Beginning this month, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife will send new Oklahoma hunters to a new hunter safety education course, designed and operated by the controversial National Rifle Association.
The previous online course was scrapped starting October 1, although would-be hunters who started their training before then are still directed to the state-run course. Hunters who began training after October 1 are redirected to an NRA-sponsored training program. A version of the course for ages 10 to 30 is mandatory whether it’s taken online or in person.
“It was just a no brainer for us. It saved our hunters money. Saved us money and we can still have a high-quality hunter ed (sic) course,” said Lance Meek, the Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife’s Hunter Education Coordinator said.
Meek estimated the department’s original site cost between $60,000 and $70,000 and a planned upgrade to the course would have cost close to $30,000. That’s when the Dept. of Wildlife, which is funded solely of hunting and fishing fees and fines, was approached by the NRA.
Taking the course requires the user to make an account with the NRA. The organization requiring users to give their personal information like their email and home address. The program also asks for an NRA member number although being a member isn't required.
The user is then taken to a page which is filled with links to other NRA programs, like the group’s program for business alliances, NRA course in how to become a member, and how to donate to the group.
Once the course begins, it's not specific to Oklahoma laws and the required videos are full of product placement. The course does not, however, appear to be politically charged.
The NRA did not respond to questions about whether the program was meant to help sell firearms and drum up new members.
When News 9 asked the state about partnering with the polarizing gun group, the Department of Wildlife said they had conversations just not concerns.
“My job, our job is to promote safe and ethical hunting,” Meek said. “That course does a great job of doing that and in the end we just made the decision that we felt was better for our constituents.”
Oklahoma, Connecticut, Oregon, Texas, Florida and New Mexico all offer the class. Only Oklahoma and New Mexico do not require an additional skills testing course or fee after passing the NRA course.
There are still in-person courses held in every county, Meek said. A schedule for the in-person courses can be found on the Department’s website.