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Idaho Fish and Game wants new hunters. So it created a video game to help them learn

By Nicole Blanchard The Idaho Statesman

BOISE – Crouched down in the forest, knife in hand, Brennon Leman starts to skin the bull elk lying dead on the ground.

He draws his blade across the animal’s belly, over its legs and along its neck, peeling back the hide bit by bit. Leman removes the elk’s legs and trims off cuts of meat, laying them off to the side.

When the animal is fully butchered, Leman stands up, sets down the controllers in his hands and removes his virtual reality headset.

Though he’s never shot an elk, Leman has gone through this simulation enough times that he’s confident he could skin the animal and harvest its meat. That’s exactly what the Idaho Department of Fish and Game had in mind when it asked Leman and his fellow students at Boise State University’s Games, Interactive Media, and Mobile Technology program to design a virtual reality field dressing.

“In hunter education, sometimes we’ll show a video (of field dressing), but it doesn’t build that muscle memory,” said Ian Malepeai, director of marketing for Fish and Game.

In the past, Malepeai said, Fish and Game has used videos or diagrams or had new hunters practice “skinning” a wrapped candy bar. But those techniques don’t really prepare a fledgling hunter for the reality of field dressing, or cleaning and butchering a big game animal in the field.

So Malepeai started looking for a better way to teach those skills. He approached Anthony Ellertson, director of the GIMM program and a lifelong hunter, in 2018 to see if Boise State students were up to the task.

Ellertson was certain his students could handle the request. He assigned the project to GIMM students Leman and Dakota Kimble as a senior capstone. Leman and Kimble were paid for their work on the simulation, which started in October 2018.

Together, they created a 3D model of an elk, replicated an actual Idaho wilderness scene in which to place that elk and pioneered new VR tech to make a realistic hide that can be skinned from the rest of the animal.

“Brennon and Dakota didn’t grow up hunting,” Malepeai said, “but through this they want to take hunters education and go hunting. We can inform and inspire people to want to do it.”