A new hunter taking the hunters safety course exam.

How to Get a Hunting License

Written by | Bird Hunting Articles, Novice Bird Hunter

This is the year you become a hunter because getting a hunting license is easier than ever

Don’t be fooled by what you hear—getting a hunting license is actually a very easy thing to do. Amidst all the changes and difficulties that 2020 has brought, getting a hunting license is one of the few things that has become easier and more accessible. As someone who took my first hunter education class in 1993 by attending several evenings of classes, listening to old dudes teach safe firearm handling and tell their hunting stories (more the latter), I can attest to all of the positive advancements that hunter education and licensing procedures have gone through.  

In full disclosure—27 years after that first hunter ed class and I now work as a Hunter Education Specialist for a state fish and wildlife agency working daily to make getting a license and learning how to hunt even easier and more effective.

Who can get a hunting license and what are the requirements?

One of the nice things about “who can get a license” is there is virtually no discrimination here. Trust me: the state fish and wildlife agencies that depend on license fees for everything they do are happy to have your money regardless of who you are or where you are from. Aside from minimum age requirements (varies state to state) and criminal history, virtually everyone is eligible for a hunting license. Even in most cases, those with felonies who cannot have firearms are still eligible to hunt with archery tackle and/or air guns where permitted.

The requirements to get a hunting license are simple: attend and pass a hunter education class online or in-person depending where you live or get an apprentice hunting license (in certain states). Apprentice licenses are generally good for one season and require the apprentice hunter to be under direct supervision (arm’s length) of a fully licensed mentor. In the states that have apprentice licenses it allows you a “trial” season if you will, after which if you wanted to continue, you would need to take a hunter education class and get a regular hunting license.

Taking a Hunter Education Class is easier now than it has been in decades!

Beginning around 1970, states began to require hunter education to get a license in response to rising numbers of hunting accidents. By the late 1980s, hunter education was required in all states and so began decades of an evolving hunter education program that is now a national program with standardized objectives.

Obviously the world is a far different place than just a few decades ago. While the status quo of “in-classroom” hunter education has been slowly evolving (not without a lot of grumbling from those old dudes) to the virtual world we live in today, 2020 gave no option but to blast things ahead 10 years in terms of online offerings and accessibility to hunter education. Some states such as New York have witnessed upwards of 100% increase in hunter education and license sales since COVID forced them to switch to an “all-online” model of hunter education.

Traditionally, hunter education took place in a few different formats, pre-COVID. A few states offered an all-online course for adults who were state residents. The majority of states offered a blended model where you could take a few hour online course with quizzes and then attend and in-person field day. The last option was to attend a good old-fashioned classroom style hunter ed class, which often involved several nights of classroom listening/learning (same guys from my class in ’93 still telling the same stories).

Right now, as we enter the 2020 fall hunting season, about two thirds of the states have an option for residents, non-residents, non-citizens, minors and everyone in between to take hunter education entirely online. There literally has been no time in the last 3 decades that taking a hunter education class has been easier. Most online options allow you to take the class at your own pace, logging in and out as you please and working on it when you have time.

Some states still require field days despite COVID precautions, implying there are limited classes and space and that’s normally true. In-person classes can be very tough to get into and align with schedules of everyday life. In all but a few states, a simple hack to get around this is to take the class in another state that’s offering an all online option. Hunter education is a national program so there is reciprocity between states.

“… a simple hack to get around this is to take the class in another state that is offering an all online option. Hunter education is a national program so there is reciprocity between states…”

Regardless what many think about the viability or efficacy of online learning, some states have been offering all-online classes for years and have the data to show there is no increase in hunting incidents as a result of all-online learning. That being said, whether you take an in-person class or all-online, finding a mentor, practicing, and getting comfortable with handling firearms remains essential to safety.

How and where to get a license*

Once you have completed your hunter education class, it is time to get a license. While many local outdoor stores and state fish and wildlife agency offices sell hunting licenses, online options are available in all states for many licenses and permits that you will need to hunt.

Often, first-time license buyers need to show proof of passing hunter education to license vendors. Your hunter education certificate will come with a number on it, which can be used in online license purchases. Once a hunter is in the state’s licensing system, buying the hunting license year-to-year is as quick as a simple login, add to cart, confirm payment, and then print.

*Don’t forget to buy any additional permits or stamps for specific species.

Last modified: September 11, 2020

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