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This June 10, 2008 photo shows Nicole Gullicksen, a junior hunter safety instructor, watching over youths who are practicing firing from a prone position at the Peshtigo Gun Club in Marinette, Wis. They are, from bottom to top, Brody Devine, Adam Sorensen and Devin Waelchli. Associated Press

Outdoors, hunting lessons hands-on

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PESHTIGO, Wis. (AP) -- After three days of the Peshtigo Gun Club Hunter Education Program, students are ready for just about anything.

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They're ready to handle firearms safely.

They learn outdoors survival.

They understand conservation, hunter ethics and hunting history.

They learn how to track a wounded animal.

They'll know how to get in and out of a tree stand safely.

And they'll have learned these skills not just from a book or a lecture, but through hands-on training.

The second annual Hunter Education Program was held July 30 through Aug. 1 at the Peshtigo Gun Club. Among the 28 students were seven adults -- you're never too old to learn. Students attended the program from 4:30 to 8 p.m. the first two nights, and all day Saturday.

"We orientate everything as hands-on," said instructor Matt Gullicksen. "That's the key to what we want to do. They can read it in a book, but physically doing it is better than reading about it."

The other three instructors are Ron Banach, Jeff Starks and Randy Johnson. Dale Lange assists instructors and Gullicksen's 12-year-old daughter, Nicole, serves as a junior instructor.

On the second night, Wisconsin conservation warden Mike Kitt gave a presentation on regulations and did a question-and-answer session.

Saturday morning, students reviewed what they had learned before separating into groups for field training and taking an exam.

Field training consisted of weapon loading and unloading, field obstructions, how to safely carry a weapon, shooting positions, tree stand safety, hunter ethics, asking permission from private landowners, and shooting firearms.

Nicole Gullicksen hunted deer for the first time last year. The soon-to-be 13-year-old has hunter safety expertise well beyond her years, and she shared it with the Hunter Education Program students.

"I think it's an important skill for everybody to know. even if they don't hunt, so they can handle weapons safely," she said. "I want to teach them it's OK to be a little afraid of guns. Just so you respect them enough to handle with caution and have a good time while hunting."

Nicole has received instructor training and has begun the process of becoming a certified instructor because she likes helping youths. In the meantime, she can assist them.

"I like the fact that I can be useful to the other instructors," she said.

Nicole emphasized the four rules of hunter safety which her father "will never let me forget." They are:

- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded

- Always point the muzzle in a safe direction

- Be certain of the target and what's beyond

- Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you're ready to shoot.

She shared another useful tip to beginners:

"Your first time hunting, absolutely never hunt along," Nicole said. "You'd be surprised how nervous and excited you get when that first deer pops out of nowhere. When you get out there, you're not going to remember everything they taught you. Another hunter with more experience, they can show you the ropes."

In most states, the Hunter Education Program is required in order for youths to purchase a hunting license. Students who complete the program receive a free small game hunting license.

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