By Starrla Cray
WATERTOWN, MN Since the first firearms safety class in 1955, Watertown Rod and Gun Club has provided valuable training to hundreds of youth and adults.
“We have two classes per year one in the spring and one in late summer,” said Patrick Cole, who has been in charge of the program in Watertown the past five years.
Cole and the other volunteer firearms instructors Mike Bjoruk, Cory Hilk, Josh Mueller, Mike Personious, and John Tibbits give many hours of their time preparing for and teaching the courses.
Several other individuals and organizations also contribute to the success of the hands-on learning experience.
“It’s hundreds of years of experience, when you add it all up,” Cole said.
The first firearms safety class in Minnesota was created in 1955, in response to concern over too many hunting injuries and fatalities, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.
In the first two years, 13,700 students in the state were certified.
“The accident rates went way down,” long-time instructor Tom Radde said. “The classes helped phenomenally.”
In 1998 and 2004, there were no fatalities from firearms accidents, according to the DNR website.
“And, the number of hunters has gone up,” Radde said. “The class is working.”
Radde, who has been helping with gun safety classes in Watertown for more than 30 years, said the courses have been a “tremendous success.”
Classes at the clubhouse fill up fast, and are limited to 30 students.
“We encourage parents and guardians to sit in on the classes,” Radde added.
The 12- to 16-hour course takes a week or two to complete, and includes a mix of small group activities, lecture, training videos, and testing. DNR conservation officer Steve Walters also speaks to each class.
The first video each group watches tells the true story of a boy who takes his father’s gun without permission. The boy and his friend take the gun into the woods, and the friend is accidentally shot and killed.
“It absolutely illustrates the point guns are not a toy,” Radde said.
Radde likened guns to chainsaws, cars, and other potentially dangerous devices. No tool should be used without proper training and supervision, he explained.
According to Radde, firearms safety classes “take the mystery away from guns,” and help people understand the correct way to use them.
During the training, students use unloaded guns to practice the correct way to handle a firearm.
“The number-one rule is to never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot,” Radde said. “You treat all guns as if they’re loaded.”
The class also gives students hands-on shooting opportunities with CO2-powered pistols, rifles, and shotguns.
The only time live ammunition is used is the final test. For this “field day,” several additional volunteers are on hand, and students are only given a shell when it is their turn to shoot.
Participants in the Watertown Rod and Gun Club firearms safety classes are from the Twin Cities, as well as rural locations.
“We draw from a large area,” Cole said, adding that firearms safety training is a rewarding volunteer opportunity.
“It’s a great tradition,” he said.
The Watertown Rod and Gun Club address is 13380 County Road 122, Box 92, Watertown, MN 55388.
To learn more about firearms safety classes, go to www.watertownrodandgunclub.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Cole at (612) 709-1243.