Students to get a more hands on approach to hunter safety

LAKE COUNTY — Lake County draws students from all over the state to its hunter safety program. A new approach to how the class is taught and upping the amount of volunteer teachers is something Leo Heska, hunter safety instructor, is hoping will make training a fun and memorable experience.

"My goal is to reduce students time with book work by making the class a field day, expanding on-hands training," Heska said. "I am hoping also to get a pool of at least 20 volunteer instructors so classes can be scheduled more frequently and give kids a variety of people to train with."

Heska explained his approach is to have kids study 50 review questions in an outdoor setting, while walking in fresh air, instead of in a classroom setting.

"I believe learning works better with physical movement," he said.

The four-hour class complies with state law and Department of Natural Resources regulations.

"We confirm knowledge of material already studied before the field day, and augment it with hands-on practice," Heska said. "Our goal is to promote safe behavior including the safe handling of firearms. The hands-on portion of the class will include walking in groups while carrying firearms safely, practice handling and operating special/custom non-firing training weapons and getting dirty. We kneel, sit and crawl in the dirt or snow," Heska said.

The program also will include general outdoor health and safety such as appropriate dress, footwear, nutrition and hydration; crossing over and under fences with firearms and climbing into and out of raised blinds, tree stands or boats with firearms. There also will be practice shooting live firearms including a .22 rifle, a .410 and 20 gauge light shotgun/skeet and a .30-30 deer rifle.

"Our shooting is not intended to produce expert shooters, but to ensure safe firearm behavior and accustom students to live ammunition and a variety of firearms and actions. Also it's fun. Our ideal field day is active from start to finish. Our chapter reviews, question-and-answer sessions and instruction occur in-field, on-station and during activities such as while walking, during exercises or between rounds of shooting. Students may (logistics permitting) complete the written exam while standing at a shooting station. Snacks typically consist of in-field fodder such as venison sausage, cheese sticks and bagel quarters," Heska explained.

To attend and succeed in a field day, and get hunter safety certificates, students must:

n apply for the field day by filling out and sending in a standard application form

n complete either the Hunter Home Study course (no charge for this and study materials provided), answer the review questions and bring them to the field day, or complete an approved online course which cost $25, and bring the certificate of successful completion.

n participate fully in the field day and fulfill all the requirements. To prepare for the field day students must dress appropriately for the weather or they will not be allowed to participate. If this is a problem for students due to costs, they are encouraged to contact an instructor.

n be able to sign their name. State law requires they sign their certificate.

The next available hunter safety classes will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11 or Saturday, Feb. 25 at Pompeii's in Baldwin. Anyone interested in becoming a hunter safety instructor also is encouraged to come to use the classes as a training session.

Students who successfully meet the requirements and complete the field day will receive their hunter safety certificate on the spot. They may then use the certificate to buy a hunting license.