Even if students do not intend to become hunters, hunter education can benefit them, Meek said.
“It teaches them about firearm safety,” he said. “At least they are exposed to it so they will know what to do if they ever encounter a firearm.”