In 1969, before the days of 350-fps bows and laser rangefinders, Bill Wadsworth advocated for education as a means to preserve the future of bowhunting.
Prior to bowhunting books, magazines and forums, resources for those new to the sport were scarce.
"Bowhunting wasn't as mainstream back then," said Marilyn Bentz, executive director of the National Bowhunter Education Foundation. "It wasn't even considered lethal by a lot of people."
The Bowhunting and Conservation Committee of the National Field Archery Association was formed, with Wadsworth leading the charge to grow a program that would promote safe and ethical practices.
Ten years later, NBEF became an independent nonprofit and has been churning out ethical, responsible bowhunters ever since.
Bowhunter certification is currently mandatory in 12 states. While the remaining 38 states don't require bowhunter education, all bowhunters can benefit from this comprehensive course.
"It really is to their advantage," Marilyn said. "We know that someone who takes the course is a more successful bowhunter because they're more likely to harvest an animal."
The curriculum focuses on safe, legal and responsible bowhunting, covering topics from necessary equipment to shot placement and game recovery to outdoor survival.
Additionally, bowhunter certification opens the door to more opportunities for special circumstance hunts â€“ like urban bowhunts and accessing special-use areas or federal lands — and out-of-state hunting trips where certification is required.
If the thought of completing a certification gives you flashbacks of enduring a marathon hunter safety course in a crowded room, rest assured that NBEF offers the program in a digital format for a growing number of locations.
Approximately 50,000 people take the bowhunter education course each year, with 40 percent of those participants opting for full or partial distance learning.
And you won't need to sit at home on a desktop for hours on end to work through the materials; you can conveniently complete the course at your own pace from any device. The online program comes with a fee of just $30, payable once you pass the exam.
Currently, 36 states and three foreign countries offer the online course, including 13 states that provide an internet-only option. Other states supplement the online course with a field day.
Outside of distance learning options, requirements for each state can vary widely. My home state of Pennsylvania, for example, offers the complete certification online to residents who are 16 years of age or older, but it is not required to bowhunt within the state. Other states allow non-residents to take their course and don't have the same age restrictions.
Because regulations and participation are constantly updating, Marilyn stresses that bowhunters should take advantage of the knowledge and resources NBEF can provide through their partnerships with game and wildlife agencies. "Hunters can call and ask us questions, and we'll help them get answers," she said.
Growing the Sport
With the uptick in bowhunting interest among women, NBEF has seen a slight increase in the percentage of female participants to 17 percent.
Approximately one-third of online course participants fall between 26 and 35 years of age, followed by 19-25 year olds who make up more than 20 percent of bowhunters completing certification.
Youth 18 and under total approximately 15 percent of participants, and NBEF is working to expose more children to the sport. NBEF has partnered with the National Archery in the Schools Program from its inception, noting that a large percentage of NASP students express interest in bowhunting. The organizations are able to work together closely, with NASP president Roy Grimes serving on the NBEF board of directors.
Beyond the Basics
Beyond bowhunter education programs and materials, NBEF also offers a liability insurance program for urban hunters and treestand safety resources.
With the likes of Terry Drury of the famed hunting family and Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost recently experiencing life-threatening treestand falls, the need for reinforcing safe hunting practices is as strong as ever.
According the NBEF, treestand incidents are the most common hunting accidents and are avoidable when hunters take the proper safety precautions. Their treestand safety video â€“ first produced in 1999 â€“ is now in its eighth iteration and comes packaged with many new treestands.
If your rig of choice is a crossbow, certification is now available through the International Crossbow Education Program.
The online course was created following a request from the state of Alaska to expand bowhunter education to include a crossbow program. Beginning July 1, 2018 certification is mandatory to hunt with a crossbow in Alaska.
A national course is also available and is similar in content to the bowhunter safety curriculum.
To learn more about the National Bowhunter Education Foundation and your state's regulations, visit www.nbef.org.