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BAM! Hunter Ed class about more than shooting

November 30th, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

Story & Photos by Caresa Alexander

LOGAN—Melinda Smith stepped up to the red line and raised the gun. Her mind went back to what she had been taught: go slow, fire between breaths, rest when you get tired. Anxiety faded as she took a breath and pulled the trigger.

Smith, a psychology major from Newton and a student in the Utah State University class “Living with Wildlife,” says she was nervous when she first heard that the course included hunter education. But instructor Robert Schmidt emphasizes safety to make sure students have a positive experience.

“This is not a like-guns class,” Schmidt explained. “It is about safety and ethics about firearms.”

Schmidt, an associate professor in USU’s Environment and Society Department, has taught the Wildlife class for about 10 years, including hunter education for the last six or seven years.

Students must pass an online test, a written test and the shooting test at the Cache Valley Hunter Education Center on Valley View Highway west of Logan. Students must also demonstrate safety in handling a gun as they practice climbing over fences and handing rifles to each other.

Schmidt decided to include the hunter education component because he felt there was a disconnect between students with gun experience and those without. He wanted his students to know that hunting is more complicated than just grabbing a gun and going out to shoot. In class, Schmidt talks about the ethics of hunting, and encourages students to be aware of both sides of the issue.

“After people have to this class, everyone knows something,” Schmidt said.

His goal is to educate students so they will be better at defending their viewpoints on hunting, to make them more sophisticated hunters. That education is more than just reading textbooks and taking notes during lectures.

For some, like Smith, the hunter education class was the first time they’d shot a gun.

“My background was a crash course last night for two hours,” Smith laughed.

Smith grew up on a Cache Valley farm where chickens were killed and cows slaughtered, but she had never even picked up a rifle. When she heard that a trip to the shooting range was part of the class, she was afraid she would hurt herself or someone else.

Moriah Mackley from Ogden had a different response.

“I was stoked,” she said with huge grin. “I thought it could be a little bit boring but once he [Schmidt] started talking about what we were going to do, I was—like—this is going to be exciting because it is not just straight lecture.

“We do different activities and stuff so I was excited,” she said. “Hunter education. I was, like, awesome!”

Mackley, another Psych major at USU, comes from a hunting background.

“My family is really into hunting,” she said. “Pretty much all my life I have been around guns so I’ve been shooting tons before.”

Both Smith and Mackley like the hands-on aspect of the class, and noted that students don’t learn to shoot in other classes. From the hunter education class they take away a grade, a patch and a license. But most important is their attitudinal change about hunting.

Being able to take the hunter education course changed the way that Smith views guns. She feels safer around them, but that does not mean that she will hunt animals. And that is OK with Schmidt.

“I like students not just talking about hunting but participating as much as they can without requiring them to shoot an animal,” Schmidt said. “That is the line some people won’t cross.”

Although Smith and Mackley may never shoot an animal, they agree that they will continue with the target practice. They say they have a better understanding and appreciation for the safety factors associated with hunting. Mackley noted that hunter education is important for more than just learning to shoot.

“A lot of people have never been around guns before so some of them might have had totally different ideas than what it really is,” she said. “When they get that exposure then they really see that yeah, people are trying to be safe.”

And that is exactly what Schmidt wants to happen. He wants students to be safe but also would like hunters to encourage other hunters to be safe, especially when they see another hunter putting them self or another person in danger.

“Safety is a really important aspect,” Schmidt said. “I want hunters to do the self evaluation to really emphasize safety and ethics. I would love them to evaluate their life as hunters. … Do not accept these behaviors from anybody.”

Only when hunters help each other will safety be improved, he said.


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