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ANCHORAGE - People wanting to hunt in certain areas of Alaska will be required to take mandatory hunter education classes starting in 2002.
The Alaska Board of Game decided Monday that the state will begin requiring hunters born after 1986 to complete a certified hunter education course before taking to the field in large sections of Southcentral and around Fairbanks.
The board was acting on requests from hunting and firearm safety groups, who are trying to curb the number of gun deaths around the state.
Backers of the plan have said Alaska has the highest firearms injury rate in the nation - about four- to eight times higher than the national average for hunters. And they said Alaska was the only state in the nation that doesn't require its hunters to take a gun safety class.
Board members said they were aware of the statistics. But they were concerned about adding another rule to the books, uncertain how hunter education would be implemented in rural areas of the state and concerned that the requirement would make hunting less appealing.
``I don't like the term `mandatory,' being an independent Alaskan, but still, I'm going to support it,'' board member Mike Fleagle of McGrath said Monday, indicating he was concerned about the state's high firearms injury rate.
The panel exempted hunters under age 16 from taking the course if they are supervised by someone who has taken it.