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Safety first: Two hunter safety courses offered in Dickinson, same purpose

Dan Brown, a hunter safety instructor, stood in front of a class of 30 or so people, mostly youth, with an AR-17 rifle. As he pointed to part of the gun, hands shot up in the air to name off what part of the gun Brown was pointing to. Brown is on...

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Dan Brown holds a rifle during the Feb. 16th Hunter Safety course centered around “Guns”. The course runs until March 8. Brown has been a volunteer and instructor for 30 years. Larry Thompson, is the co-chief instructor, with Brown for the course. He has 33 years of experience. (Kalsey Stults/The Dickinson Press)

Dan Brown, a hunter safety instructor, stood in front of a class of 30 or so people, mostly youth, with an AR-17 rifle.

As he pointed to part of the gun, hands shot up in the air to name off what part of the gun Brown was pointing to.

Brown is one of 700 hunter’s safety instructors in North Dakota who teach courses throughout the year for both youth and adults.

“It’s rewarding and I think it is important,” Brown said, when speaking about his reason for being involved in the courses.

Brown and Larry Thompson, co-chief instructor alongside Brown and the 2012 North Dakota Instructor of the Year, teach their own course in Dickinson. Dave Urlacher and Troy Anderson have their own and do theirs a little differently.

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Brown and Thompson have almost 60 years between them.  

They’re in the midst of teaching their hunter’s safety course at the Break Forth Bible Church. The instructors meet with students for eight classes over several weeks and teach hunting ethics, survival, bow hunting and gun safety.

These courses became mandated around 1979, Brown said, and he can see the impact the classes have had.

“There were always several fatalities every year, sometimes eight, 10, whatever,” he said. “Since then, it’s uncommon I guess to have a fatality. There’s far fewer, like last year there were only four reported in the state.”

He said one of the most important things he stresses is knowing where the gun a hunter carries is pointed.

“Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. When the accidents happen, and I say when because they do, then you won’t have a serious outcome,” he said. “You know you may be embarrassed or scared, but you know it won’t be a serious outcome.”


Hands-on approach

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Urlacher and Anderson just finished a class. Their next one begins March 15. Their classes, they say, are much more hands on.

“Those guys teach hands on, too, but we are really hands on,” Urlacher said, comparing his course to Thompson and Brown’s.

The students in Urlacher and Anderson’s course are required to be 16 and older, take an online course session, and then do hands-on training.

“A lot of kids are book smart, but some kids learn hands on,” said Anderson.

Both classes have non-functioning, non-firing guns for the students to use. But Urlacher and Anderson put them in real-life situations. With 3-D targets set up outside of their classroom at the Dickinson Game and Fish building, they replicate hunting scenarios, asking if it was a real hunting situation if they would or wouldn’t take the shot.

“There’s a lot of things you have to think about, not just hunting,” Anderson said, referring to taking smart shots and thinking about possible outcomes.

Both classes emphasize being safe while hunting, including includes preventing self-inflicted gunshot wounds, proper handling and carrying of guns, as well as survival. They stress being prepared is having essentials handy, making sure someone knows where you are going, and being calm in stressful or dangerous situations.

“Stay calm,” Urlacher said. “You probably have enough on your body, in your car to survive if you can just stay calm.”

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Legacy of safety

Most of the hunter’s safety instructors in Dickinson came together through one man, Dale Kilwein.

Kilwein was vital in growing the volunteer program from six to 26 over 37 years.

In those four decades, Kilwein taught more than 5,500 students and was recognized as Instructor of the Year twice by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Thompson said it was “fun working with Dale.” Thompson is just shy of Kilwein’s 37 years with 33 years of experience and he said he stepped up because “it’s something somebody has to do.”

When Kilwein was a pivotal volunteer, there were about a dozen people working each course, Thompson said. When the classes started growing larger and larger, Game and Fish suggested splitting into two classes, Urlacher said.

Both Urlacher and Anderson got involved in volunteering through Kilwein. Urlacher started 27 years ago after his son took the class and Kilwein gave him a test to take to be a volunteer.
“We teach, and I’ll say most all instructors, students we wouldn’t be afraid to go out (hunting) with. That’s the goal,” Urlacher said.

Anderson said about six years ago, his son was taking the course. Now his two sons help teach the courses, in hopes that they will one day become adult volunteers.

There are incentives for long-time instructors, according to North Dakota Game and Fish. Those range from vests, jackets, knives, a personalized gun and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.

Thompson joked that he has a whole wardrobe of shirts and vests.

While the instructors don’t do it for the recognition, they do it because they enjoy it and know it is important to give people the tools and skills to hunt recreationally without endangering themselves or others.

“A lot of times it would be easier to just watch TV or something, but … ,” Urlacher said with a shrug.

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