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Getting started in hunting with training

About 25 years ago, sportsmen in Detroit Lakes and many other towns in the state organized into instructional groups to teach young boys and girls something about guns, shooting, hunting techniques, along with safe gun handling. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that 12 years was about the right time to begin instructing young people the necessity of having gun laws, and how to go about the sport of hunting. Twenty-five years ago, there was plenty of opportunity to hunt, so the lessons weren't difficult to sell to young people. Minnesota legislators got in on the plan, and laws were enacted which established the Youth Hunter Safety Program.

Boys and girls were to have the right to hunt, after passing the courses, and at age 13, licensed to hunt with an adult, usually a parent.

The program started slowly at the beginning, but when local hunters with sterling reputations were volunteering to take kids out into the fields and shoot real guns with real ammunition, parents were usually eager to get their kids involved.

In Detroit Lakes, Leo Steinmetz, Lennis Geer, Francis Wozniak, Carl Lyman, Orrin Brendal, and many others were available. Successions of noted hunters and marksmen, over the years, have taken their places and the program continues with success. Many will be out in the game fields this fall, at the age of 13, doing their first hunting.

The Becker County Sportsmen's Club has a first class modern range for pistol, rifle, and shotgun marksmanship, and after weeks of classroom instruction, the weekends finally arrive when shooting is carried out in earnest.

Many a dad shelled out big bucks to buy junior a 22 rifle or a shotgun, or both. Some of the guns that kids had at home weren't the safest or best suited for hunting, nor were they always the safest for use in young, inexperienced hands. The instructors stated what the best arms would be for beginning shooters. Of course, many a hunting parent had sensible ideas about what guns his kids would get.

I am not ready to say that the cheapest guns are the safest or most ideal for a young shooter to have. I personally started with a single barrel 20 gauge with an outside hammer. It was difficult to pull that hammer back, and yes, some instances did occur with the gun firing into the ground in front of me. Fortunately, few such guns are bought today for a young hunter's first gun. In the case of choosing a 22 rifle, the bolt-action repeater is a good choice. The action must be worked each time before a fresh round is chambered, so rapid shots aren't so common.

Parents, or others who are starting young people out in the hunting game, dutifully provide them with firearms that aren't suitable for use by inexperienced shooters. They mean well, but semi-automatics are often the rule, and they are inherently dangerous in inexperienced hands. The selection of the proper firearm is usually stressed in the training sessions, but is often ignored.

If this is your first season, with a real gun and ammunition, please strive to remember all of the safety rules. One is to never rely on the "safety." We hope that the game fields will always be awash with game, but be ready for disappointments. With experience, you will become aware of the fact that just being out there, in quest of duck, deer, or small game, is the real treat that hunting provides.

The duck season

I was certainly off the mark when I predicted, a week ago, that our opening day might be a disappointment for local gunners. It was far from the actual happening! The Oct. 4 opening day was very pleasing. Nearly all hunters that I visited with expressed satisfaction with the results. Don Lefebvre, along with grandsons Aaron and Joshua Stern of Alexandria, returned to Harking Lake, their starting place for two decades now, and reported that they could have filled out with the mallards, teal, ringbills that frequented their decoys. Teal were in good supply, but there was a noted absence of wood ducks. Others in the area said that their bag was largely wood ducks. The lakes and sloughs south of Audubon and Lake Park provided mallards and woodies. One group from St. Cloud, who always open at North Tamarac in the refuge, was pleased with the ringbills, blue wing teal and a scattering of mallards. As predicted by the DNR, scaup were in short supply. The bag limit is adjusted to cut down the harvest of scaup -- we've always called them bluebills -- as this species continues to be missing. When you're in the blind, take a good look before you shoot. Ringbills (ring necks) are a common sight here but they do resemble bluebills, though they're a bit smaller. Lets cooperate and bring back the bluebills -- once a favorite and present in good numbers.

Venison program back on track

Sportsmen donations of some of their venison to food shelves, as processed by a commercial meat market, may continue, but in an abbreviated manner. The food banks will be unable to accept the packages of ground meat that we always dutifully provided. Only the large cuts of deer meat, the roasts, chops and steaks will be accepted. Processors who participate in the program will be given hands-on instruction, a training session for the meat cutters. Last year, about 75 meat processors were involved. So far, only about 20 have sent butchers in to take the training.

The donation of venison to the food banks was a terrific thing. Let us all do our part to have it continue, with hunters and processors cooperating. Let us all put up with the adjustments and see generous sharing of this valuable protein to families who need it most.

The Winchester Model 70

American sportsmen are being re-introduced to an old friend, in this autumn's deer season. The venerable bolt action Winchester Model 70 has been in continuous production since 1957. With such desirable calibers as the .270 Winchester, the 30-06 Springfield, the 7mm Mauser and the .257 Roberts, it had an appeal not matched by its competitors, which were the revamped Remington Model 30, the much cheaper Savage Model 40, and the lever action guns of the day.

The Model 70 Winchester met a spate of bad luck, when, in 1964, it was decided by U.S. Repeating Arms, the successors to Olin-Winchester, to downgrade the entire line of guns. Along with the Model 70, quality was tossed to the winds in an effort to reduce manufacturing costs. The move resulted in a devastating loss in sales. Sportsmen were indeed ready to pay for quality, and turned to such newcomers as Ruger's Model 77 and Remington's bolt-action rifles. Foreign imports, too, were selling well in the U.S.A.

Winchester finally closed its New Haven plant and the Red W brand were import guns made in conjunction with Browning.

Now, in 2008, the Model 70 is back, and is equal to the best quality achieved pre 1964. But, quality costs money, and if you're not ready to pay for that, you'll need to settle for less.

The new Model 70 is once again made in America in a new plant in South Carolina. Fit and finish are top quality again -- richly grained American walnut in the stock, a deep rich blue on the barrel and receiver.

It is a rifle that brings smiles to the faces of true rifle lovers whenever they handle it. Even if you're not in the market for a new deer rifle this fall, you will appreciate seeing and handling this masterpiece that has returned. Most of the big gun marts have several of the many styles that are offered. If you can afford the best, the new Model 70 Winchester is for you. It will last a couple of lifetimes, and will produce a level of satisfaction and a pride in ownership that is equaled only when the best will do.