"Early on, the material was mostly firearm-safety related, because that was where we had the biggest problems. Recently we've needed to add sections on tree-stand and ATV safety, because that's where the big problems are now.
"It's fun to teach a segment of the curriculum and watch students' faces as they learn. I see people open their eyes and say, 'Wow, I get it now.'"
As the curriculum has evolved, so has the makeup of the classes themselves.
"Twenty-five percent of the students I teach now are female," Jones said. "Many of them have never touched a gun before, and they aren't sure they want to. We explain to them that a gun is a tool, just like a skillet or a screwdriver. It's rewarding to see them learn to handle a gun and realize it's not some sort of monster."
Law enforcement officials credit the course's firearm-safety training for dramatically lowering the state's annual number of hunting-related shootings.
"Before mandatory hunter ed, we were having 15 to 20 fatalities a year, mostly from shootings," Jones said. "Over the past six or seven years, fatalities from accidental shootings have been almost zero."
Those statistics give Jones and his fellow instructors a great deal of satisfaction, but he says their greatest rewards come from former students who approach them in public and tell them how something they learned during the course helped them to avoid problems afield.
One of the best compliments Jones' teaching team ever received came from an unexpected source - an 87-year-old man who had accompanied a young relative to the class.
"I asked him if he wanted to take the course, too, and he said 'no,'" Jones recalled. "After the first break, he came up and asked me to add his name to the list. When the course ended, he asked to speak to the class.
"He said, 'I've been hunting for 65 years, and I didn't think anyone could teach me anything more about it. I'm here to tell you I learned things I never knew.'"
Many of the volunteer instructors are retirees. Jones said retirees are a good fit for the role because they tend to have more spare time, but he acknowledged the need to get some younger folks involved.
"The majority of us are getting pretty old, and it would sure be nice to see some fresh young faces in the crowd," he said.
"The good thing is that we have some really dedicated instructors out there, spending time and money to make [the classes] happen. They have no idea how much I, as president of the association, appreciate that."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.