In North Dakota, youth are eligible for hunter education courses the year they turn 11. People born after 1961 are required to take the course prior to obtaining a firearm and bowhunting license. According to North Dakota Game and Fish Department, about 5,500 people enroll in hunter's education courses annually, a number that has stayed consistent since 1993.
With a December birthday, our fourth-grader qualifies this year, and by the time you read this column, she and I will be halfway through our 14 hours of the course, taught by certified instructors who are volunteers. I am taking the course with her because even though I come from a gun-owning, hunting family, I've never gone through the class.
I have numerous adult friends, like me, who have never taken a hunter education course or any type of gun safety class. Rather than tackling initiatives I have little sway over, such as gun safety, gun education, gun legislation and responsible gun ownership, I'm starting with hunter safety. I hope more parents and grandparents, whether you have any interest in hunting or not, choose to join me.
Together, we can learn about responsible behavior-as well as safety measures, shooting skills, how a gun operates and wildlife management and identification. I can foster my child's interest and confidence so one day she can participate in our annual pheasant, waterfowl or whitetail deer hunting adventures, if she so chooses.
When I signed up for the course, knowing many of her classmates are also signed up for the course, Elizabeth assured me "Mom, you're going to be the only adult in the class!" "More adults should be in the class," I replied.
The primary reason we own guns is to hunt. My husband and son use them for upland bird, waterfowl and deer hunting, along with taking care of an occasional skunk or raccoon that makes a home in our barn and eats our cats' food. I would love to hunt down the coyotes I listen to each night who get the better of a least a couple of our cats each winter. In our home, guns are stored in a safe.
If I don't take the time to educate myself and my children about guns, where will they learn? Will they live in fear and not take up one of our family's pastimes together, hunting? I want my kids to soak in and love the outdoors, to be responsible gun-owning citizens and to take up hunting as an outdoor activity because it's good for the land and habitat and it fills our freezer with meat for the winter.
Whether you think you might want to take up hunting some day or for the sole purpose of addressing a fear of guns, consider taking a hunter education course near you at first chance. Hunter education courses are available in every state, though rules and regulations vary. Let's take the lead and get our kids involved in a positive education activity.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke