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PUBLISHED: 4:16 PM on Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Annual course teaches firearm safety
Floyd Dryden Middle School
There are numerous outdoor stories floating around Alaska. A state habitat biologist was out trekking in the wilderness checking fish traps and out of the brush she saw a black bear charging at her and co-worker. It could have been the last memory they ever had. Somehow, with luck on their side, the bear diverted his path and ran in the opposite direction.

What would any Alaskan do in such a situation? How would one react? Knowing how to cope in such an experience can be crucial.

Learning outdoor hunting and survival techniques are much more than just pointing and shooting a gun but a potentially life-saving skill.

At Floyd Dryden Middle School, sixth grade students are given the opportunity to receive their Hunter's Education card as part of the Outdoor Skills program, which is recognized in all 50 states.

"In addition to firearm safety, this acclaimed program teaches real world, Southeast Alaska skills that include orienteering, GPS training, outdoor safety, appropriate outdoor clothing, marksmanship, meat care, wildlife conservation and management, and ethical harvest," said Tom Milliron, Floyd Dryden principal.


Photo by Amanda Gragert
  David Stout waits for instruction during Hunter's Education training Wednesday, Oct. 24.
More than 1,400 students will have experienced such training at the conclusion of this year's sixth annual Outdoor Skills program.

"More importantly, the hunter's education card demonstrates that a student is knowledgeable about firearm safety in the field and how to appropriately behave when there is a firearm in their home or the home of a friend," he said in a letter to parents, which asked for enrollment permission.

Students must receive a passing grade on the test, a completed workbook, and a target that shows shooting and field proficiency to acquire Hunter's Education card from ADF&G.

As part of the Outdoor Skills program, students travel by bus to the Hank Harmon Rifle range or the Juneau Gun Club and spend 3 hours learning first hand about firearm safety and shooting proficiency. At the range, each student will have the opportunity to fire a .22 caliber rifle at a target under direct, one-on-one supervision of a certified firearms instructor. Students spend a significant amount of time in the classroom learning skills and studying from workbook curriculum before visiting the range, with some teachers incorporating it into biology and national science, investing usually five to six weeks of classroom time.

"There is also an hour and 20 minutes of class time for each topic. Before the kids go to the field to shoot for the field course, they're provided three hours of additional instruction, firearm safety and the history of firearms," said Ken Coate, who started the program in 2000 at Floyd Dryden, and a promoter of hunter safety programs in 4-H and rural village schools.


Photo by Amanda Gragert
  An instructor assists a Floyd Dyden sixth-grader Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the shooting range during the annual Hunter's Education class.
"They have to go through those two modules before they go up to the range to do the field course, an orienteering course down at the gun club and then the two wide fire courses," he said.

Ninety-five percent of students are really up to speed, 5 percent have a bit of difficulty, but there are plenty of help in the classroom to make sure they meet their mark, he said.

Staff includes 35 volunteers participating with three paid staff, all donating about 10 hours each.

Coate is donating his time to help teach the sixth graders, and using his "vacation" time from the state to run the program.

"It's the right of passage. It's going from being looked as a kid to going looked at as a kid coming into an adult world. Firearms are part of an adult world," Coate said. "It's no different than getting a learner's permit to drive then passing their drivers test."

The program was originally presented in Angoon, and then Yakutat schools, he said.

"Jackie Kookesh, of Angoon, who was a principal over there when I presented it, moved to Juneau. Jackie asked if we could bring this course into Floyd Dryden. Tom Milliron sat down (to talk) and Jackie put her stamp of approval on it."

The first two years took a while for the community to get used to it, said principal Milliron.

The approximate average of students enrolled each year is 200; this year 191 students are enrolled.

He said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

There have been a few instances where parents chose not to have their children involved due to philosophical reasons or that their child wasn't ready to fire a gun, Milliron said.

"It will be here as long as I'm here, but my hope is it becomes institutionalized," he said.

"When we first turned the program in, I had a lot of stones thrown at me because I was told that I could never do this in school. A close friend, Annette Kreitzer, Commissioner of the Department of Administration, has always been a staunch supporter of program," Coate said. "If you're going to step out on a limb, you want to have enough weight, so you can have somebody walk with you on the political side to say 'look we believe in it, we've seen it, so let it go.'"

This year the program was made possible by support from the community including UAS 4-H program, ADF&G, United States Coast Guard, U.S. Forest Service and Capitol City Fire & Rescue. Taku River Territorial Sportsman donated $2,000 to the program.

"This is a group of sportsmen contributing to support education of Alaskan youth," he said.

Mentoring is the theme of the program. This year, high school students Garrett Hoyt, 15, and Logan Bolstad, 16, are working as apprentice instructors.

"They're both part of the 4-H Outdoor Skills program. They get credit from high school to do this. Those are the shining moments," Coate said.

Hoyt finds "knowing we have to do it again a hundred minutes later," the most challenging. "I did it and I saw how important it was to have these kids do it," he said. Hoyt, who hunts in the pastime with his family, said seeing students pass is what's most enjoyable.

"It's something that's important to the future of hunting," said Bolstad, whose passion for the sport runs in the family; his parents are both Hunter Education instructors.

"To become an apprentice instructor you have to go through the Hunter Education Program and demonstrate you have a desire to teach, share and be sponsored by an instructor you're willing to work with until the young person comes up to speed and then they become an integral part of this process. It's an opportunity for an adult to mentor a future instructor," he said.

Joining in the learning process last week was Ivy Frye, representing Commissioner Kreitzer and Governor Palin.

"Commissioner Kreitzer and Governor Palin are both avid hunters, and wanted somebody to volunteer, help out and learn from these kids and instructors. The three of us were sitting around talking, and they found out I'd never hunted before. Governor Palin said, 'you're going to learn from these sixth graders,'" she said.

Frye was born and raised in Palmer and comes from an avid family of hunters and worked for hunters.

"Somehow I'm the black sheep of the family and the Administration; I do fish, though!" she said.

In addition, Ken's spouse, Linda Coate, also an active supporter and leader, invited Frye to participate in the Women's Hunter Education Safety course.

"We're seeing currently, gender wise, more women are becoming interested in shooting sports than men, which is part in due by family dynamics. The dynamics of the Alaskan family is a large number of single-parent homes with responsibility of taking kids hunting falls on mom; there's no male figure in the house," Coate said. "In my generation, when they first got married the wives hunted with their husbands. Couple hunts have become the popular item," he said. "My wife and I couple hunt. My wife (would) just as soon be out on the wetlands, as in the office working."

Overall, the Outdoor Skills program proves to deliver another round of successful graduates.

"The highlights of the program is promoting firearm safety, hunting ethics and mentoring,and then meeting these young men and women five to 10 years later and they start running off about who they married (and) what are their successes," Coate said.

This year the program was made possible by support from the community including UAS 4-H program, ADF&G, United States Coast Guard, U.S. Forest Service and Capitol City Fire & Rescue. Taku River Territorial Sportsman donated $2,000 to the program.

"This is a group of sportsmen contributing to support education of Alaskan youth," he said.

Mentoring is the theme of the program. This year, high school students Garrett Hoyt, 15, and Logan Bolstad, 16, are working as apprentice instructors.

"They're both part of the 4-H Outdoor Skills program. They get credit from high school to do this. Those are the shining moments," Coate said.

Hoyt finds "knowing we have to do it again a hundred minutes later," the most challenging. "I did it and I saw how important it was to have these kids do it," he said. Hoyt, who hunts in the pastime with his family, said seeing students pass is what's most enjoyable.

"It's something that's important to the future of hunting," said Bolstad, whose passion for the sport runs in the family; his parents are both Hunter Education instructors.

"To become an apprentice instructor you have to go through the Hunter Education Program and demonstrate you have a desire to teach, share and be sponsored by an instructor you're willing to work with until the young person comes up to speed and then they become an integral part of this process. It's an opportunity for an adult to mentor a future instructor," he said.

Joining in the learning process last week was Ivy Frye, representing Commissioner Kreitzer and Governor Palin.

"Commissioner Kreitzer and Governor Palin are both avid hunters, and wanted somebody to volunteer, help out and learn from these kids and instructors. The three of us were sitting around talking, and they found out I'd never hunted before. Governor Palin said, 'you're going to learn from these sixth graders,'" she said.

Frye was born and raised in Palmer and comes from an avid family of hunters and worked for hunters.

"Somehow I'm the black sheep of the family and the Administration; I do fish, though!" she said.

In addition, Ken's spouse, Linda Coate, also an active supporter and leader, invited Frye to participate in the Women's Hunter Education Safety course.

"We're seeing currently, gender wise, more women are becoming interested in shooting sports than men, which is part in due by family dynamics. The dynamics of the Alaskan family is a large number of single-parent homes with responsibility of taking kids hunting falls on mom; there's no male figure in the house," Coate said. "In my generation, when they first got married the wives hunted with their husbands. Couple hunts have become the popular item," he said. "My wife and I couple hunt. My wife (would) just as soon be out on the wetlands, as in the office working."

Overall, the Outdoor Skills program proves to deliver another round of successful graduates.

"The highlights of the program is promoting firearm safety, hunting ethics and mentoring,and then meeting these young men and women five to 10 years later and they start running off about who they married (and) what are their successes," Coate said.


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