September 09, 2022
For regular readers of this column, my choice to spotlight the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF) in this normally business-oriented space might come as a surprise. But rest assured, this is no mistake!
As Bowhunter Magazine continues to celebrate its 50th Anniversary and pay tribute to industry partners — those companies that have not only provided invaluable support to the Bowhunter Magazine brand but also to the growth and improvement of the Bowhunting community as a whole — the ongoing role of the nonprofit NBEF cannot be overlooked or underestimated. And Bowhunter Magazine and key staff members have given wholehearted support to Bowhunter Education since the very beginning of the program, and we’ve always held the point of view that not only is bowhunter education vital to our future, but it’s also good business!
Bowhunter education got its start in 1969 when New Jersey bowhunter and retired Boy Scouts of America executive Bill Wadsworth developed a program at the request of the New York State Field Archers and Bowhunters Association. Incidentally, this was about the same time that Bowhunter Magazine Founder M.R. James was beginning to form his idea for the first bowhunting-only magazine, which would come together a couple of years later.
Bill Wadsworth worked tirelessly to refine his bowhunter education program for nearly a decade, convinced that it was the best way to not only make for safer and more successful bowhunters but also to protect his favorite pastime from a growing anti-hunting contingent. By the mid ‘70s, Bill’s program had gone nationwide under the auspices of the National Field Archery Association’s Bowhunting and Conservation Committee, bringing on the likes of long-time Bowhunter Conservation Editor Dr. Dave Samuel to develop a program that would stand the test of time and ultimately become “one of the principal deterrents to the antihunters’ efforts to eliminate bowhunting.”
By the late ‘70s, the growth of bowhunting and the expanded need for educational services had outpaced the capabilities and scope of the NFAA-committee-level program, not to mention the need for a curriculum developed not only by hardcore bowhunters but by professional educators had more than justified establishing a separate and independent 501 (c)3 corporation. The first official board meeting of the newly formed National Bowhunter Education Foundation took place in mid-October of ‘79 at TVA’s Land Between the Lakes.
Bill Wadsworth’s original bowhunter education program, which had continued to evolve during the NFAA committee days, included the development of teaching practices and protocols and creation of student and teacher manuals, a host of supportive graphics, along with other educational materials. While to be clear, in the early days Bowhunter Education was not universally accepted by members of the archery industry because some viewed it as an obstacle to participation and growth of the sport, especially when proficiency testing or mandatory bowhunter education was suggested. And even board members had heated arguments over a variety of different subjects. Guess what? Seems bowhunters are passionate, opinionated folks!
But through it all, the dedicated members of that original NBEF Board (and ensuing Boards) solidified Bowhunter Education through strategic industry relationships as well as cooperation with the National Association of Hunter Safety Coordinators (now the IHEA), which was key to the addition of bowhunting curriculum to state hunter education programs and proving the need for more bowhunter education.
As Dr. Dave Samuel remembered from those early years, the NBEF team accomplished a ton: “…64 instructor workshops took place, the basic student manual went into its 10th printing, 20 states and provinces placed their names and logos on the cover of the student manual, and the NBEF published a ‘Bowhunter Instructor Training Manual,’ as well as an important set of eight educational deer targets…” Now being called the International Bowhunter Education Program (IBEP), the NBEF’s program was well on its way to being hailed as the preeminent accredited program of its type and being accepted not only across North America but also in many other parts of the world.
Before long, Bowhunter Education had become the largest such organization with many thousands of volunteer instructors reaching tens of thousands of students each year. During the ‘90s, Bowhunter Education moved online and by the early 2000s had introduced Internet Distance Learning and a newly modeled “Today’s Bowhunter” student manual (an updated version of that manual is still in use). Since 1979, over 3 million bowhunters have taken the IBEP and been certified. And in just the last couple of years (during the pandemic), over 90,000 students took the course online!
Today, the NBEF also offers a wide variety of complementary resources, including the “Today’s Crossbow” manual; “Today’s 3-in-1 Responsibility Guide” covering treestand use, shot placement, and game recovery; an “Urban Bowhunting Guide;” and a long list of educational tools from posters, flipcharts, and diagrams to Advanced Anatomy Shot Placement Guides with overlays and even Mini 3-D Deer and Bear Models to perfectly illustrate proper shot placement.
Simply put, after nearly 50 years, the NBEF remains in the business of being the leading advocate for doing things right while bowhunting, and for that they earn a tip of the Bowhunter cap!
For more information, go to NBEF.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact NBEF Executive Director Marilyn Bentz, P.O. Box 2934, Rapid City, SD 57709; (605) 716-0596.