Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Safety is a priority for hunter education instructors


John Verser

Larry Stahla, left, and Brian Howard, instructors at the hunter education course, give a student an up-close view of how to properly transfer a firearm during Saturday's class.

Many things have changed about the hunter safety course over the years, but the message has not.

That is the message delivered by those instructors who teach the course. Locally, that falls into the hands of Larry Stahla, who has taught hunter education for more than 40 years; Brian Howard and Jon Shay, who have been teaching the course for eight years each; and Josh Gillming, who is in his first year as a helper and hopes to gain his teaching certification soon. The group taught a class of 20 students last Saturday and Sunday at the Kimball Public Library. It is the second such class they have taught this fall.

The class is 10 hours over two days. It also includes a test that the students must pass. Howard said one of the most important things to do is give the students something to build on.

"You get 10 hours of instruction to try to give them a lifetime of basic knowledge. You're giving them a base," he said.

Many aspects of the course has changed over the years. Stahla, who has been a certified hunter education instructor since 1973, said the courses were spread over a series of days instead of over two days. He said they even taught the course in the mornings prior to school at times.

Howard said technology has made a big impact as of late - both good and bad.

"Recently, you've got to watch the social media. They take their smart phone and take a picture, cheat on the test," he said.

Technology has also helped. Shaw said paperwork is now easier on both the instructors and students. By registering for the course online, it make it easier to register for hunting permits through the state, he said.

"We used to teach a class and you'd post when the class was, and you didn't know if you were going to get 10 people show up or 40," Shaw said. "Now you can put online what your class size is and you can see that your class is full and how many you're going to have, if you get a full class. It's their responsibility to sign up online, and once they do that, Lincoln has a record of that and when they pass the class, all their information is already in the system so it's easy for them to buy permits."

Another change is the location of the course. Stahla said they once traveled to Harrisburg, Dix, Potter and other area towns to teach the course. Students now come to a central location.

One change that has also improved is the opportunities available for children who want to hunt, Howard said.

"They really have done a lot for youth programs in the state," Howard said. "A kid can go out and try it without breaking bank the bank. There's much more opportunity for the youth to hunt. There's special seasons just for the youth to hunt. We didn't have that growing up. Now they get the weekend before for the youth. They get first whack at everything, which is the way it should be."

Those age 12 to 29 who want to hunt must take the course. It is generally offered here once or twice a year. Howard said one thing the instructors hope to pass along is good safety habits.

"If you practice good habits, they become ingrained," he said.

Stahla said it is also different learning things from someone else other than a parent.

"The big difference between a classroom and a kid's dad taking him hunting, he's in a hunting situation, he's not in a learning situation," Stahla said. "I don't care who you are, sometimes we screw up when we're out hunting. It still makes our blood boil a little bit if the right situation comes along."

All of the instructors are volunteers. In order to teach the course, instructors must take a course from the state director and then teach each subject in the book while under a certified instructor. Instructors must also pass background checks and other checks by the state.

"It takes some time and effort," Howard said.

The instructors all teach the course for different reasons.

"Personally, I think it's best to catch them young, teach them the right way when they're young," Howard said. "If you can do it and know you're doing a good job doing it, that makes you feel better. There's a need to fill, and if you can fill it to the best of your ability, I love to do it. I couldn't imagine not doing it."

Stahla said safety is serious concern he hopes to pass along, and feels the program has done well in that regard over the years.

"When the kids leave here, they've learned something," he said. "I don't know that we've ever had a serious accident. I'm not saying it hasn't happened, but I don't know of one. It gives you a good feeling. It makes it worthwhile."

Shay said teaching the course is rewarding on many levels.

"As far as hunting goes, it says in our book is to ensure the hunting tradition," he said. "Anybody in this room will tell you, it's just as gratifying to teach someone about hunting and see them be good hunters as it is to go hunting yourself. It's very rewarding to see someone go hunting and make sure they're safe doing it."

"We want to make sure it goes on to our kids and our grandkids, and pass it to the next generation," Gillming added. "We've got to make sure they do more than play big game hunts on Wii and make sure they get outside and experience the real thing."

Howard added that the instructors are a resource the can be used year-round. Anyone who has questions may contact him.


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