DNR photo of firearms instructor.

Hunter safety courses for middle schoolers in northeast Iowa, which drew national attention, are now underway in the North Butler and Clarksville districts in Butler County.

Administrators announced in November that hunter safety, including firearms safety, would be implemented into the PE curriculum for 7th and 8th graders. Steve Martin, a naturalist with the Butler County Conservation Department, is helping teach two classes daily and says students have to absorb a lot of information in the course.

“The biggest challenge is probably having to do just one day at a time when we typically have done it, the entire course, over the course of two or three days and longer times so things kind of flow a little easier,” Martin says. “So, it’s been a little bit of a challenge just to make sure we get enough time on each topic that needs to be covered.”

Martin says they will teach nine different chapters on hunter safety as required by the Department of Natural Resources over the next several weeks. Topics include ethics and responsibility, preparation and survival skills, and firearms training. “We teach them about firearms and how they operate and then basic shooting skills, basic hunting skills, and most importantly, probably, how to safely handle firearms,” Martin says. “Even if they’re not going to be hunting and they happen to come into a situation where firearms might be present and that allows them to have an idea of the safety rules that they need to follow.”

Students will not fire live ammunition, nor will they use real firearms during the in-school hunter safety training.”We have dummy ammunition that we use to teach them how to safely load and unload a firearm,” he says. “Again, the firearms we use are inoperable as far as being able to be fired. They were designed without all the parts needed to fire.”

The hunter safety training will run through the first week of March in the North Butler district followed by four weeks in the Clarksville district. Parents were able to sign waivers opting their child out the class if desired. Hunter safety courses, while part of the junior high curriculum, are optional for high schoolers in both districts.

(By Mark Freie, KLMJ, Hampton)