By Kim Howard
A classroom at Allen Brook School will be filled with would-be hunters on Friday evening.
The hunter education course – required for any new hunter to obtain a license – is one of dozens offered across the state as the fall hunting season gets underway.
Hunters young and old come together for the courses. Greg Paulman, instructor for the Williston class, estimates that as many as half to two-thirds of his course participants each year are youths; there is no age restriction for hunting in the state. Some parents take the course alongside their kids, and some students are adults taking up hunting later in life, according to Chris Saunders, hunter education coordinator with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“These classes have helped and are instrumental in reducing the number of accidents in Vermont and nationwide by at least 75 percent over historical levels,” Saunders said.
“These classes are aimed at producing the safest, most responsible hunters possible.”
Taught by certified instructors, the courses last a minimum of 12 hours. The course offered in Williston starting this week is 18 hours. Paulman said late enrollees are welcome provided space is available; a missed session can be made up through independent work.
Paulman acknowledged that sometimes hunting is not well understood by non-hunters.
“It’s a cultural thing,” Paulman said. “And (for) a lot of people, whether they end up with a deer in their freezer… can make a difference in the amount of meat they have to eat over the winter.”
Paulman said the State of Vermont carefully plans out the number of animals that can be harvested each year to ensure a sustainable population. Some animals that are hunted would otherwise starve to death over the winter, Paulman said.
“Let’s face it: we’re developing places that used to be their habitat,” Paulman said.
Saunders said while all of those things are true, people hunt for a range of reasons.
“For some hunters it is part of a cultural tradition,” Saunders said. “It is about being with family and friends. It’s an important date on their calendar… It’s a very important relationship with nature and getting out in the wild and not just observing things but participating in nature.”
Vermont leads New England for the highest percentage of residents who hunt, according to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Fifteen percent of Vermonters age 16 and older hunt, compared with 6 percent nationally, survey results said. The industry adds to Vermont’s economy. An estimated $52.4 million was spent in Vermont on hunting activities in 2001, according to the survey.
Though perhaps better known for commercial space in Taft Corners, Williston logs its share of successful hunts each year. Over the last three years, an average of 46 deer alone were harvested within town limits. A handful of those were shot by youth.
A town ordinance allows firearms to be discharged in Williston south of Interstate 89, and along a narrow strip of land in northeast Williston, except within 500 feet of buildings, public parks and recreation areas, and roads or footpaths.
Paulman said hunting is generally a safe sport. Falling out of a tree or having a heart attack are the leading causes of injury or death in the sport, though he said there is about as much chance of dying while hunting as while playing baseball.
Hunting licenses are available for $16, or $8 for youth, online through the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. Locally, they may be purchased at the Town Clerk’s Office, BJ Guns and Sporting, Dicks Sporting Goods, Powderhorn Sports, and Wal-Mart.