By RALPH BARTHOLDT
COEUR d'ALENE — Coeur d'Alene middle schooler Cooper Frank rocked back and forth in his chair Wednesday as he sat in a cool classroom along Kathleen Avenue.
This wasn't summer school, however, and Frank, 12, had volunteered to be here instead of hanging out at home during his summer vacation.
That is because this four-day course ends with a certification Frank covets: It will allow him to hunt Idaho wild game with a gun.
"It's a little boring, but it's fun, too," said Frank, a Canfield Middle School student who lives in Hayden. "We're learning about firearms safety and game management."
For Frank that means one thing:
"Hopefully, I can go hunting with my uncles or grandpa," he said.
Passing the Idaho Department of Fish and Game hunter education course is required for any potential hunter in the state who was born after 1974 and who wants to purchase a hunting license.
Fish and Game schedules one course each month in the Panhandle, coordinator Pete Gardner said. Although enrollment numbers fell off for several years, recent numbers show a spike across the state.
That's because this isn't your dad's hunter safety course.
It's an upscale version that can be taken online, at one's own leisure, and the use of small-caliber rifles in the final field training exercise is no longer required, although field safety is still one of the course's strong points.
"What you learn outside is just as important as what you learned in here for three days," instructor John Kunkle told Wednesday's class.
This week's classroom instruction between 8 a.m. and noon at the department's Kathleen Avenue headquarters drew 30 students ranging in age from 9-year-olds to adults.
Under the stately head and shoulder mounts of deer and elk, a mountain goat and heavy-horned sheep that hung from the high walls inside Fish and Game's classroom building, Kunkle and fellow instructor Michael O'Brien, both decked in blaze orange vests, introduced students to the basics of wild game management.
Kunkle, a former Los Angeles cop who has been teaching Fish and Game courses for several years, asked the class what the difference is between conservation and preservation.
"Conservation means to use the resource wisely," Kunkle said. "It's managed."
"It's like the preserves your grandma puts in a jar," Kunkle said. "They are not to be used, until it's time."
A slew of terms were introduced to the Wednesday class comprised mostly of boys, a few girls and a few adults dressed in shorts and flip flops, ball caps and sleeveless T-shirts.
They sat quietly for the most part until their hands shot up after Kunkle or O'Brien popped a question like a cork.
"What is habitat?" Kunkle asked.
The answer was multi-pronged.
It's the animal's home, someone said.
It's where they find food, shelter, water and the space they need to survive, Frank read from a thin text provided by Fish and Game chock full of illustrations, pictures of hunters, guns and a library of Idaho's game animals.
If the classes seem more popular because of online availability, there is another reason afoot, Gardner said. The state lowered from 12 to 10 the age young people can go afield, accompanied by adults, to bag birds, rabbits or big game.
Studies show as children become middle-schoolers, they spend more time in extracurricular school activities, primarily sports, which leaves little time to spend at a hunter's education course. So, numbers dropped off.
"Once they get into late elementary school or middle school, (extracurricular activities) are a significant time requirement," Gardner said. "Now, we're seeing a lot of younger students ... and we're picking up adults."
These days, traditional hunter education classes combine bow hunting, with firearms education, and anyone who wants to complete a bow hunter's course by itself can go online.
Sitting outside after class, 13-year-old Zak Wenglikowski mulled the day's lessons.
"We learned a lot of stuff," the Canfield student said.
A lot of wildlife management stuff, he said.
Has it given him enough insight into field biology to maybe pursue it as a career?
"Maybe," he said.
Traditional hunter education classes cost $9.75. Participants can go to the Idaho Fish and Game website and follow links to find classes or call 769-1414.