Ask Bridget Landsverk, of Fosston, when she started volunteering as a firearms safety instructor and there’s a brief pause. She starts to count the years, then remembers: Last year she received a plaque for 10 years of service, which means 2019 marks the beginning of her second decade of instruction.
Now 35 years old, she’s been teaching firearms safety in Winger-Erskine-McIntosh for much of her adult life, a way to give back borne from a friendship struck with retired conservation officer Stuart Bensen.
And it’s a family affair, too, as her father – the person who nurtured her interest in hunting – helps her teach, and her kids often attend the classes she teaches. Her oldest son, in fact, has scored 100 percent on a firearms safety test, though he’s still too young to be certified.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if someday he teaches firearms safety as well," Landsverk said. "His dream right now at 9 years old is to have his own hunting and fishing show."
That was never Bridget Landsverk’s dream, though her father took her into the field as soon as she showed interest. She’s hunted deer and bear. And Canada geese are the species of choice when it comes to trips with her husband and sons.
She likes the idea of female students learning from a female instructor – Landsverk figures about half the students in her classes are girls and women – and enjoys teaching kids and then hearing about their successes in the field.
"They see you out in public and recognize you from class and they want to tell you all about their first deer-hunting experience that year – or whatever they hunted," she said. "There are quite a few kids around here who get a nice deer during their first hunt. I tell them, ‘I’m happy for you, but I hope you don’t have this expectation every year!’"
While the majority of her students attend firearms safety with the intention of going hunting, some simply want to learn about firearms so they feel more comfortable when they’re around. Whatever the case, Landsverk believes anyone – of any age – will benefit from taking a firearms safety course.
Landsverk is among 4,000 volunteer instructors across the state who constitute the backbone of the DNR Enforcement Division’s firearms safety program. The dedication of these volunteers is instrumental to the program when you consider more than 1.3 million students have received firearms safety certification since the program began in 1955. The results of the program have been dramatic, with decreasing numbers of firearms-related hunting incidents since its inception. Firearms safety training is required for anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979 who wants to buy a hunting license.
For more information on firearms safety in Minnesota, including a list of available courses, see mndnr.gov/safety/firearms/index.html (for youths) or mndnr.gov/safety/firearms_isa/index.html (for adults). Note that courses fill up quickly.