The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has named Donald Belange, a Hoyt Lakes resident, as the 2022 volunteer firearms safety instructor of the year.
Belange has been a volunteer instructor for 23 years. In that time, he’s taught two to four classes a year and had a role in certifying more than 500 students. He’s a veteran, firearm enthusiast and gunsmith who was instrumental in bringing Archery in the Schools and clay target shooting (he still helps coach the local high school clay target team) to the community. Likewise, he played a key role in the creation of the East Range Sportsman’s and Conservation Club in Aurora, where firearms safety field days are now held.
Belange considers firearms safety certification an important milestone in youth’s lives and cherishes the role he and other volunteer instructors play.
“There’s nothing like having a 14- or 15-year-old who I taught come up to me and show me a picture of the deer they shot, or tell me about the best hunt they ever had,” Belange said. “I had one kid come back who wasn’t hunting but got lost in the woods and they used what they learned in class to get themselves out of that situation. It’s common to reconnect with kids you taught because you’re one of the people in their life they never forget.”
Over the years, Belange has emphasized the recruitment of new volunteer instructors to ensure anyone who wants to take firearms safety can do so. While he’s modest about his accomplishments and credits those with whom he works, Belange is a deserving recipient, according to Capt. Jon Paurus, DNR Enforcement education program coordinator.
“Don has played and continues to play a vital role in creating a legacy of safe hunters and outdoor enthusiasts,” he said. “He represents the best of our volunteer instructors, which is saying a lot since there are so many good ones, and the students who learned from him no doubt are better for it.”
More than 4,000 volunteer instructors teach Minnesota DNR firearms safety courses across the state. Since the firearms safety program began in 1955, more than 1.3 million students have been certified. DNR firearms safety certification is required of anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979 to buy a hunting license in Minnesota. Youth age 11 and older can attend a firearms safety certification course and receive their certificate, which becomes valid at age 12.
For more information on the dates and locations of available safety courses, and to sign up for alerts when new classes are added, visit the firearms safety webpage of the Minnesota DNR website.