What We Do For Love Hunter Education & Firearm Safety

With wide strides, I walked to Ben's left side and spontaneously posed with one arm straight up and one arm straight out. Ben did not know what I was doing since we had not rehearsed this at all.

I am a tree", I exclaimed to a classroom full of curious staring eyes who wondered what I was up to. I like visual teaching because of it's effectiveness. A snicker came from the back of the room as I heard someone whisper "she looks like a tree". "Hey, I heard that", I replied doing a mock glour at the sheepish offender, and then smiled over in Ben's direction.

He grinned and knew exactly what I was up to. Although there was a twenty year difference in our ages, we shared a synergy with teaching that I had come to really enjoy. I could read him, and he could read me and we had mutual respect for each other. He snapped his rifle to an offhand shooting position, and proceeded to use the "tree" to steady his shot. He then used one of my "branches" as a rifle rest. We were graphically demonstrating how the most unsteady of shooting positions, the standing or off-hand position, could be secured by using a tree as a brace or rest.

I love the shooting and hunting sports, both firearms and archery. One of my great joys in life is teaching and being a mentor to new shooters and hunters. I really don't have the time to do this teaching, what with working eighty hour work weeks, riding herd on two teenagers, and hunting most weekends. But I simply must make the time, because the future of our sports lies in our teaching our craft to new hunters. It's what we do for love... the love of our sport.

Organizing this class as lead instructor had begun to seem like an impossible task, however. With new security after the 9/11 events, most meeting facilities and public buildings would not allow firearms to be brought in, and a Firearms Safety Class definitely requires the presence of firearms nearly every week, whether for demonstration, cleaning or whatever. It took weeks to find a facility large enough to accommodate a class of 25 students. We had over 50 people on the waiting list, more than usual because many also wanted to be in a class with a female instructor. I finally managed to secure the city's police department training room for our evening classes, to be held over a two month time frame.

I have taught Firearm Safety and Bowhunter Education in various forms for years. However, the Minnesota DNR teaching materials had radically changed this year. I had just attended re-certification classes with our regional training officer and I was very excited about the new curriculum. There were brand new student manuals, instructor manuals, new lesson plans, and especially, new teaching techniques. Learning it all, I felt like a rookie instructor all over again. Methods had evolved from lecture and reading, to hand's-on, demonstration and student participation. Instead of preaching the laws, we drew them out of our audience and posted them on flip charts. We made ample use of white boards, videos, props and overheads. We set up mock fences, and practiced crossing them with guns made out of yardsticks and string. We loaded and unleaded actual firearms with dummy rounds. We had students come to the front of the class to demo shooting positions and gun carries. We used clips from videos instead of wasting half hour segments with video, and had students participate in analyzing hunter ethics instead of preaching hunter ethics. These are much more effective ways for students to learn, but they did require that we instructors completely re-invent the wheel of our class structure. Our instructor team consisted of Ben, me, Kurt, Dan, and our local Conservation Officer, Chad, who came for one hour of our fifth class. Ben is a manager at a local sporting goods chain, and Kurt works for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in their forensics/ballistics unit. Dan is a fireman and active in the gun club where our range day was to be held. We each brought unique and complimentary talents to the table for teaching team... and teamwork is especially important in hunter education.

As with every class, some common themes always impress our students. One, is that only 9% of people hunt, nationally. 11% are against hunting, and the other 80% are the neutrals who could be swayed either way. Hunter ethics issues can sway the 80% to be anti's in a heartbeat. The hunter ethics, or lack of ethics that we focused upon, were poaching, violation of hunting regulations, and respectful treatment of the animals we hunt. Our students rightly determined that these areas seem to be the hot spots for swaying the neutral 80% to be pro or con. They also seem to be the subjects that our students bring up in all of our classes.

(1) Poaching is taking any animal illegally. Examples given by our students were:

a. Hunting or killing an animal without the required license
b. Hunting or killing an animal that is not in season or that is protected
c. Hunting in areas where it is illegal to shoot or hunt, as governed by State or local laws

(2) Hunting Reg Violations noted by our students as being the most offensive were taking an animal by any unethical or illegal manner. The examples given by this class as being the most offensive violations, were:

a. Not observing the party hunting rules.
b. Hunting animals (example was deer) by archery when you are also carrying a firearm
c. Illegal baiting. Examples given were baiting deer, which is illegal in Minnesota, and baiting bears before legal baiting season.

(3) Ethical Violations noted by students were many, but these were the top offenders:

a. Careless handling of firearms & lack of muzzle awareness
b. Distasteful display of dead animals on vehicles, trailers, etc.
c. Telling blood stories around non-hunters who might be offended
d. Trespassing or lack of respect for privately owned land

Every Firearms Safety class is unique and we instructors learn something new with each one. The final class session is always the most intense and the most exciting because it is exam day. Every student in our class passed this time around, which is not always the case. They will all get to hunt this fall. By request, I plan to personally mentor some students in the future, although they do not know yet that I have decided to do this. I want them to have one hunting season under their belts first.

What we do for love? We share what we love. What could you be doing to further the hunting and shooting sports, that will ensure that those who want to hunt in the years to come will be able to do so?