Close to two dozen youth from around the state came to the Grand Meadow Gun Club in Grand Meadow, Minn., Saturday, July 22, 2023, for a Minnesota DNR Youth Firearms Safety Field Day. Many of these events are held in the state over the summer, but this one had a special surprise added for one of the local instructors. Grand Meadow resident Steve Hovda was given an award for 40 years of teaching firearm safety.
“It was a complete surprise,” says Hovda. “It’s fun to get an award and have a lot of people tell me thanks.”
Hovda started target shooting on his family’s farm when he was around the same age as the youth participants of Saturday’s field day. He enjoyed target shooting and hunting. He began teaching firearm safety in his mid-20s when he realized there was going to be a void with some of the older teachers retiring. He held the position of lead instructor until 2008 when the current instructor, Greg Lamp, also of Grand Meadow, took over. Lamp began volunteering in 2005, assisting Hovda until he became lead instructor three years later.
“I started with a friend of mine first, then I was the only instructor for several years, then Greg (Lamp) took over. He does a great job. So for the last 15-20 years I’ve been helping him,” says Hovda.
“If you stop and think about it, with an average of 25 students per class run on an annual basis, that’s 1,000 kids that Steve has sent off to a great start in practicing safe firearms handling,” explains Lamp.
The Minnesota DNR offers a Youth Firearms Safety Course which is open to students 11 and up but their certificate does not become valid until they turn 12. Students are now offered a hybrid course where they are able to take the classroom portion of the certification online. They learn about wildlife conservation, being a responsible hunter, and firearms safety. Once they have passed the classroom portion, they attend a field day. The field day held in Grand Meadow on July 22 included additional classroom exercises and practicing gun handling skills. Once that was completed, they rotated around six different field stations which included anything from firing a .22 caliber rifle to tree stand safety. Part of lead instructor Lamp’s job was to organize the event and to keep things on target.
“I set up the class with the Minnesota DNR, line up the students, line up the instructor help, set up the facility for the event, do the paperwork, and ensure everything goes smoothly,” explains Lamp, “and most importantly, ensure the safety of everyone involved as there is live fire at multiple field stations.”
To help make the day possible, six certified volunteer instructors, including 40-year award recipient Hovda, were on hand as well as two long-term adult helpers, four members of the Grand Meadow High School Clay Target Team and the Spring Valley area conservation officer, Meng Moua.
“The hunter safety classes rely on volunteer instructors,” states officer Moua. “To have someone like Steve, who has done it for 40 years, takes a lot of dedication and commitment. There have been very few accidents in the area over the past few decades, and that can be largely due to the dedication and commitment of the volunteer hunter safety instructors in the area.”
Sixteen-year-old Alyssa Peterson, member of the Grand Meadow High School Clay Target Team took youth firearm safety class a few years ago and is now a volunteer. One of her duties included instructing the youth on tree stand safety. She cited the main differences from her experience with the youth safety course to theirs was the hybrid course option and the hand gun safety.
“I didn’t do handguns, so it was fun to get to see them practice that,” says Peterson. “I like getting to see the kids try new things because some of them probably aren’t going to hunt, but they want to get their firearms safety. It’s just fun to get outside and to do things like that and to help the trap team too.”
One of the participants, 11-year-old Trevor Hall of Ostrander stated that some of the most important things that he learned at the Minnesota DNR Youth Firearms Safety Field Day were safe ways to handle firearms and how to safely hunt in a group. Trevor is just one of many in the Hall family to take the firearms safety course.
“Myself, my parents and my four siblings have all taken the firearms safety course,” explains Trevor’s father Caleb Hall. “This course is important for not just my son, but all children to learn how to safely handle and operate firearms whether for a recreational purpose or for hunting. I would recommend this course for anyone interested in learning the safety involved in firearms.”
For Steve Hovda, the people make this event and all the years that he has spent as a firearms safety instructor very rewarding. He has had the opportunity to hear many hunting stories from youth and adults that he has instructed over the years and stories of them sharing their firearms safety knowledge with others. He has also taught youth who have grown and come back to the classes and events with their own children.
“People will walk up to you with their child and say ‘This is Mr. Hovda. He taught me firearm safety.’ They are all smiles. That’s kind of nice. Makes you feel a little old,” chuckles Hovda, “but it’s nice. A lot of times they’ll throw in a story about when they took the course. It’s a really good thing to be involved in. I think that having good safety training keeps everybody safe.”
For more information on the DNR firearm safety courses please visit https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/es/index.html.