Ryan Gets His Deer

When my next-door neighbor in Rapid City, 14-year-old Ryan Jensen mentioned to me in September that he was going deer hunting I was interested in what he had to say because I liked the idea of young boys going hunting. I guess if you grow up in South Dakota it is almost a natural, expected thing. On the other hand I have personally taken more than a token interest in gun safety. Over the years I seen a number of safety violations made by hunters in the field and target shooters on firing ranges. People who were not trained correctly made most of these safety errors, some of these could have had tragic results.

Ryan explained to me that he had to take a hunter safety course in order to get the opportunity to go deer hunting. There was no such mandatory program when we started hunting. When I started hunting all that was available was "in the field training", so it was nice to know that safety training is required. The South Dakota Legislature, with the guidance of the Game, Fish and Parks; passed some valuable legislation requiring hunter safety in about 1955. It was originally called the "hunter safety course" and was a 4-hour program. Since 1985 the program increased to a minimum instruction time of 10 hours and included things other than just gun handling. The program is called HuntSAFE, which is an acronym for Hunt (Safety and Firearms Education).

The South Dakota HuntSAFE program is designed for persons age 12 through 15, persons 11 may participate, but will not be issued a Hunter Safety certification card until their 12th birthday. Adults are also welcome and invited to attend. People who have no interest in hunting may also attend; these would be people interested in gun safety, gun storage and general gun handling knowledge.

The course has three objectives, to teach safe handling of firearms, in the home as well as in the field. To develop safe, responsible and knowledgeable hunters who are aware of our hunting heritage and who understand the hunter's role and relationship with the wildlife and the land; and to certify persons under the age of 16, making them eligible to apply for hunting licenses.

The HuntSAFE course is a minimum of 10 hours; it consists of both a written test and performance evaluations under the supervision of the instructors. Each student must attend all scheduled course meetings. No absences are accepted. The courses in South Dakota are taught by certified volunteer instructors, assisted by Game, Fish and Parks Conservation Officers.

According to Lori Collett, Information and Education Secretary for the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks in Pierre, SD, "in 2005 over 3,500 students took advantage of the HuntSAFE course". She said "statewide, approximately 250 volunteer instructors conducted training in 55 communities this year". Collett stated "the Conservation Officers and the volunteer instructors work hand-in-hand to ensure a successful training program and certification of the students".

Once these youths are certified they are eligible for license. To get the hunting license a parent or guardian must be with him or her when they apply at a license agent. They must show the Hunter Safety Card and purchase a Youth Small Game license for $5.00. This will license the hunter for all small game, including upland birds, furbearers, predators and varmints. Big game and turkey licenses are by application only. Once they are licensed they must be accompanied in the field at all times by a parent or another responsible adult who is at least 18 years old.

About two weeks prior to the deer hunt, Ryan showed me the 22-250 he was going to use on the hunt. It was a single-shot and he handled it like a safety professional. He said his dad, Dave Jensen was taking him out to sight in the rifle and discuss the hunt. I was not surprised, Dave Jensen is master of preparation, not only in hunting but, in every aspect of his life. Now Ryan had two important lessons required for a successful hunt; the knowledge of firearms and hunting safety, and the experience of his father on how to prepare himself for the hunt.

It did not surprise me to see the white pickup pull-up in the Jensen driveway a few hours after the hunting season began, with the deer in the back. Later in the day I asked Ryan how the hunt went, his reply was "well we hunted in a place we had seen a lot of deer in the past and sure enough, there were deer there again this morning." My next question was how many shots did you take? "Just one" Ryan said. "At first I thought I missed and I couldn't understand how I could have, then I saw it go down, I had hit it exactly where had aimed."

When I look back and remember my first discussion with Ryan, a student at Southwest Middle School in Rapid City, I see nothing but success.

Congratulations not only to Ryan Jensen for getting his deer with one shot, but congratulations to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks for instituting and administering a wonderful program to teach the youth of South Dakota to hunt safely and correctly. Hats off to the many knowledgeable and capable volunteers who give freely of their time to make this such a successful program. Thanks to the Conservation Officers throughout the state who orchestrate the overall HuntSAFE program, they make South Dakota a safer and better place to hunt.

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