Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
April 2021

Shooting Ranges, Hunter Education & Outdoor Skills
Classes for 2021

By Riley Woodford
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Dylan Poirer completed Hunter Education in Fairbanks in 2020 and was excited to go after caribou. That fall he harvested a caribou. Hunter Education emphasizes firearms safety and is an excellent choice for new firearm owners, even those who may not hunt. Photo courtesy Kris Poirer.

Scores of hunter education and outdoor skills classes will be offered by Fish and Game in 2021, despite some challenges from COVID and a widespread ammunition shortage.

Hunter education classes – which emphasizes a solid firearm safety component – will be offered in close to a dozen communities in 2021. Deer hunting and field dressing, basic map and compass, introduction to archery, identifying wild edibles, survival, and pack rafting are among the wide variety of classes that will be offered in some Alaska communities. Several stand-alone firearm safety classes will be offered independent of Hunter Education.

Most hunter education courses are offered in a popular two-part format, referred to as the online course. The student learns online at home and completes an online written exam. This is followed by a four-hour field day with certified instructors, which includes a review of key safety issues, Alaska specific regulations, and shooting proficiency (with a .22 caliber rifle or in some cases, an air rifle) at a local range.

Tom Halverson is the Northern Region Hunter Education and Training Coordinator, based in Fairbanks. He said 14 field sessions for the on-line course will be offered in coming months in Fairbanks, and four of the longer in-person instructor-led classes. Covid safety measures are in place. In the past, capacity for hunter education classes in Fairbanks has been 20, currently they are held with 16 students to provide more distance and space. Masks are worn inside, shared items are wiped down between uses, and students social distance in the outdoor portions of the course.

The outdoor portion offers hands-on exercises in firearm handling and hunting situations. Halverson said a canoe setting on tires on the ground helps students practice safely getting into and out of a watercraft, and the related safety issues with handling a firearm. Crossing a fence, passing a firearm back and forth safely, walking safely with a hunting partner, and “zones of fire” for hunters in a blind or hunting together are covered.

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Dylan & Kris Poirier's successful caribou hunt out of Kotzebue (Unit 23) for 10 days in Fall 2020.

“Shooting across a road is one the most common violations in Alaska,” he said. “That’s another of the things we cover when we’re outside. We talk about ‘skylined’ animals and taking safe shots.”

Dozens of these one-day sessions for the online courses have been scheduled in coming months in communities including Anchorage, Craig, Homer, Juneau, Glennallen, Kenai, Palmer, Seward, Fairbanks and Wasilla. Once the written exam is completed, students have some flexibility with scheduling the field session. See the Fish and Game website for details: Online Field Day Schedule, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Pre-internet, hunter education was taught entirely in person. The instructor led format (as it is referred to) is still offered but students are provided a workbook and some home-study is required before the in-person class. The eight-hour field day includes a review of the workbook lessons, key safety issues, Alaska-specific regulations, and a shooting proficiency. These classes require the student to sign up and pay in person at a Fish and Game office. You cannot sign up online for any of these courses.

Instructor-led Hunter Education courses will be offered in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Homer and Kenai. More on these classes: Instructor-led Hunter Education Course Schedule, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Other hunter education courses include Bowhunter education courses; Muzzleloader education courses and Crossbow education

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A new shooter learns shotgun basics at a trapshooting class.

In addition to hunter education, the three state-run shooting ranges (indoor ranges in Juneau and Fairbanks and an outdoor range in Anchorage) host a variety of opportunities in a safe setting. Each indoor firing range has a robust air handling system. John Wyman, who manages the Fairbanks Indoor Shooting Range and Hunter Education Facility, said the Fairbanks range has a triple filtration system that moves from 3,300 to 5,600 CF of air every minute, creating negative pressure.

“It’s continually scrubbing the air, and all the dust and burnt chemicals from the powder burning is all pulled downrange away from the shooters into the massive HEPA filter system,” he said.

The Fairbanks range was busy last year, despite COVID, and that trend continues, Wyman said. “We’re seeing a lot of new folks come in, there are new folks in our classes, and participating in competitive shooting leagues. It’s been really busy. The biggest thing affecting folks has been the availability of ammunition.”

Wyman said ammunition is in short supply. Retailers and vendors aren’t getting much and they’re selling out quickly. “Prices have gone up as well. It’s hard for people to get ammo to practice, and even some common calibers can be hard to find.”

The reason is attributed to increased demand. Background checks on firearm sales provide an indicator of sales, and according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a record 21 million background checks were conducted in 2020. That tops the 2019 total of 13.2 million by 60 percent, and the previous record from 2016, when 15.7 million background checks were conducted.

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Learning to field dress a deer in a BOW class.

NSSF estimates that 8.4 million people bought a firearm for the first time in 2020, which translates to an increased demand for ammunition. Those new gun owners buying just two boxes of ammunition each equals that 850 million cartridges. NSSF reports ammunition manufacturers have not reduced production or withheld ammunition and are trying to meet the increased demand. In an interview with NSSF, Jason Hornady of Hornady Ammunition said production is up by one-third, and the company is shipping ammunition as soon as it is packaged.

Those new gunowners are welcome at the Alaska ranges. A first-time visitor to Fairbanks ADF&G range receives a safety orientation and a range identification card. Wyman emphasized new gun owners should have a plan for keeping their firearm safe at home and inaccessible to unauthorized people, like children, in the household.

Jeff Jemison manages the Juneau Indoor Shooting Sports Facility. “We’ve had a ton of new shooters,” he said. “People are discovering the range. Some are getting introduced to shooting leagues by friends. People are coming in and saying, ‘I’ve driven by here a lot and I’ve never come in. This place is great, it’s clean, friendly and fun, it’s safe.’ People are antsy and looking for something to do.”

While he’s seeing new faces, he said the range is not crowded. He thinks the ammunition shortage and the increased cost in ammo is discouraging. “Some people don’t want to burn their ammo practicing,” he said.

For hours, locations and more information: Rabbit Creek shooting park

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An Alaskans Afield small game field dressing class.

Fairbanks Indoor Shooting Range and Hunter Education Facility

Another helpful link for the Fairbanks range - AIM-COMM, the Alaska Interior Marksmanship Committee, is the nonprofit partner organization to the Fairbanks Fish and Game Range.

Juneau Indoor Shooting Sports Facility

Alaskans Afield

Fish and Game’s Alaskans Afield program offers standalone one day classes.

In Juneau, Alaskans Afield will offer Introduction to Archery, and Introduction to Rifle, in April; in July an Introduction to Pistol class; and in late October an Introduction to Trapping class will be offered. Registration is not yet available but check the website for more info.

In Anchorage the program is planning a Map and compass class for May, and a Basic Rifle and Firearm safety class for June.

Fairbanks is planning a Basic Map and Compass class for June and a Beginning Upland Bird Hunting class for July.

Alaskans Afield - Outdoor Skills for Friends and Families, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Organizers recommend interested Alaskans sign up for automatic email notifications for classes.

Becoming an Outdoors Woman

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the usual spring and summer Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) weekend camps will not be held in 2021. Becoming an Outdoors Woman is being offered in some locations as stand-alone, mini-workshops rather than the weekend-long programs based at camps.

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Starting a fire in an Alaskans Afield winter survival class.

“I think of it as BOW Plan B,” said Kristen Romanoff, who coordinates the BOW program is Southeast Alaska. “We’ll offer three classes over a weekend each month during the summer. We’re relying on our traditional instructors to teach the classes they would’ve taught at the workshop. We’ll do it safely in outdoor places with smaller groups.”

The Southcentral program has a roster of more than a dozen classes for the Anchorage area in coming months, and it’s likely more will be added. Included are BOW Hunter Education classes, which provide the same Hunter Education content and certification in all-women classes. Coordinator Katelyn Zonneville said the best way to monitor registration opportunities is to sign up with the list-serve to receive email notifications.

Both Zonneville and Romanoff encouraged students to get on a wait list if a class is full. “I have people cancel at the last minute, often because of work schedule changes, and I’ll call people on the wait list,” Zonneville said. “I’ll go down the list until someone takes the spot.”

“Don’t be discouraged if classes are full, get on the wait list,” Romanoff said.

Please check the online schedule for BOW classes that will be offered instead.

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