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Scott Rall: Time flies when you're having fun

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Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors writer 

If you want to understand how time flies, take out a 90-day note at the bank. Those 90 days will evaporate faster the ice can melt in your glass on a hot day.

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It certainly doesn’t seem like it is time to prepare for the Worthington Area Firearms Safety Range Day, but that time is upon us again. We had a meeting at the new fire hall a few weeks back where all of the area instructors got together for the DNR update as to proposed changes in the program. Some of the changes I liked and one I didn’t, but for the most part the basics of the program remained the same.

There was a move brought forward by the DNR about 6-8 years ago to take this safety training program in a direction of a combination of hands-on and online training. Nobody ever really gave me an overwhelming reason that held water to me, but the reasons given included that kids today are all about I-pads, computers and online learning.

The thought process was that more kids would participate if the learning was more in line with the methods they were using in school.

Another reason for the shift was that mom and dad already had to much taxi duty and that they were unwilling or unable to find the time to get the kid to 6-8 weeknight classes with all of the other activities that kids participate in these days. Many parents tell me that they start after school and on many nights make multiple trips that end at bedtime for some kids.

This might very well be the case but in the end I think cost was a big factor. I was told that the printed materials used for firearms safety ran about $50 per participant, and when there are thousands of kids in the program each year I know that this is a lot of cash. I believed that this transition to online and hands-on would be completed in only a few years for most programs and, boy, was I wrong. There was a big push back from many instructors state-wide. This resulted in the offering of both the traditional method (6-8 classes and a short couple hour shooting exercise) and the new methods (12 hours of online training and a much more involved 4-8 hour range day) being offered a the same time. It was up to the instructors to decide what kind of program they wanted to offer.

I was very reluctant to make this transition at first and still have parents calling me wondering if the new method is the best choice. I shared their concerns initially but do not have those same concerns anymore.

Our program under the old method was six two-hour classes followed by about two hours on the range. In class we covered all kinds of topics many of which covered the rules and regulations like trespassing and other items. We would then take the kids out and have them shoot .22s and call it a day.

The program today allows the kids to do the book part of the learning online, and when they pass the test they get to come and see us. Our range day is a lot better than it used to be. The kids get a whole host of hands-on training that was not offered under the old method. We have 10 instructors grouped in pairs that all take one station of the day’s training. The kids line up and count off in groups of 1-5. This breaks up the buddy and friend clicks and makes for a better training experience.

One group of kids get up and down in a tree stand and learn hands-on tree stand safety. They all use a safety harness and the adult answers any questions they have. The next group is shooting 22s from all of the shooting positions and are allowed much more time handling these firearms than in the past.

The next group is inside meeting the conservation officer and reviewing all of the different kinds of firearms and handling each one. They also re-take the test to ensure that the child at the range day is the same one that did the online work.

The next group is doing a simulated pheasant hunt and all of the kids carry an inoperative fire arm. A frisbee is thrown to imitate a flushing pheasant and each kid can shoot at it when it is safe to do so. This is where a lot of learning takes place during this exercise. Shooting when it is not safe to do so gets a red ribbon tied to the gun and two of these can spell trouble for the participant. We have never had a mock hunter ever do this twice. We also practice crossing fences and other obstacles.

The next group is getting the ins and outs of archery. They shoot at conventional targets and life-size foam deer silhouettes and receive tons of information about what it takes to be an archery hunter. The kids have many questions and we put the most knowledgeable instructor of that skill in the correct place. The last group then gets to the trap range and starts shooting clay pigeons. The student loads and unloads the gun many times and this is invaluable training.

For the most part, all of this is all going on at the same time. About every hour the groups rotate to the next station. I feel very good about how much time each student gets compared to the limited time they were allowed under the old method. Each kid gets lots of adult attention and we cover many more aspects of actual gun handling that we did before the transition.

The range day in Worthington is Saturday, May 3, and starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Worthington Gun Club located north of Worthington on Highway 59. This training will take till 5 p.m. and the parents or legal guardian are required to sign a form, so they need to stop in.

We recommend that the parent stay all day and they can learn a little about safe gun handling as well. All participants of the range day will need to have completed the online course at huntercourse.com and bring along the certificate of completion.

There is an $8 fee to cover the cost of ammunition and other supplies. When completed, the student will take home a form that I have signed and they will be able to print out their own firearms safety certificate at home.

This program has been credited for reducing hunting accidents dramatically over the past 40 or 50 years. I am proud to be a part of it. We have 10 local instructors that help out at range day and without them we would not have the manpower to get this important job done.

If you are interested in helping, contact me at scottarall@gmail.com and I can give you a call. If you are a parent or student and have questions about this training, feel free to do the same.

I have been doing this for 15 years ever since my twins were 12 years old. If you want to see how time flies, sign up as a volunteer firearms safety instructor and 15 years will fly by almost as fast as a rooster pheasant can get well out of range.

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