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Pheasant, grouse and archery deer seasons just ended Jan. 6, so I wouldn’t blame hunters if they’re not quite yet starting to plan for next fall.

But if you have a child, friend or relative who will need a hunter education certificate in order to purchase a hunting license in 2019, now is the time to make sure that gets into the calendar.

In North Dakota, hunter education classes are taught by more than 700 volunteer instructors, a great group always looking for new members. These instructors offer most classes during the winter and into spring.

Hunter education certification is required for anyone born after Dec. 31, 1961, to buy a hunting license in North Dakota. The exceptions are landowners hunting only on their own land, youth who will not reach age 12 before the 2019 hunting seasons begin, and anyone age 12 and older who is eligible for an apprentice hunting license that can be used only once in a lifetime.

Youth younger than 12 may still hunt with their parents or other adults. There is no minimum age for hunting small game in North Dakota, but students need to reach age 11 before they take the hunter education class.

Enrolling yourself or a youth is easy. All it takes is a trip to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov.

The website has information on when and where classes are offered. On average, about 200 communities in North Dakota will host one of 240 classes. Instructors in many smaller towns will hold only one course each year, so if you or someone you know will need hunter education, check out the details now to make sure you don't miss it.

Once you've found the best fit for the class, you also can sign up online and check the status of the course.

The goal is to put safe and educated hunters into the field. No exceptions. In fact, one of the more common questions is generated by people looking for an age or occupation exemption from the law. Current and former military personnel, police officers and adults often inquire whether their status qualifies for any exemption. The answer is a no. The law is straightforward.

It's clear that North Dakota's hunter education laws have fulfilled their purpose. Mandatory hunter education classes began in 1979. Since then, more than 200,000 people have taken the course in North Dakota and the number of hunting accidents has declined dramatically.

Another statistic that stands out is class participation. About 30 percent are adults, and 34 percent are women. Hunter education is for hunters of any and all ages. 

Those who suggest they know all about gun safety through previous training or experience also will find the comprehensive course includes wildlife management concepts, biology and the ethical and moral aspects of becoming a well-rounded hunter.

Plain and simple, hunter education is making the outdoors a safer venue for all.

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Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

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