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‘Next Step’ hunting, trapping courses offered free

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The state DEC offers free courses for hunters and trappers to gain new skills. File photo

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos announced that DEC’s Hunter Education Program (HEP) is now offering “Next Step” courses in seven disciplines for those who have completed a hunter education, bowhunter education, or trapper education certification course.

“The newly introduced Next Step courses are an ideal way for new hunters and trappers to gain skills and confidence through additional education and hands-on experience even if they do not have a mentor to help them get started,” Seggos said. “I encourage anyone recently certified or looking to refresh or build on their hunter education knowledge to register today.”

Taught by HEP staff and certified HEP instructors, Next Step courses are offered in seven topic areas: rifle; shotgun; crossbow; archery use and marksmanship; fur handling; land trapping; and water trapping.

Each four-hour course focuses on safety techniques and offers students hands-on experience learning practical skills from knowledgeable instructors. The “hands-on” aspect of the courses, coupled with smaller group sizes, allows for more one-on-one instruction.

Course participants will spend time putting what they’ve learned into practice on the range or in field exercises, which will help build confidence and comfort with the tools and techniques of hunting and trapping while reinforcing important safety habits.

Courses are:

  • Firearms courses (rifle or shotgun) — Learn about different types of rifles or shotguns, hands-on instruction in safe firearm handling and safe zones of fire, loading and unloading rifles or shotguns, shooting positions and stances, and target practice on the range;
  • Crossbow and archery courses — Learn about the parts of a crossbow or bow, how to hunt safely with a crossbow or bow, how to shoot a crossbow or bow, and target practice on the range; and.
  • Trapping (water trapping or land trapping) and fur handling courses — Learn safe, efficient and humane trapping techniques for various furbearers trapped in the water (e.g., beaver, muskrat) or on land (e.g., coyote, raccoon), how to process furs and the equipment needed to do so, and how to use the furs including preparing them for market.

All Next Step courses are free, but registration is required. Supplies and equipment are provided by course instructors so students do not have to bring their own. Those interested will need their hunter or trapper education certificate number to register. The minimum age to take a Next Step course is 12. There is no certification offered with these courses.

To learn what Next Step courses are being offered, and to register, visit DEC’s website at dec.ny.gov. Since these are new courses, availability may be limited. Hunters and trappers are encouraged to check back often as courses will continuously be added.

HUNTER SAFETY IN NEW YORK

Most of the hunters involved in a hunting incident are many years experienced hunters who may have taken hunter education 20 or 30 years ago. The Next Step courses are designed to be a good refresher on hunting and firearm safety for even experienced hunters.

The 2022 New York hunting seasons tied 2021 for the safest-ever year, with the lowest number of hunting-related shooting incidents since record-keeping began more than 70 years ago, according to the DEC.

The department documented nine hunting-related shooting incidents (HRSIs) during the 2022 hunting seasons, one of which was fatal.

Four of the nine HRSIs that occurred last year were two-party firearm incidents, while the other five were self-inflicted. All identified shooters were experienced hunters with an average of 30 years of hunting experience, emphasizing the need for all hunters to remain vigilant when heading into the field. All incidents could have been prevented if those involved followed hunting safety rules.

The one fatality was due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound by a turkey hunter.

In 2022, 13 elevated hunting incidents were reported; four of these were fatal. Only two of the 13 hunters involved were wearing a safety harness. Tree-stand safety is integrated into DEC’s hunter education course because these incidents have become a major cause of hunting-related injuries.

The proper use of tree stands and tree stand safety equipment will help prevent these injuries and fatalities. If used correctly, a full body harness and a lifeline keep hunters connected from the time they leave the ground to the moment they get back down.

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