This week, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hunter Education. The first course in Texas was held on Feb. 28, 1972. Since then, over 1.5 million students have completed Texas Hunter Education throughout the state.
Since the mid-1960s, Texas Game Wardens have investigated and monitored hunting injuries and fatalities. In the early 1970’s, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission became aware of the large number of hunting accidents occurring statewide when a former TPWD employee, Theron D. Carroll, presented the commission with 12 years’ worth of hunter casualty report data. In June of 1971, the commission accepted a proposal to counteract the problem. Carroll was selected to design and coordinate a voluntary Texas Hunter Education program.
“We are losing too many fine young people, mostly from lack of proper training, and with the enthusiastic response we are having from the public, we should be able to build a safer, more rewarding outdoor environment for all Texans,” Carroll was quoted as saying.
As a result of the Dingell-Hart Amendments in 1970 and 1972 to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, funds from federal excise taxes on handguns and archery equipment were made available to states to pay for hunter education, along with the other wildlife conservation efforts.
Starting in December 1971, volunteer Hunter Education instructor training began. Through April 1972, 897 instructors were trained. One of the first Texas Hunter Education students was Mike Davis Fain who later went on to become a Texas Game Warden.
On June 11, 1987, with the signing of SB 504 by Governor Clements, a statute on Hunter Education in Texas was set, and the TPW Commission subsequently passed rules for a mandatory Hunter Education program on June 1, 1988. They set a grandfather date of Sept. 2, 1971, meaning anyone born on or after that date, would be required to pass Hunter Education to legally hunt in Texas.
“A grandfather date was selected so we could reach over a million hunters over time,” said Steve Hall, TPWD’s Hunter Education Coordinator. “The program also met national standards whereby students traveling to other states could also comply with their regulations, such as Colorado’s law with a grandfather date of January 1, 1949.”
Since becoming mandatory, the state has seen a significant decrease in hunting-related accidents. In 2021, more than 49,000 people received Hunter Education certification in Texas and only one fatality and 11 accidents were reported statewide. This compared to 1988 when 18,000 Texans received their certification but still reported 12 fatalities and 70 accidents.
In the 1990s, TPWD’s outreach and education programs grew considerably, expanding learning, hunting, target shooting, and other outdoor opportunities. Hunter education assisted greatly in the development of other department and volunteer programs including angler education, boater education, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, and the Texas Youth Hunting Program, among others.
In the 2000s, the Texas Hunter Education Program continued to strengthen its influence both nationally and within the state alongside partners including the National Archery in Schools Program and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (Step Outside Program).
By its fifth decade in the 2010s, the Texas Hunter Education Program, entered an era of the internet and in 2013, the TPW Commission decided to allow online-only coursework for certification. After considerable discussion and testimony from hands-on proponents, the commission settled on 17 years of age as the minimum age a person could get certified through online-only course.
“As a result of the multi-prong approach, the program began certifying over twice as many hunters each year, increasing convenience and awareness in the process,” Hall said.
As more Texans continue to take to the field and begin their own hunting traditions, TPWD Hunter Education will continue to be the first stop for the next generation of safe, legal, and ethical hunters. Today, along with basic Hunter Education courses, the program provides advanced learning opportunities like Hunting 101s and Bowhunter Education to bolster hunter’s skills. To learn more about Texas Hunter Education, and how to find a course, along with other resources, visit the Hunter Education page on the TPWD website.
Hunters must have proof of 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.