Monday, October 30, 2006

Youth Firearm Training in Juneau, Alaska

NOTE: The following story and picture are from the web edition of the October 26th. Juneau (Alaska) Empire.

Photo Credit: David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire
Jessica Bullman, a sixth grader at Floyd Dryden Middle School, listens to direction from Ernie Mueller, an instructor at the Juneau Hunter Education Facility and Indoor Shooting Range, on Wednesday as part of a school field trip.

The science of shooting
Sixth graders learn outdoor skills in school


Most American children don't learn how to properly handle and shoot a firearm during school hours, except, that is, in Juneau.

For six years, Floyd Dryden (Middle School ... Mr. C.) has been offering its Outdoor Skills program to all sixth graders as part of its curriculum. The children are taughtdifferent aspects of outdoor safety in Alaska, from orienteering and marksmanship to wildlife conservation and appropriate outdoor clothing, Principal Tom Milliron said.

"We're proud that we're exposing so many kids to what is potentially a life-saving program," he said.

While many of the students have some background in firearm safety from growing up on the Last Frontier, some of them have never held or shot a gun before.

"I felt kind of scared at first, but then when I started shooting a couple of rounds it was really fun," said 11-year-old Isaac Christensen, who shot a gun Wednesday for his first time.

Students learn about etiquette and safety prior to stepping into the Juneau Hunter Education Facility and Indoor Shooting Range to shoot .22-caliber rifles under direct supervision of certified volunteer firearm instructors.

"The excitement and the sense of accomplishment that the kids get who have never shot a firearm before is just astounding and then when they realize that they had the control over the firearm to hit near or on the bull's-eye, they just become ecstatic," Range Manager Frank Zmuda said.

Jessica Bullman was one of the first-time shooters surprised and excited to get a bull's-eye Tuesday.

"It was a pretty powerful gun," she said. "It kicks back, but I think it's pretty easy."

The students learn to shoot in three positions, standing, kneeling and sitting.

"Kneeling was the most fun," Bullman said.

Eleven-year-old Marisa Guizio said shooting a rifle was more difficult than she expected.

"It was really scary," she said. "I didn't know how to do it, and my gun, since it was a left-handed brand new gun, it was really hard to like turn the safety on and pull the bolt up."

Milliron said the kids take away more from the experience than just fond memories.

"Not only is it an exciting experience for the kids who have never shot a firearm, but also it gives them the understanding of the need to always be safety-conscious when around a firearm," he said.

It is beneficial for the children to learn how to properly handle and be around guns in a controlled environment that has a heavy emphasis on education, Milliron said.

"Whether students have firearms at home or not, they're going to eventually be exposed to firearms at a friend's house or elsewhere in the community and it's important for them to know how to be safe," he said.

Milliron said 168 students participated in the nearly weeklong course this year and he estimates 1,200 students have gone through the training in the program's six years. Each student who passes the field course phase, marksmanship phase and a written test will receive a hunter education card from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The card is recognized in all 50 states.

Christensen, who has plans to go hunting with his father in a few weeks, said he will always remember learning how to shoot a gun.

"I think this will be one of the best times of my life," he said.

Click here to read the original story on the Juneau Empire website (Registration required) . The entire story is shown above to save the Empire's bandwidth.


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