Happy hunting and be safe: Notes from a Hunter Ed instructor

By: Rachel Buswell, Artemis Ambassador

If you met me in the grocery store after work some night, you’d probably write me off as an average woman who loves yoga pants, messy buns, and pairing wine with cheese in fancy wine bars. You wouldn’t be wrong in any of those assumptions, but quick judgments can often lead to missing some important facets of a person. Yes, I’m a girl who loves the “city” life that exists in Missoula, Montana but I’m also a girl who has been a volunteer Hunter Education Instructor for almost sixteen years. I know all about the looks people give me when they walk into one of my Hunter Education classes and realize that a 30 year-old accountant is going to be the one teaching them how to handle guns safely, how to properly sight in a rifle, and how to not freeze to death in a blizzard. But that’s who I am.

Let me back up. I was born and raised in Montana. I learned how to shoot my first gun when I was six years old, after I proved to my dad that I could quote the three basic rules of firearm safety to him and after he showed me how to properly line up the open sights on his old .22. I harvested my first mule deer  at the age of 12, shortly after passing the Hunter Ed course my dad taught. I think the look on my face in this picture says it all:

Rachel, 12-years-old

I started my Hunter Ed career as a junior instructor that same year. Through the years, my passion has turned to teaching adults. I’ve learned that youth take Hunter Ed mostly because they have to. Adults take Hunter Ed for a myriad of reasons and they (unlike youth) are willing to share those reasons. When I ask my students their reasons for taking Hunter Ed, I have heard the following:

  • “I want to be able to provide for my family”
  • “I’m a single mom and I want to be able to show my sons how to hunt safely”
  • “I want to know where my meat comes from”
  • “I have food allergies and game meat is the only thing that doesn’t make me sick”
  • “I’ve always been scared of guns, but I’d like to learn more about them”

Though the words vary, the truth behind these statements remains the same: “I’m taking this class because I feel it can add something to my life, and I’m trusting you to teach me what I need to know in order to accomplish that goal”.

I would love to see a world where everyone takes Hunter Ed. If you live in a western state, odds are that you will encounter a firearm at some point in your life. If you’ve taken Hunter Ed, you would know how to handle that firearm safely and with respect. Beyond that, Hunter Ed teaches basic outdoors skills, survival skills, ethics, conservation, respect, and the list goes on.

Some thoughts to consider as you enter the field this year:  

  • When you are hunting and meet anyone out in the field, open the action of your firearm as you approach them. This shows you respect them.
  • If you see litter out in the field – pick it up. Conservation doesn’t just mean harvesting animals in an ethical way. 
  • It’s absolutely ok to show off your harvest, but realize that other people might have different views and it’s important to respect their opinions.
  • Leave gates as you find them – no landowner wants their cows spread out into an expired forest service lease or cut off from a water source.
  • Leave any fires cold to the touch. (Like Smokey says…)
  • We are the face of the hunting community and how we act in the field represents every hunter out there.

Harvesting animals is a wonderful way to enjoy nature, practice conservation,  feed your family, and feed yourself. I also believe that not every successful hunt ends with an animal harvest – it’s about the hunt and enjoying the outdoors with the people you love. Happy hunting and be safe!

Rachel and her Dad, 2016