Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn.

Dec. 16, 2002

Safety is the best gift for young hunters

From the DNR

Parents of children who are going to unwrap their first air rifle or firearm on Christmas morning should be sure to give them the second part of the gift ­ an education in firearms safety. That is the recommendation from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Children enjoy shooting sports because they are fun, challenging, and safe, according to captain Jeff Thielen, DNR enforcement education program coordinator. It is up to the parent to decide if the youngster is mature enough for supervised shooting, Thielen said.

It is also up to the parents to decide if they are ready, themselves, for the responsibility of teaching safe firearm handling and shooting to the child.

"Keep in mind that kids will be kids, and take that into account when buying a firearm," Thielen said. "Keep the firearm under your control. You can use it as a training aid to teach safe handling and the responsibility of owning a firearm."

Parents should keep ammunition and firearms in separate locations, and both should be locked. Trigger locks are also a good idea, Thielen said. If a child wants to show a new firearm to friends, it should be done in the company of a parent.

"Having the firearm locked gives the youngster the message that his or her firearm is not a toy, and it is another way of teaching responsibility," Thielen said.

Almost all shooters will eventually take a hunter education course, but youngsters don't necessarily need the course before they have some supervised experience with a gun. Some target shooting or small game hunting before the course will familiarize them with the firearm and may actually make them better able to learn the lessons taught in the classroom. To hunt in Minnesota, all children 13 years of age or younger who do not have a valid Firearm Safety Certificate must be supervised by an adult.

How old should a child be to have a firearm? Leo Lujan, director of Junior Development for the U.S. Shooting Team, writing in a National Shooting Sports Foundation leaflet, offers advice. "The bottom line is, you know your child better than anyone else," Lujan noted. "You know how well he or she follows directions and handles responsibility.

"You know if your child is mature enough to be mindful of his or her own safety and the safety of others," Lujan added. "With proper supervision, participation in the shooting sports can teach responsibility at an early age."

Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, must have a Firearms Safety Certificate (or equivalent), or other evidence of successfully completing a hunter safety course in order to obtain a license to hunt in Minnesota. Classes are taught by certified instructors. Hunters who have a Firearms Safety Certificate are required to carry it with them while hunting with a firearm.

The DNR is now providing more hunting opportunities for youngsters who receive a firearm as a Christmas gift. Minnesota offers Take-A-Kid Hunting Weekend in September. Residents over age 18 may, without a license, hunt small game if accompanied by a youth under age 16. A Firearms Safety Certificate is required for youth hunters 13 to 15 years of age and for anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, who purchases a firearm hunting license.

Minnesota also offers Youth Waterfowl Day in late September. The intent of this special youth hunt is to encourage older hunters to concentrate on teaching youngsters under age 16 the pleasures, skills, ethics and traditions of waterfowl hunting. Each youth must be accompanied by a nonhunting adult age 18 or older.

Each youth hunting event is a good opportunity for a young person to hunt with a parent and learn firearm safety first hand, Thielen noted.

The time, date and location of hunter education classes are listed on the DNR's Web site at Twin Cities metro area class listings are also available by calling (651) 296-4819. Conservation officers will provide help locating a local hunter education or firearm safety class. For the name and phone number of the local conservation officer, contact the Minnesota State Patrol or a DNR regional or area office.

Cold weather precautions save lives

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants Minnesota outdoor enthusiasts to take extra precautions during cold weather to avoid suffering cold-related illnesses such as frostbite or hypothermia.

"With increasing numbers of people participating in fall and winter activities, the total reported cases of accidental hypothermia are difficult to estimate," said DNR Enforcement Division Director Bill Bernhjelm. "Although no actual statistics are available, one cannot forget to be concerned or to take proper precautions."

Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature falls below normal. Early mild symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, mental slowness or lethargy, and muscular stiffness and clumsiness. Symptoms of severe hypothermia include mental confusion, disorientation, stupor or coma, absence of shivering, stiff or rigid muscles, shallow and very slow breathing, weak pulse and a fall in blood pressure. If symptoms are detected, especially in the elderly, medical help should be sought immediately. Hypothermia can occur both in water and on land.

To help prevent hypothermia, the DNR suggests the following precautions:

· wear several layers of warm, loose-fitting clothes

· avoid the use of alcoholic beverages

· eat hot, nutritious meals

· change into dry clothes

· know how to build a fire and take along proper fire-starting materials

· look for shelter and keep out of the wind.

Frostbite can be dangerous, especially when the wind chill factor is very low. Symptoms of frostbite include changes in skin appearance such as numbness, stiffness or rigidity, swelling, and reddish, bluish or whitish coloring. If untreated, frostbite can lead to loss of frozen fingers, toes or other affected skin areas. To prevent frostbite, protect skin from direct exposure to cold air and from exposure to intensely cold wind.

To help prevent hypothermia or frostbite, outdoor enthusiasts should be prepared. The DNR suggests that, even in mild temperatures, people carry appropriate supplies, have regular check-in times with companions, and wear clothing appropriate for weather conditions that might be encountered. Other equipment recommended by the DNR includes extra warm clothing, water, food, fire-building materials, a map, and a compass or GPS equipment.

"Basic survival tips are taught in Firearms Safety, Snowmobile Safety and Advanced Hunter Education programs," Bernhjelm said. "Attending one of these courses could save a life."

Snowmobile safety training classes

Snowmobile safety training classes will take place Wednesdays, Jan. 8, 15, 22, and Saturday, Jan. 25.

Registration will take place Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m., at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club. All classes will begin at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, call Sheldon Ehrke at (320) 395-2344.

Outdoor notes

­ On Wednesday, I took the day off and headed out for a day of public land pheasant hunting in Western Minnesota.

The weather was beautiful. However, that weather had pheasant hunters out in droves, which made the hunting not what I had expected. I had hoped for a day of solitude ­ just me and my dog ­ and with luck a few roosters. The luck wasn't there, and the birds were so spooky. My bag was empty when I got home.

This wasn't what I hoped for and I definitely have had better late season hunts, but a bad day of pheasant hunting is still better than any day of work.

­ The ice fishing season took a big kick in the shorts last week, when daytime temps soared into the high 40s, and night time temps stayed above freezing. The sheet of good ice that was on our area lakes didn't get any thicker during the week, and some bigger fish houses were moved back off the ice.

Reports have three to six inches of ice still on our area lakes as of Friday, Dec. 13.

­ For those concerned about fishing on Howard Lake this winter because of the flooding that occurred this summer and the possible contamination of fish, there really isn't a need to be concerned.

Right now there is no information at all out there that indicates that the fish in Howard Lake are not healthy and completely safe to eat. For me, I'll be out on Howard and Big Waverly this winter, and I plan on eating the fish I hope to catch.

Also, the fish kill that occurred on Lake Ann this summer was not a complete kill. According to reports, there are still fish in the lake to catch and that the fish kill may have only amounted to about 10 percent of the total fish population in the lake.

­ The Minnesota pheasant hunting season closed Sunday, Dec. 15.

­ Always remember that no ice, especially early ice, is ever completely safe.

­ Pay special attention to lakes in the area like Winsted, that are being aerated this winter. Note the thin ice signs and stay a far distance away from open water areas.

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