Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
August 2018

International Hunter Education
Association Annual Conference Comes to Alaska

By Ginamaria Smith
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Volunteer Instructors and Hunter Ed staff from around the US met and shared their experiences

Volunteer recruitment, the history of hunter safety in the US, and lessons learned about leadership and teamwork from a musher’s perspective were just a few topics on the agenda during the International Hunter Education Association’s (IHEA-USA) conference. The annual conference is held each year in a different state and this year’s event was hosted by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s Hunter Information & Training (HIT) Program in Anchorage.

The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) - USA is the professional hunter education association affiliated with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the 50 state fish and hunter education programs. The programs employ 55,000 instructors, many of whom are volunteers, who teach hunting and shooting safety and responsibilities throughout the United States. Since 1949, almost 40 million students have completed hunter education courses which cover firearm safety, bowhunting, wildlife management, field care of game, responsible hunting, landowner relations, wildlife identification, and much more.

The annual conference is a chance for these professionals to network, learn about updates and opportunities on evolving topics related to hunter education, and attend the annual IHEA-USA business meeting. It is also a chance for the host state to showcase their hunter education and shooting sports programs, as well as what the state has to offer visitors. HIT Program staff and volunteers planned all aspects of this conference for the last year and a half to ensure an informative and enjoyable experience was had by all. Conference attendees included representatives from 33 state fish and game agencies and four international agencies (Australia, Mexico, Guam, and Ontario, Canada).

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A Utah-based Hunter Ed administrator trying out higher-caliber rifles used in Alaska to hunt big game

The conference started out in true Alaska fashion with the presentation of colors by the Dimond High School JROTC, accompanied by the Pipe Major of the Crow Creek Pipes & Drums. One of Alaska’s volunteer instructors led the Pledge of Allegiance and invocation, and the ADF&G Director of Wildlife Conservation Bruce Dale welcomed all attendees to Alaska. The keynote address was given by four-time Iditarod Sled Dog Race Champion Dallas Seavey. Seavey and lead dog Hero kept the audience entranced with tales of his mushing experiences, along with the importance of strong leadership and teamwork. Many conference attendees from across the US remarked on how Seavey’s presentation was one of the best they had ever heard and wished all of their staff and volunteers could have attended as well. Another highlight on the first day was the “Welcome to Alaska” reception held on the 15th floor of the Hilton Anchorage Hotel. Attendees marveled at the mountainous backgrounds that Sleeping Lady and the surround Chugach provided while watching locals fish for King salmon in Sheep Creek. Volunteer presenters from the Bird Treatment & Learning Center shared a few of Alaska’s bird species with the attendees (great grey owl, snowy owl, and Northwestern crow) and the Alaska Native Heritage Center dancers wowed the audience with their performance and display of Alaska’s native cultures.

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An Alabama-based Hunter Ed administrator learns about the history of the atlatl - a light spear thrown using a throwing stick - with some hands-on learning.

The second day, dubbed “Conservation Day” was all about hands-on experiences and exploring Alaska. The morning was spent at the Rabbit Creek Shooting Park and the afternoon included a drive down the Seward Highway to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). In the morning attendees were given free-roam of the range and a couple hours to visit various activities/booths highlighting Alaska hunting, trapping, and shooting activities.

Attendees got the chance to throw atlatls, shoot crossbows, walk through the Alaska hunter education field course, and visit with Alaskan trappers about the methods, species, and trapping regulations.

They also got to shoot shotguns to see how ADF&G staff complete bear firearm safety training prior to going out on field work, shoot rifles used for big game hunting, and meet with ADF&G sport fish staff and wildlife education staff to discover more about the public information and education provided by the department.

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An Australian Hunter Ed administrator testing out crossbows and learning about Alaska’s crossbow education certification course.

AWCC staff gave a presentation to conference attendees about the history of the center, what to expect during the visit, and an overview of the Wood bison restoration project which was a partnership between AWCC, NPS, and ADF&G. Attendees were then given a couple hours to explore AWCC, view the animals, and watch a couple presentations conducted by AWCC staff. It was the best opportunity for the visitors to view Alaskan “flagship” species like musk ox, brown bear, moose, Roosevelt elk, and wolves, without having to travel long distances.

The remainder of the conference was spent indoors attending presentations about volunteer recruitment, motivating conservation organizations to get involved, and R3 opportunities (recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts). A number of Alaska’s volunteer instructors also gave presentations on hunter ethics and Dall’s sheep hunting. ADF&G staff shared their research on Alaska small game, Dall’s sheep, and the unique Alaska subsistence culture. During the conference, IHEA-USA and other sponsors also recognize people and companies who have provided outstanding and dedicated service to the IHEA-USA, hunter education, and the sport of hunting. The Awards Ceremony was particularly exciting for the Alaska attendees as longtime Alaska volunteer hunter education instructor Carl Edmiston was inducted into the National Instructor Hall of Fame. Edmiston’s list of accomplishments and volunteer commitments is long, but his commitment and strong desire to instill proper behaviors for firearm safety, and create ethical hunters for the future, were among his greatest attributes.

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Ginamaria Smith, the HIT Program Coordinator, presented Alaska Volunteer Instructor Carl Edmiston with his award as he was inducted into the National Instructor Hall of Fame

The preparation and manpower it took to host a conference for over 175 attendees was startling, however the chance to showcase the HIT Program and Alaska was well worth it. Alaska set the bar high for future IHEA-USA conferences, and ADF&G staff, volunteers, and speakers did a great job representing Alaska.

To learn more about ADF&G’s Hunter Information & Training (HIT) Program or to sign up for a hunter education certification course in Alaska, visit or contact (907) 267-2373 for additional information.

Ginamaria Smith is the Program Coordinator of the Hunter Information and Training (HIT) Program for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and is based in Anchorage.

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