The lessons weren't all that hard to learn, but the knowledge they gave me and the doors they opened had an impact that would last a lifetime.

I was just 12 years old, and yet I could understand the value of everything I was taught.

All new hunters in Pennsylvania, regardless of how old they are, are required by law to successfully complete a hunter-trapper education course. Like I said, with some effort, the material is not hard to grasp. But the lessons learned will become an invaluable asset. The classes are the gateway to the state's hunting heritage.

With the hunting season upon us, it's vital that youngsters looking to go afield prepare now. There are dozens of classes scheduled in locations across the state, but they are filling fast. Many are already filled. That means if you, or a young hunter you know, wants to take a class before the season swings into high gear, you'd better act now. If not, you may have to sit out this season.

There are two ways to complete the course. The traditional format involves 10 hours of classroom instruction spread over two or more days. But thanks to technology, students can also complete an independent-study version of the course at home. In that case, they only need to attend a three-hour, hands-on session to make the grade.

The course goes over the basics of hunting and hunting safely. Students discuss the ethics of hunting, firearms safety, trapping, wildlife management and, of course, shooting skills. I took the course decades ago and I can still remember what I was taught. After all, it's knowledge I use every time I head into the woods.

Most of the courses are taught by volunteers or Game Commission staff. That means those of us who have a few years of experience under our belts have yet another opportunity to get involved. The Game Commission is continuously seeking volunteers to help teach the courses.

You don't need any special skills to teach the class -- just a yearning to pass on the state's hunting heritage to the next generation and some basic teaching skills. And best of all, you don't have to devote all that much time into the effort. The Commission only asks for 16-20 hours each year. If it helps get 20 youngsters involved in the sport, it's time well spent.

Educating the next generation of sportsmen is a critical duty. It helps make our woods and fields safer and, just as important, it instills a strong sense of responsibility in our newest hunters.

Whether you are just getting into the sport or have a few decades worth of time in the woods, get involved with the state's hunter-trapper education program. Either take the course or help teach one. You'll be a better person after you do.

I know I am.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.