“Are you ready, No. 2?”
“... and fire on the line!”
The popping sound of .22 caliber rifles echoed through the indoor shooting range as a handful of students from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School pulled the triggers on their borrowed rifles Tuesday at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Juneau Hunter Education Shooting Complex.
The students were participating in DZ’s sixth annual ADF&G Hunter Education course, which is made possible through support of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Program 4-H Outdoor Skills Club. The curriculum, which is taught at different times of the year to middle school students all over the Juneau School District, is aimed at arming students with the tools to hunt successfully, safely and confidently in the wilderness. Area volunteers and skills specialists team up to teach the curriculum and reinforce the guidelines.
Ed Buyarski, an ADF&G volunteer instructor who is certified as a National Rifle Association range safety officer, turned to one student to help her with aim.
“We’re looking for the nice cluster,” he said.
Buyarski gestured to the holes peppered on a paper target.
In all, around 150 students participated in this week’s three-day coursework that began on Monday and ended Wednesday. Studies included meat care, firearm handling and safety, wildlife management, outdoor safety, regulations and ethics.
The goal, Buyarski said, is to help all students pass.
And while most of the excitement Tuesday seemed to center on the rifles, Buyarski said having a truly successful hunt is also about everything that comes after the kill.
Because it’s not just about pulling the trigger, Buyarski said.
“Particularly in the meat portion of the class, that’s what we stress: Any idiot call pull the trigger, it takes no skill to pull the trigger. But knowing if or when to pull the trigger … (it’s about) making the right choice.”
And there’s plenty of choices to make. Do I shoot? Is it safe? How do you cool off a deer? How do I keep the meet cool, clean and dry? Can I get the meat out? According to Buyarski, there’s plenty of questions. Having the right answers is vitally important — especially in Alaska’s unpredictable wilderness that can claim even the most prepared adventurers.
It’s also about having the right gear.
“Knives, game bags, a saw and, of course, a compass — the basic sort of survival stuff” are all things hunters need to carry with them into the wilderness, Buyarski said.
“(We cover) all the steps that it takes to get that deer from the mountaintop or that caribou off the tundra,” he said.
As the smell of gun powder filled the small indoor range, Buyarski, with the help of volunteers, instructed the students on shooting positions, breathing, timing and how to best site in a shot.
Outside, a troupe of neon-clad students hiked into the snow-covered woods. Each one held the muzzle of their gun up. Clearly, they had already masted rule No. 1 — treat every gun as if it’s loaded.
For volunteers like Buyarski, the work done during this course is extremely rewarding.
“I’ve run into students who have gone through the class, and those who I’ve taught in a small way, and they say, ‘yes, I hunt, yes, I make meat and share it with my family,’” he said. “(That) is very satisfying.”
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org.