It's good to volunteer, even if you're busy.

One way I volunteer is by teaching our county's youth (and adults) hunter safety. This is actually a DNR activity completely separate from the sheriff's department -- in fact an officer who works for me in the sheriff's department is actually my boss in the Hunter Safety program!

Our goal is simple: make sure that when the new hunter goes out, they're safe. Another way of saying this: we want to make sure that when you're in the woods, that new hunter won't shoot you. (One of our mottoes is "Shoot the game -- not each other.")

To do this we offer Field Days -- really a half day of outdoor hands-on drills, exercises, learning and fun -- kids love field days! The DNR also requires all would-be hunters to study some written material -- once that's complete, they must participate in a Field Day.

Students first handle "training guns" which are actually real production guns you would buy in the store, modified so they can't fire. Since they weigh and work just like real guns, most students instantly develop an attitude of respect.

When ready, students move on to firing real guns with live ammo; also cross and compound bows. And, climbing in and out of blinds, crossing fences, shooting skeet (clay pigeons), multiple actions and multiple gauges/calibers, and much more -- all while being drilled by instructors to see if they've learned their book learning.

Finally we finish up with a written test -- a DNR requirement.

But the more important test is: "How does the student behave in the field?" Being able to recite "Always point the muzzle in a safe direction" is not the same as actually doing it.

Often a student will, at first, commit basic blunders such as pointing their (training, non-firing) gun at someone. "By mistake" of course but you just can't make mistakes with loaded guns or bows.

We do what we need to, to get students to do the right thing consistently and out of habit. This works almost all the time -- in the unusual case where the student just can't or won't hunt safely, we simply don't certify them. They can't buy a hunting license; you won't encounter them out in the field, hunting.

There is really no other good way to make sure a new hunter is really safe. And, it works! Since the DNR program was started, fatalities in the field have fallen from around a dozen every hunting season (a typical number in the 1970s) to basically zero. We Hunter Safety instructors like to believe that our work has helped.

COMPLICATIONS

Here comes the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have a problem: how to do hands-on training? Especially when CDC and WHO guidelines change every couple of weeks?

It's not too hard a problem to solve, but, the DNR, like all state departments, is a bureaucracy that has to move deliberately, and therefore, somewhat slowly. Simply, because they are responsible to (if not actually under attack by) many different groups.

For example a very powerful national organization, which you know the name of, pressures ("lobbies") legislators to eliminate our entire DNR Hunter Safety program, including Field Days, and use instead this organization's own hunter safety program, which is 100% online.

Besides eliminating Field Days, this "suggestion" has a number of flaws -- just for one example, what about Amish students? But as a legislator, it is very difficult to "oppose" this particular organization -- they have a lot of power.

Hunting is an important part of Michigan life, and the DNR does want young (and old) hunters to hunt -- yet they had to cancel all Field Days as part of the effort to overcome COVID-19. So, as a compromise and until Field Days are again permitted, the DNR is allowing the purchase of a hunting license without requiring a Field Day. This is to last until we may offer Field Days again; the license purchased is to be valid only for the calendar year 2020.

We all know that these are unusual times, which sometimes present us with problems without very good solutions. That's our situation currently.

Once things get normal enough, I and my fellow certified Hunter Safety instructors look forward to conducting Field Days again. Word from the DNR is that demand will be high. That will be good for Lake County -- our Field Days typically attract some hunters from all over the state, and even from out-of-state. Yes, we're really that good.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic (or if you would like to volunteer to be a Hunter Safety instructor), you can always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.