DEC features hunter education on fairgrounds

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia
Young and old mix at the Helderberg Rod and Gun Club in Knox on Jan. 11, posing with their guns for a picture on a day of solidarity. Gun clubs across the state organized to fire shots in opposition to the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, a gun-regulation law passed in 2013. Volunteer instructors who train new hunters at clubs throughout the state will be available at the fair.

ALTAMONT — For the uninitiated, a deluge of questions, from tactile to ethical, can and should arise when holding a loaded weapon. 

Water or rock nearby might cause a bullet to ricochet. Knowing where an arrow will end up, in case it goes through the animal or misses, is crucial. Depending on a weapon’s range, a hunter may be too close to the nearest house or public road.

Matthew Esposito, 23, was first taught the basics by going out with his father, Vincent Esposito, and they have bonded through hunting and competiting in shooting sports together. Now Matthew sometimes is a better shot.

“I would say all the opportunities we’ve had to hunt and fish together, and the kind of socialization — it is very important, the socialization that goes on at gun clubs, where young people feel welcome, and they associate with adults and other children that have interest,” said the elder Esposito, a member of the Turnpike Rod and Gun Club in Westerlo.

The younger members can go to club meetings, or they might clean the grounds with other members to prepare for a shooting event, Esposito said. Some clubs have property designated for its club members to use for hunting, where a group might meet in the morning before a hunt, Esposito said, then come back afterward or help each other load the animals they’ve hunted.

“Some kids might consider it a thrill but it’s not something they might stick with for years and years,” Esposito said of shooting at targets, “and hunting offers the benefit of putting fresh wholesome food on the table.”

In 2008, a change to the Environmental Conservation Law was aimed at increasing the flow of a younger generation into hunting and trapping by loosening age requirements.

Hunter-safety courses organized by the Sportsman Education office within the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation are mainly taken by 12- to 16- year-old males just getting into hunting, but people in their 20s and 30s, as well as women, are coming in larger numbers, said Michael Clark, a regional coordinator for the classes. Vincent Esposito has a daughter who was exposed to hunting, but said she didn’t develop an interest like Matthew.

Eleven-year-olds can attend training, but they can’t get a junior hunting license until age 12.

Volunteer hunter safety instructors will be on hand from Tuesday to Saturday at The Altamont Fair.

Late summer is the busiest time of year for the instructors, as prospective hunters look to secure licenses before hunting season. Fair-goers will be able to search a computer for class schedules and ask instructors about recent regulatory changes, which reduced fees and changed the number of licenses. New annual licenses went on sale this week.

The courses cover firearm safety, survival, first aid, and ethics.

Despite the precautions, accidents can happen. Esposito said a bullet once shot through his house and he suspected they were adult hunters who were unfamiliar with the area. Other incidents he has only known through anecdotes.

“I think, inevitably, the people who are involved with those kinds of things are what people might call ‘weekend warriors,’ people who just sort of go out and don’t think about what they’re doing and they tend to be careless, if not reckless…They’re not what I would consider to be sportsmen.”

Clark, a regional education coordinator for the DEC, pointed to the state’s lowest hunting incident rate being recorded in 2013, attributing it to the department’s classes.

In a survey of gun-safety studies, to create a 2012 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that firearm-related deaths were among the top causes of death among people between 15 and 19 years old. Though it was focused on gun ownership generally and not hunting, it found that gun avoidance programs had little effect and instead physicians’ counseling and distributing gun locks and safes had some impact on limiting household exposure to guns.

“I think a lot of accidents happen through curiosity,” Esposito said. “If you teach people about guns or how to handle guns, I think you deal with that curiosity, you take it out of the equation.”