By Nick Simonson
Few firearms symbolize the holidays more than the Red Ryder BB gun received by Ralphie in the classic yuletide movie A Christmas Story. While his first experience with the peacemaker does not go well – nearly shooting his eye out as forewarned by his mother, teacher and even Santa Claus – the movie ends with the boy falling fast asleep with the gun in his hands, as the narrator recalls it being the best gift he had received, or would ever receive.
For many boys and girls around Ralphie’s age, a new gun is still a common holiday gift and represents the start of a new experience and a connection to the older generation of hunters in their family. Whether it’s a .22, a 20 gauge or a .243, many new shooters woke up this Christmas morning to the shiny blue of the long gun that will give them their chance at a first squirrel or deer, or the shotgun that could very well take their first pheasant, grouse or duck. However, before those memorable moments can happen, across the region the post-holiday season offers up perhaps the most important part of a hunter’s formative experience – the completion of a firearms safety course.
Required by hunters born after 1961 in North Dakota and 1979 in Minnesota, and taught by dedicated volunteer instructors with decades of classroom and field experience, most anyone who plans to hunt next season will be required to take one, and those who are old enough for an exception should still consider doing so. Providing not only the basics of field etiquette and awareness of the hunting environment, but also hands-on experience with guns, ammunition and related equipment, these classes which typically run for two-week stretches from January through April, depending on their location in the upper Midwest, are more than just a legal requirement, they serve as the base for life-long safety in the field.
Through a series of lectures, videos, firearm handling, in-field obstacle simulations and a range day, new shooters are exposed to situations and various firearms that they will undoubtedly encounter when hunting at some point in their lives. This gives them the experience they need to identify dangerous situations or unsafe behavior, and the courage and understanding to address it in the field when they do. From knowing how to assess their target, shot line and what lies beyond and around it to properly crossing a fence line whether alone or with others, students will graduate with a solid understanding of what is expected in the field.
A firearms safety certificate lets young people show they deserve to take advantage of all the great hunting and shooting opportunities in this region, and serves as a reminder to the rest of the hunting and shooting populace that they can do so responsibly and have earned the right to join the ranks. It’s as much a reassurance to the rest of the hunting public as it is a rite of passage, opening the door to a wide variety of experiences. For example, many youth shooting programs only open up to those who have completed their firearms safety course, and organizations like the North Dakota and Minnesota State High School Clay Target Leagues mandate safety course completion as part of their eligibility requirements. Firearms safety courses serve as a jumping off point for a safe and enjoyable shooting sports experience, as those programs catch fire and expand throughout the region with many young people taking this winter’s classes solely to join in on the fun.
No matter the reason, whether it’s to go hunting, join a shooting team or just to be more familiar with guns and their use, a firearms safety course could very well be the best gift anyone ever receives. This holiday season, follow up on the present of a new gun to a young shooter, by enrolling him or her in a nearby firearms safety course, opening a world of hunting and shooting to those with a gleam in their eye as they picture an exciting year ahead…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Follow up that Christmas present with a bright hunting and shooting future, via enrollment of a young person in a Firearms Safety Course this winter or spring. Simonson Photo)