"How many of you have hunted before this class?" firearm safety instructor Ken Coate asked a room full of sixth-graders.
Several raised their hands.
"How many of you have held a gun before this class?"
About half raised their hands.
Floyd Dryden Middle School's ninth annual Outdoor Skills Program culminated this week with kids shooting .22-caliber rim-fire and air rifles and being tested on firearm safety at the Juneau Hunter Education Shooting Complex. Garrett Mayers, who has hunted before, said he was more aware of the dangers after going through the program.
"It teaches you guns don't just kill for food. They also can kill you," he said.
Student Amanda Bicknel said the course is "probably the best thing to learn about life, because it's very important, and it's dangerous to hold a gun if you don't know how to use it."
A total of 169 kids participated this year in the program. More than 1,700 have undergone training since it began at the school in 2001, said Floyd Dryden principal Tom Milliron.
Instructor and range manager Frank Zmuda, who supervised kids on the range, said safety is "the utmost thing."
"We emphasize firearm safety throughout the entire course," he said. "We want to see them succeed as safe, ethical hunters."
Back at school, kids in one classroom hold their hands out in front of them to learn which eye is dominant. They rotated between four stations, learning about pump, semi-automatic, lever action and bolt-action rifles and shooting positions.
In another classroom, students learned tenets of safety, No. 1 of which is "control the muzzle." In another, they learned about how to prepare for time in the outdoors, and in another, via video, how to clean an animal.
Milliron said the purpose of the program, however, is "not about creating little hunters."
"It's to promote firearm safety," he said.
Coate said students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School and Montessori school students have also taken the course in recent years.
He said the hunter education instructors, most of whom were with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, have a "heartfelt desire" to see the program expanded statewide. He also said they'd like to have a mentoring program so kids can get hunting and fishing experience.
Twenty-two people gave their time as volunteers for this year's program.
"This is a whole bunch of people sharing their time and resources to make a great success for the next generation," said Coate. "Safety is the forefront."
Parent Darin Jensen, who came to the range to watch his daughter, Taya, said he was "all about" the training.
"I had it when I was her age, and so did her mom," he said. "It's really important. And we've shot together before a little bit, but these guys ... they really instill it, how important it is."
Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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