DNR Brings Firearms Training to State Wildlife, Park, and Recreation Areas
There's a growing demand for hunting licenses in Minnesota, but the Department of Natural Resources says there aren't enough private facilities to hold firearms training.
So, for the first time ever, state officials held classes Saturday on state-owned land.
Critics say the new plan is an accident waiting to happen, but the first round of classes went off without a hitch at the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area in Forest Lake.
"When you're deer hunting, the work begins when you harvest the deer," said Alex Rodriguez, to a small group of kids as he led them to the shooting range. Rodriguez is a DNR conservation officer.
In all, there were 18 kids in the class, ranging in age from 11 to 15 years of age, and they were determined to get their certifications to become hunters. To do so, they needed to pass this class.
15-year-old Grace Hedtke, one of three girls in the group, said, "I just always liked shooting guns and i really like eating deer meat."
Bruce Lawrence, the DNR's regional training officer, said, "There should be no concerns here. Everything is controlled by us."
Rodriguez added, "The students are given specific instructions. They're given specific orders as to when to shoot. It's not, you know, 'Here's a box of ammo. Go have some fun.' It's all a very controlled envrionement."
The DNR says private sector shooting ranges are overwhelmed due to an increase in students taking preliminary hunting certification classes on-line in recent years. 8,000 are expected to enroll this year alone, and if they pass, they then need to get their firearms training.
According to Travis Muyres, another DNR conservation officer, using state land is "easier to facilitate. It's going to help standardize the training."
Since the plan was announced, some people have worried about noise from the firing range. The DNR says that shouldn't be a concern since it's using bullets that contain half the usual amount of gun powder; they travel slower and make a far quieter sound.
As for worries about errant shells or bullets causing potential harm, the DNR created large dirt berms behind the shooting targets to alleviate the possibility.
The Carlos Avery Wildlife Management area has 23-thousand acres solely for the hunting (that's it's specific purpose). The DNR says there's been only one hunting-related shooting accident on the land, back in 2004. No one was seriously injured.
Yet the next time the DNR holds a firearms class it'll be held in a state recreational area, the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area in Jordan, September 29th.
"You know, there's hiking, camping there," said Lawrence, as well as bird-watching, horseback riding, and more. But Lawrence insists this training won't interfere with the enjoyment, or safety, of those activities in any way. And if the trial classes go smoothly, the DNR hopes to expand the training to larger state parks like Fort Snelling.
Saturday's students said there was no reason to worry. 14-year-old Bree Simonson explained, "Everything here is pretty safe. We're totally doing what the instructors tell us to do. No one is waving around guns, willy nilly."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at email@example.com