By Tara Mathews
HOWARD LAKE, MN Palmer “Ken” Durdahl of Howard Lake has been teaching firearm safety courses to students in Howard Lake for 50 years, and recently received recognition from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for his service.
“My step-father volunteered me to teach gun safety in 1965, while I was away at college,” Durdahl commented.
When he returned home, he began teaching the courses, and has continued since then.
“Back when I started, there were very little requirements to become a gun safety instructor,” Durdahl noted.
Now, he attends continuing education courses to keep up-to-date on new regulations or teaching methods.
Durdahl plans to continue teaching firearm safety and helping those who are replacing him, he said.
“There are a couple young guys becoming certified,” Durdahl said. “And Keith Luhmann has taught gun safety for 45 years now, I think.”
Durdahl received a certificate of service and a watch engraved with his name and years of service from the DNR.
Since Durdahl has been a safety instructor, there have been no accidents during class times, which is considered a success for a firearm safety instructor.
“Over all the years that I have been teaching gun safety, we have only had one firearm-related injury that I am aware of, which wasn’t during class,” Durdahl stated.
One student’s gun had fallen between the boards of a deer stand, and fired when it hit the ground.
The bullet hit the student in the elbow, causing a minor injury.
“We really stress safety,” Durdahl commented.
Parents have attended class sessions to express their appreciation toward instructors more than once, according to Durdahl.
“We have had parents actually thank us for what we’ve taught their children,” he said.
Parents have informed instructors that their children have corrected them on proper gun handling or use after taking the course, Durdahl added.
Grandparents have attended the firearm safety courses to ensure their grandchildren are handling firearms safely.
“I remember one grandmother, Lucy Lahr, who took the course to be sure that her grandson wasn’t ‘pulling the wool over her eyes,’” Durdahl noted.
Firearm safety courses
Students must be turning 12 years old by the next hunting season to participate in firearm safety courses.
“Students can be 11 years old when they start the safety training,” Durdahl noted.
They must attend 15 hours of training, which takes place Monday evenings in Howard Lake.
“Dean and Tim Wrobbel let us use their private property, and the Howard Lake Lions let us use the Lions Center, free of charge, for the classes and events,” Durdahl said. “We genuinely appreciate the use of land and buildings because without it, we wouldn’t be able to host these classes.”
There are about 15 students per session, and generally a few instructors.
“We used to advertise for the course, but then we got too many students,” Durdahl commented. “It’s too hard to do a good job teaching with 20 or more students.”
It’s also easier to maintain a safe environment with fewer students, he added.
About the instructor
Durdahl lives in Howard Lake, and is a member of the Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club and Ducks Unlimited.
He obtained a bachelor of arts in education degree in 1969, but never took the test to become a full-time teacher because he thought he would be drafted, he said.
After college graduation, he worked a few odd jobs until he started Durdahl Construction.
“There were tough times in the ‘70s, so I went out on my own,” Durdahl said. “Looking back, that’s when you have to do it. Other businesses were getting out and closing down, which left a need for construction companies.”
His wife, Bonnie, worked for Prudential, which meant they had medical insurance while he began his new endeavor, he said.
Being just the two of them, they were able to live on limited funds while Durdahl got his business started.
He owned and operated Durdahl Construction for 35 years before he retired.
Now, Durdahl does some substitute teaching at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Dassel-Cokato school districts, and volunteers for various community organizations.