Don Hodge will teach the hunter safety class for the 20th year this August. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – Don Hodge believes people should know how to handle firearms.

That’s why Hodge takes teaching the fundamentals of hunter safety seriously and beginning the first week in August he will log his 20th year instructing area youth and adults on how to be safe with weapons. Hodge, along with Vale resident Topper Schlupe, teach two hunter safety classes a year.

“We have them as young as eight. We have probably 20 percent of the parents that will go through the class with their kid. We encourage that,” said Hodge.

Registration for the second class of the year – which runs for nine days starting Aug. 5 – began Tuesday. Classes go from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Malheur Education Services District in Vale. Interested individuals can sign up online at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website or at any business that sells hunting tags. People can also register by calling Hodge at 541-473-3575 or Schlupe at 541-473-4843.

“We don’t ever turn anyone down,” said Hodge.

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The classes cover the basics of hunter and firearm safety – such as how to load or unload a weapon and what to do if you become lost – and culminate in a field day. During the field day – typically held on a Saturday – participants get to test fire several different weapons.

“They shoot a muzzle loader, archery, a .22, a shotgun and a rifle,” said Hodge.

Skeet shooting is also part of the field day.

“We find predominantly the women outshoot the men,” said Hodge.

Learning how to handle firearms makes sense, said Hodge.

“Hunting is a big part of our heritage out here. Even if you don’t want to hunt, chances are in your lifetime you will come across a weapon and you need to know how to handle it,” said Hodge.

Schlupe said class size varies depending on the time of year. The February class, he said, held 56 people.

“In August, we usually run between 15 to 20,” said Schlupe.

Schlupe said the hunter safety classes go “way beyond hunting.”

“It is ethics, day-to-day life skills and choices. I feel it is really important today, not only to carry on the heritage of hunting, but there are so many other skills that go along with it,” said Schlupe.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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