Each year it happens. I feel very "official" in my Firearm Safety Instructor uniform shirt as I drive to teach our first Firearm Safety course of the season. There are no police officers in my family, so this is always a curious experience for me. While in my vehicle, the uniform shirt appears to be, and at first glance can easily be mistaken for, a police officer’s uniform. Cars speed past me, take one look at my arm patches and thinking I am a police officer, slam on their brakes and zip into the slow lane. I always chuckle at this while at the same time getting a sudden devilish sense of power. I rest my arm by my window so the patches are more visible, just so I can watch the lawbreakers do their ‘speedus interruptus’. I imagine that real police and conservation officers see this hundreds of times a week. I find it amusing. However, teaching Firearm Safety is serious business, and the uniform speaks for that.
Mary looked apprehensive as I used the two handed carry to pass the high powered rifle to her in class. "It’s unloaded", I prompted, showing the open action, and handing her the gun. Her eyes worried, hands raised tentatively, and fingers bicycling the air for a moment, she acted as if the firearm was a live serpent. Part of me wanted to hug her as I explained how safe firearms actually are and as I prepared her for the sheer weight of the gun. "Got it?" I asked. "Got it", she replied. She took the rifle from me and we went through safe handling, caliber identification, loading, unloading and features. By the time she was finished, her fear was replaced with respect and confidence - and also with a request for a fitness program to build the upper body strength needed to comfortably handle the firearm. I just grinned.
Teaching Firearm Safety is always exciting for me and my fellow instructors. I learn every time I teach and it is immensely satisfying to watch class participants become more confident and knowledgeable with firearms, archery and hunting. All Firearm Safety classes are unique, but this one was especially so. I had been asked to help teach an all-women’s class of DNR employees who had mostly not hunted or shot a gun before. We had one man in the class, but the rest were females. Most of these women dealt with hunters and enforcement on a daily basis as their livelihood and were in the class to better understand their customers: hunters and the general public. Being the avid shooter, archer and hunter that I am, I of course had ulterior motives to convert the group into nature loving wild women hunters. My team teacher Kurt Moline has a passion for recreational shooting, and he was hoping to impart that on the ladies as well. Students ranged from 18 years old to ladies of all ages who were seasoned employees.
In most of our classes, students are younger males who have had some experience hunting in the field and who perhaps had even handled a firearm prior to taking the class. Some of our ladies however, like Mary, were almost afraid to even touch the firearms initially. But by the end of the class, several women were eager to shoot my Thompson Encore 7mm-08 (AKA the ‘hand cannon’) single shot pistol and other guns at the shooting range. After working with a number of firearms, the women had some very interesting comments. Several noted the need for upper body strength, so I incorporated a segment on fitness and weight training together with an instructional handout. Others found the same things to be enjoyable that I do, like the metallic ‘kachink’ of a gun’s action as you chamber a round and the "kerPOW" of the shot from the larger caliber guns we shot at the range on our field day. Many students were even getting patterns near the bull’s eye. Each lady who shot those larger caliber guns had a big smile after their shots. In class, we used dummy rounds and firearms provided by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Kurt Moline, a ballistics expert with the BCA, provided these classroom teaching aids.
Also unique to this class was the learning and participation style of adult females. Our usual young male class members are quite easily distracted and require much more disciplined teaching techniques. The ladies were so quick, conscientious, and dedicated with homework, participation, and learning that we ended up completing the course with one full class session eliminated.
Another unique aspect of this class was working around the students’ busy work schedules and custom designing make-up curriculum for classes missed. We improvised by using portions of the MN DNR Home Study course. One student missed the exam day and came to my office a week later for supervised testing. The Internet worked nicely for communication with organizing the class and communicating with fellow instructors and students.
I just received two things in the mail today. One, is a shirt I ordered from Cabela’s for my fellow instructor Kurt, on which to place the Instructor patches I also obtained for him. To date he has not worn an ‘official’ Instructor shirt for our classes and I look forward to hearing his feedback on being "Almost a cop". The other mail item was the student patches and certificates. This is the first class I have ever taught where I really want to hunt or shoot with some of the students in the future. I also look forward to teaching other similar groups at the DNR. Having DNR employees be certified in Firearm Safety not only gains them more respect with the public they deal with, but also helps instill in those employees the passion of the hunting and shooting sports. When you have that passion on both sides of the fence, and especially with women who are a decided minority in the outdoor sports, Safety and enforcement truly become a team effort.