By taking the advice of Sgt. Mike Barr and other conservation officers, Adairsville Middle School student Josh Howard turned a legal infraction into a learning opportunity. After an incident in October where Howard and another teen were confronted by Barr for hunting illegally, Howard took all the necessary steps to complete the hunter safety course and took his first deer earlier this month under full compliance with the law and safety requirements.
On Oct. 28, in response to reports of shots fired in Pine Log, Barr heard a rifle shot and found Howard and his hunting partner hunting within 50 yards of the road. Howard was too young to be hunting without proper supervision and discharged a weapon too close to a public road, but Barr weighed the circumstances and found that Howard was eager to hunt and willing to go through the proper steps.
“As conservation officers,” Barr said, “we always have the challenge of determining the seriousness of the violation and the person we’re dealing with to use the least level of enforcement to gain compliance with the law — and that varies. It varies determining if someone knows what they’re doing and the violation itself.
“It’s a lot different if you’re supposed to have multiple licenses and forgot to purchase one of them or if you’re spotlighting deer at night under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Those are two very different violations. ... In this situation, it was a good kid, he just hadn’t had a lot of guidance on what to do.”
Hunters born after Jan. 1, 1961, must successfully complete a hunter education course before purchasing a season hunting license unless hunting on their own property or on the property of a parent or guardian. Youth between the ages of 12 and 15 must obtain a hunter education certificate unless under direct adult supervision.
The hunter education course in Georgia is a 10-hour program, which can be completed through a combination of online study and classroom work with a written exam to be taken before certificates are rewarded.
“I always relate firearm safety to a hammer,” Barr said. “In the hands of a carpenter, he can build a house, but if it’s used in the wrong way you could hit someone in the head and kill them. In the same way, a gun is similar. It’s a tool and how you learn to use it is an important part of growing up.
“I think they say the average is about four or five hours of studying before taking a driver’s test. By law, we have to complete 10 hours of hunter safety before you can hunt. So actually more than what’s required, on average, to drive a car — and it’s a good course. We go through firearm handling, how it’s utilized in the field, what to do as far as finding your game, knowing your target beyond where you’re shooting, what’s legal and what’s not and we go through the whole gamut of firearm hunting.”
After the Oct. 28 incident, Howard began working toward his hunter education certificate, taking online courses followed by two hours in a classroom setting and an exam administered by DNR officers. Upon his graduation of the course, Howard again contacted Barr who personally arranged for Howard to hunt on a privately-owned, managed property.
Howard and Barr, along with a family friend, set out on Dec. 21 for a deer stand overlooking a food plot. The men first saw two bucks, but practicing herd management, they waited to harvest a doe to help control the deer population of that property.
It wasn’t much longer before Howard succeeded in taking his first deer from 180 yards. Kevin Bagley, owner of Adairsville Processor on Holcomb Road, donated the processing of the doe and soon Howard and his family will be able to enjoy the rewards of his first legal hunt.
“It was pretty cool. We saw a bunch of deer up there,” Howard said. “It feels really good to be able to go out and hunt. It’s a lot of fun to be able to go out and do what you want safely and legally and not have to worry about getting in trouble.
“I suggest folks that want to hunt, just go online and do a lot of studying and try your best on the test. Then take your test, wherever it may be, and when you pass it get your card and do everything right.”
Barr congratulates Howard on his first deer and his commitment to hunter safety and urges others, of all ages, to pursue their hunter education certificate.
“It’s refreshing to see that someone is willing to try the right method. A lot of kids these days want to take the short cut and their focus is solely killing a deer or harvesting something the first chance they get,” Barr said. “In this case, we were able to head him down the right path, got him some training and hunter’s safety education.
“To see that this had an impact on a person and heading them down a path they otherwise might not have is pretty satisfying for a law enforcement officer.”
For more information, visit www.gohuntgeorgia.com or call the DNR Region 1 Law Enforcement Office in Calhoun at 706-624-1367.