Class makes sure its safety first for newhuntersBy Paul A. Smith of the Journal SentinelNov. 14, 2012Across Wisconsin, anticipation is building in hunters as the 2012 gun deer season approaches.The Department of Natural Resources expects more than 600,000 hunters to take to the woodsand fields beginning Saturday morning.Blaze orange will be donned by those with many decades of experience as well as first-timehunters.The newest of the new hunters graduated last weekend from hunter education classes inWisconsin, including one organized through the Big Dave Hollins Teen Hunting Club inMilwaukee.DNR conservation wardens conducted the class at the agencys Southeast Region headquarterson King Drive.The club was started by the late Dave Hollins, a Milwaukeean with a big laugh, a big heart and abig love of the outdoors.It was formed to provide a gateway to hunting for urban teenagers, said Ron Johnson ofMilwaukee, who now helps run the club.The class was held for eight hours Saturday and two Sunday. Twenty-five students wereenrolled.The students ranged from 11 to 56 years of age. The racial makeup was just as varied."This used to be the only all-black hunting club in the state," Johnson said with a laugh as helooked at the diverse group. "Its great to involve everyone whos interested."Tasha Jenkins of Milwaukee took the class with her 12-year-old son, Devan.Though Devan had hunted in Arkansas with his grandfather, Tasha wanted him to be certified inWisconsin, too.Conservation warden Gervis Myles of Milwaukee coordinated the class. Retired warden JohnPlenke was the lead instructor.
Warden supervisor Rick Reed and wardens Kyle Drake, Mitch Groenier and Jason Roberts alsoled sections of the class or tested students.From the first minutes Saturday morning, the class provided an affirmation of the value ofeducation. The students were engaged and motivated.And when the subject turned to firearms, they were mature beyond their years."You guys have to be sponges," Plenke said. "This will be an intense two days, and the materialis very important."It wouldnt be enough to just know the information, Plenke said. The students would have to beable to demonstrate their mastery of it.The class moved at a brisk pace. Within the first 10 minutes Plenke introduced the four cardinalrules of firearm safety. Within 20 minutes, the students were reciting them aloud.After 45 minutes, the class broke into groups for firearm handling, fence crossing and animaltracking.The class used firearms specially made for hunter education. Though life-size and with workingactions, the pieces had sealed barrels and no firing pins.Wisconsin graduates more than 20,000 students from hunter education classes each year. Sincethe program began in 1967, slightly more than 1 million hunters have graduated.The success of the program is told in reduction of injuries. In 1966, Wisconsin had an injury rateof 44 for every 100,000 hunters.In the 2011 gun deer season, there were nine firearm-related injuries, all nonfatal, for a rate ofabout 1.5 per 100,000 hunters.The state has had just three gun deer seasons without a fatal shooting incident - in 1972, 2010and 2011.To graduate, the students had to pass written and practical tests. The 40 question written test wasall material covered in the class.So, too, was the practical or field portion. But the students were required to load and unloadfirearms and show proper and safe gun handling in a variety of situations.The students all passed."The ultimate measure of success is when their names never show up on our accident reports,"Myles said.
At noon Sunday the students gathered for an optional trapshooting session at the Waukesha GunClub.Clay pigeons shattered, with muzzles always pointed safely downrange, students and wardensapplauded each other and another group earned Wisconsin hunter education certificates."Big Dave would have loved this," Johnson said.Heading north: Ill be hunting opening weekend in Bayfield County with Bob Willging ofRhinelander. Willging, author of "On The Hunt, The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin," isan advocate of traditional deer hunting and hunts out of a wood stove-heated cabin on theBayfield peninsula.Ill have a story and photos of our opening day experience for the Sunday paper.In the meantime, travel and hunt safely. The season is only a success if you are around to shareits stories.Submit tales and photos from your 2012 Wisconsin hunt to firstname.lastname@example.org.