Marty Maddalena

In Montana, new drivers are required to take an in-person driving test before being allowed to legally operate vehicles. As a high school teacher, I had to be visually observed and evaluated to obtain my credentials. But currently, if you want to pass hunter’s ed in Montana, no such in-person requirement is needed, not even for firearm safety. This must change.

In 2020, wanting to limit in-person exposure when the pandemic hit, the Department of FWP pivoted to an entirely web-based course for hunter’s ed. Since then, FWP has decided to stick with that change. No longer are in-person classes required for hunter’s ed.

Online trainings have their place. They’ve made education of all sorts more attainable for vast numbers of people. Oftentimes this is more convenient, cheaper, more consistent and provides efficiencies from the educators’ standpoint. Hunter's ed is no different in that regard, and much of the course could and should continue to be offered online.

But virtual courses and tests are not suitable replacements for responsibilities like driving a car, teaching a room full of kids, or learning how to handle and operate a firearm safely, one of - if not the - main priority of hunter’s safety.

As a hunter’s ed instructor myself, I’ve seen firsthand the sheer number of students - both youth and adults - who have zero firearm handling experience. The ability to practice physically handling inert firearms provided by FWP and illustrate a firm understanding of the “four rules of firearm safety” is perhaps the single most valuable portion of hunter’s ed and simply cannot be replaced with online questions and videos.

This is why I enthusiastically support HB 243 introduced by Rep. Marler (D - Missoula) and co-sponsored by Rep. Duram (R - Eureka). This bill would simply add that “a hunter safety and education course must include an in-person field day that includes firearm safety training.”

Seems simple enough.

Whether you’re a hunter or not, gun owner or not, I think we can all agree on the merits of this bill.

Please join me in supporting HB 243.

Marty Maddalena is a lifelong hunter, a volunteer hunter’s ed instructor and a teacher at Montana Public Schools. He’s a member of Hellgate Hunters & Anglers and the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He lives in Missoula.