Column: I’m at a loss

ESCANABA — A good number of youth and adult hunters had the opportunity to attend and become certified through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Hunter Safety Program throughout this summer and fall. The classes were conducted mostly by local MDNR conservation officers who teamed up above and beyond the call to cover the large waiting list, as the numbers of volunteer instructors remains low. I know this because my schedule interrupted any chance I had until this last weekend, a time I try not to obligate myself for anything except camp and preparation for deer hunting.

As it turns out, the final tab of 35 students, again a mixture of youth and adult, convened at the Great Lakes Sports and Recreation Club (GLSRC) last Saturday and Sunday for 12 hours of instruction and hands-on firearm handling within the confines of the indoor range, a special feature of the club. The class was also supported with sponsorship from the GLSRC, MDNR, OSF St. Francis Hospital and UP Whitetails Association of Delta County. We actually had 48 people in all with parents accompanying kids under 11 years of age and three volunteer workers.

It is very gratifying to see the interest of those taking the course. While it is a casual atmosphere, we really tackle serious information especially related to conservation, ethics and especially handling of firearms.

Conservation has a broad meaning when applied to all the individual renewable natural resources such as land, water and wildlife. When applied to hunting, the students learn about carrying capacity with habitat, fair chase and leaving the resources as good if not better than when they used them.

We drill in the importance of safe handling of firearms with emphasis on never pointing any gun (toy or real) at anything you do not intend to shoot and never, never at a human being. Always assume that a gun may be unloaded until you physically check both chamber and magazine to assure they are empty and if you are handling a gun with someone else present, that the action (mechanism that engages ammunition for firing) is open and thus safe. Even though firearms are designed with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge, students are instructed that a safety is a mechanical device that may fail – never trust a safety.

Along with other gun components, what happens to push a projectile out of a barrel is detailed and the differences between how shot pellets and bullets hit targets are part of the standard information.

It is important to understand how to anticipate problems while afield and to have a reaction plan if there is an incident. We discuss various scenarios involving environment, trauma and medical emergencies.

The most serious portion of the class relates to that split second point when the trigger is pulled on a firearm and the bullet leaves the barrel. From then on, there is no turning back and a mistake could be deadly, as most youngsters have never contemplated as mortality isn’t a common consideration. Some did indicate that hey have very graphic video games that do involved shooting at humans, but also learned to appreciate reality from a game that can be repeated the next day to the end result of accidental death.

It really hits home when we discuss the impact of hitting the vital organs of game species with the shock and damage of a bullet or shot pellets, and hemorrhage from the broadhead of and arrow or bolt. Once established and then explained how the same destruction of life would occur if a human is involved, there is a strong silence in the room acknowledging how these young minds now understand true reaction to what a firearm is capable of doing.

We also emphasize the difference between a sporting firearm and the application of us as a weapon. It has nothing to do with design or capacity. It goes back to the use and only those involved with law enforcement, the military and those properly trained on self-defense. What each student is doing when engaged with the use of a firearm is strictly for sporting purposes that include target shooting and harvesting wild game within the established regulations, ethics and traditions established back in the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, considered the fathers of conservation.

Upon completion of the lecture and practical parts of the class, students are required to take a written test with a limited margin of error for passing. It is done to assure the instructor that the most important information provided in the class has been absorbed and that these novice hunter minds are now triggering in making positive choices from here on. It is my contention that the fundamental information taught is these classes will have a positive overlapping impact in the choices made by these students the rest of their lives.

On completion I left the GLSRC enroute to home feeling the extra time I invested away from what I had originally planned on doing was well worth it. We now have 35 new safety certified hunters that will work to gain the support and appreciation of those who do not hunt and keep hunting as the safest sporting activity known.

It was a very proud moment that I wanted to share with my wife when I arrived home. As I opened the door and entered our house, the television was flashing a special report that someone had just entered a church in Texas and killed a bunch of people.

Why and what would cause anyone to hate themselves, or life itself, enough to do something like this?

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.