Missoulian: Biden signs bill restoring hunter ed funding while MT instructors carried on
President Joe Biden on Friday signed legislation to restore federal funding for hunters safety education and archery programs in schools.
Montana officials trumpeted victory following the passage of the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, which allows federal funding for hunting, archery, shooting sports and culinary programs through the Department of Education after that agency interpreted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to include a ban on that use of federal dollars.
“We’re proud of it because as you know guns are a part of our society,” Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said in a phone interview last week prior to the bill’s signing. “We want people to use guns the smart way, we want them to know the tools and have respect for them and we want people to know how to use them safety.”
Skip Meier, a lifelong outdoorsman from Montana who spent a decade as an educator in Grayling, Alaska, said Monday hunter’s safety classes have been an important part of his life.
“When I moved up to Alaska there were several accidental shootings, kids putting holes in the boats because they didn’t know how to handle firearms,” he said.
Meier was an elementary school principal, and with his counterparts in the high school and middle school established the first hunter’s safety classes in the remote, 200-person village on the Yukon River. Meier’s father was a hunter’s safety instructor before him, and even pitched in to help a class for a few days before their Alaska hunting trip together.
About midday Monday, Meier, 77, had just left archery classes that are part of Absarokee school’s P.E. courses when he took a call from a reporter about the president signing a bill to restore federal funding for such programs. Meier figured the federal policy was indeed a misinterpretation, but said any serious federal efforts to end hunter’s safety classes would stir the hunting community up “worse than the civil war.”
“Maybe they fell into the pressure to stem school shootings or violence, but they’re going about it the wrong way,” he said.
The sky was never falling over the federal funding question for Meier, who said he finds his own funding to host these classes. Indeed, another hunter education program scheduled this week in Chinook was at capacity for registration.
Meier tends to host two classes a year, one in the spring so kids are able to put in for permit-only hunts in certain districts, and the weekend before rifle season starts. He manages archery education classes, too, beyond the P.E. classes at Absarokee schools he established in 2008.
This weekend Meier is leading a hunter’s education classroom course at the Absarokee Fire Hall. Several slots were still available for reservation at the time this story was published.
“I look forward to all the classes and one of the reasons I do this is my great-grandchildren, I have seven,” he said. “I want them to have the same opportunities I had growing up. That’s why I do this, so the youth can do this, too.”
The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act passed through Congress at a quick clip considering the mayhem in the nation’s capitol in recent weeks over a looming government shutdown and a historic removal of the Speaker of the House. Before it reached his desk, Biden had signaled he would sign the legislation.
“It needs to happen more often, when you have bipartisan solutions, because they stand the test of time,” Tester said last week. “It shows America that Congress can work.”
Tester had introduced his own version of the bill in the Senate, but the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act that Biden signed was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee. Seventy representatives cosponsored the bill, including Montana’s Rep. Matt Rosendale (R) and three Democrats, and it passed the House 424-1. Tester noted the language in Green’s bill originated in his own Defending Hunter’s Education Act of 2023 and was amended into the House bill before it gained momentum.
Staff at Green’s Maryland office told the Montana State News Bureau he appreciated Tester’s support on the bill, particularly his testimony before it passed the Senate by unanimous consent the same day the upper chamber received the bill.
“In Montana and across rural America our schools have long offered hunters safety classes, taught our kids gun safety and personal responsibility,” Tester said during the Sept. 27 hearing. “But recently the Biden administration and bureaucrats here in this city, who really don’t understand rural America very well, decided to block funding for these important education programs. I want to be clear, that was a poor decision.”