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600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

This document is provided for archival purposes only.
Archived documents do not reflect current WDFW regulations or policy and may contain factual inaccuracies.

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October 02, 2017
Contact: David Whipple (360) 902-2847

Hunter education reaches 60-year milestone
in Washington this month

Sixty years ago this October, the Washington State Game Commission, a predecessor of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, first adopted mandatory hunter education for those age 17 and younger who want to hunt in Washington.  

The law was passed by the legislature and approved by the Governor in February 1957, the year when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, when a new house averaged a little over $12,000 and before the hula-hoop become a popular toy.

The Game Commission adopted the measure at its meeting, Oct. 7, 1957 and the requirement became effective in the 1958 hunting season.

"Hunter education started with people who wanted to reduce hunting-related firearm incidents and support the tradition of safe hunting," said David Whipple, WDFW hunter education division manager. "Since then, it's become a major part of our mission as a state agency."

Howard Gardner has been a hunter education instructor working with the Richland Rod and Gun Club and the department over the entire 60 years, and he is still teaching.

"At first, the courses concentrated largely on firearm safety," said Gardner. "Today they also include survival skills, wildlife conservation, sportsmanship and hunting regulations."

Still, safety remains the focus of the courses. "Hunter education has been vital to reducing the rate of injuries or death and has saved lives." said Gardner. 

Hunting incidents in Washington – injuries or death while hunting – have decreased from roughly 40 per year in the mid-1960s to seven per year this past decade, said Whipple.  "Hunting is now one of the safest outdoor pastimes, and that has a lot to do with hunter education," he said.

In recent years, between 10,000 and 13,000 students take one of about 750 hunter education courses in Washington, and classes generally are nearly full this time of year, said Whipple.

Approximately 1,000 hunter education instructors lead these courses, he added.

WDFW offers both traditional and online options to complete the hunter education requirement.

The advantages of the traditional classroom experience include direct person-to-person instruction from certified volunteer instructors, said Whipple.

The online course offers the same content, but on the student's schedule, Whipple said. Those who take the online course are still required to complete an in-person field skills evaluation led by certified instructors, added Whipple.

All hunters born after Jan. 1, 1972, must complete a hunter education course to purchase a hunting license. To find a course and learn about hunter education requirements, new hunters should visit the WDFW hunter education webpage at:

The department is always looking for volunteer instructors who want to share their knowledge and passion with new hunters. Those who want to learn how to become an instructor should visit:

Hunter education would not be possible without volunteers, said Gardner. "We rely on the willingness of instructors to come forward and keep this excellent program going."

Hunter education in the United States is largely supported by the Pittman Robertson Act, an excise tax instituted in 1937 on products associated with the hunting and shooting sports. Additionally, states provide a 25 percent match on costs associated with hunter education, which is supplied entirely by volunteer instructor hours in Washington.