By GENEVE N. MANKEL, Fort McCoy Public Affairs August 26, 2013
FORT McCOY, WIS. -- A group of aspiring hunters recently participated in a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Hunter Education course at Fort McCoy to learn about firearms and hunting skills and safety.
Joe Valeska, lead instructor of the course offered at Fort McCoy, said topics covered in the course include actions of a firearm, ammunition types, proper handling and storage, safety, conservation of wildlife, habitat management, first aid and basic elements of outdoor survival such as reading maps and carrying a fire starter.
"It's a basic course that teaches participants how guns work. You can't be safe if you don't know how they (guns) work," Valeska said.
Wisconsin requires a minimum 10-hour course length.
The Fort McCoy course is about 15 hours spread over three weeks.
"I've found in my experience with kids that they need time to study between classroom sessions." Valeska said. "I think they learn better that way."
Classes, taught by Valeska along with four to five additional instructors, consist of lectures, demonstrations, group discussions, practical exercises, individual study and activity assignments and a final exam.
The state game warden also gives a lecture toward the end of the course. Valeska said he emphasizes a lot of hands-on learning throughout the course, and concludes the training with a voluntary range day when a range is available.
Christy Stelzner said she and her daughter, Kaitlyn, age 8, attended the course together so they could hunt as a Family along with her son and husband who already have attended the course.
"The instructors were very good, and the course was very beneficial," Stelzner said. "We feel prepared for when we go out this fall."
Kaitlyn said she learned a lot from the course and had fun taking the course tests. "There are a lot of important things to learn when you go hunting," she said.
The course is offered year-round throughout Wisconsin by Wisconsin DNR volunteer instructors.
At Fort McCoy, Valeska typically offers the course two to three times each year in the spring and summer time frames.
Valeska, a military retiree who has been an avid hunter for most of his life, has taught hunter education courses for 35 years and is certified to teach in four states.
He became the course instructor at Fort McCoy in 2005.
"I teach the class because I like promoting the sport I love," he said.
Wisconsin hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1973 are required by state law to complete a Hunter Education course, Valeska said.
The Hunter Education course is a one-time requirement; certificates issued are valid in all 50 states and Canada. Certificates must be presented when purchasing any hunting license in Wisconsin.
Military personnel who have proof of successful completion of basic training do not need a Hunter Education certificate to purchase a license, Valeska said.
Participants who take the course receive a free small game hunting license valid for the first year after the course is completed.
Valeska said participants must be 10 years old or older to be eligible for the free license because Wisconsin law requires hunters be at least 10 years old.
The course at Fort McCoy is $10 and is open to the public.
There is no minimum age requirement to take the course, however, participants under 18 years old must have a release form signed by their parent.
Parents are not required to attend the course with their children.
Richard Opgenorth of Tomah accompanied his son Vincent, age 14, during the course. Vincent said he attended the course because he wants to start hunting this year.
"I attended the class in 1984 and use every bit of information I received when I go hunting," Opgenorth said.
John Riberich and his grandson Dylan, age 12, from La Crosse were both first-time attendees of the course.
Dylan said he learned a lot of things he didn't know before the course and enjoyed the hands-on training the most.
Valeska said the support he gets from the command group and police department at Fort McCoy is phenomenal. The police department provides classroom space for the course and helps the students access post easily.
For more information about Wisconsin Hunter Education courses visit the DNR website at http://dnr.wi.gov/education/outdoorskills/safetyeducation.html.