These girls weren’t afraid of using a gun to shoot at the target. This was their final ‘test’ of their firearms safety course. Pictured are Emily Guberud and Alyssa Johnson.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->SGH/Deschler
These girls weren’t afraid of using a gun to shoot at the target. This was their final ‘test’ of their firearms safety course. Pictured are Emily Guberud and Alyssa Johnson.

SGH/Deschler
Learning to use and respect guns is a safe practice for anyone, even if they or their families don't own guns.

"Over the years of teaching firearms safety, I've heard moms question why they should have their daughters take the course, because they know they aren't going to hunt.

"Then others will ask, 'What if she is babysitting, and a gun falls out of a closet?' or 'If a child she is babysitting finds a gun in the house and brings it to her, would she know what to do,'" said firearms safety instructor, Mark Monson.

"I think it is very important that everyone know how to handle a gun, not just those that plan to go hunting."

Monson just finished teaching another course of firearms safety in Spring Grove. He has been teaching it for about 35 years, and this time he had 17 students - 11 girls and six boys.

Typically he targets children in the fifth and sixth grades, although the class is open to anyone when it is offered each April/May.

"In fifth grade many kids are 11, which is the minimum age for taking the class," said Monson.

"As they get older they tend to get even busier with activities, so this age-range works well. However, we are happy to have any age take the class because it is important to know how to safely handle a firearm."

Monson added, "There has definitely been an increase in the number of girls taking the class over the years that I've been teaching it. I think more girls are interested in hunting. In fact, I had one girl proudly show me a picture of a turkey that she had shot."

Graduating class members this year include: Hailey Conway, Hannah Gray, Emily Guberud, Kyle Hagen, Jacine Johaningmeier, Alyssa Johnson, Chris Lamm, Ryan Lawson, Caleb Nerstad, Alan Michels, Kailee Olerud, Marie Peterson and Calvin Sylling as well as mother/daughter Heidi and Kendra Waldenberger, and sisters, Grace and Lauren Tyribakken

The class is taught once a year and has a nominal $7.50 fee that is set by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR); Monson is a volunteer.

The DNR Firearms Safety course began in 1955. It was created "in response to concern over too many hunting injuries and fatalities. It originally started as a way to promote safe firearms handling. In the first two years, 13,700 students were certified," stated their website, www.dnr.state.mn.us.

"The course has evolved over the years; more attention is placed on hunter conduct and ethics. Today's program now includes sections on bow hunting, tree stand and muzzleloader safety.

"The curriculum, along with the addition of adult-oriented courses and the blaze orange law, has greatly contributed to a steady decline both in non-fatal and fatal firearms accidents. In the years 1998 and 2004 there were no fatalities."

Monson said that the National Safety Council reports that when comparing the number of accidents (minimum of an emergency room visit) per 100,000 participants, hunting is a safe sport: Baseball 1,218, bicycle riding 937, ice skating 554, swimming 216, golfing 162 and hunting 6.

The DNR has more than 4,000 volunteer instructors that teach firearms safety to about 23,000 students annually. As of 2008, more than one million students have been certified.

The state requires the course to be at least 12 hours long, but the one Monson teaches is closer to 20.

"There is so much information to cover that I can't do it in that amount of time, so our program generally runs about 20 hours, which is the state average."

Topics covered during class time include: responsibility, survival, game ID, bow hunting, handguns, types of gun actions and types of ammunition.

About two hours of this time is spent on a shooting range. On the range near Sheldon, the students practiced shooting from four different positions - standing, kneeling, sitting and prone.

They also were reminded of the three basic rules of firearm handling which include: a) treat each firearm as if it is loaded; b) always control the muzzle of your firearm; and c) be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Monson doesn't teach the class alone. He has assistance from Joe Johnson, Leon and Sue Spinden, Wayne Monson and Butch Johnson.

In order to purchase a hunting license, the state of Minnesota requires that anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, have received his or her DNR Firearms Safety Certification.

For more information about the firearms safety course, contact Monson at (507) 498-5713.