Firearms Course Aims to Educate
In the Deep South, hunting is a way of life. Many people become familiar with handling firearms long before they can legally drive, often learning gun safety from family members or friends.
In Alabama, however, officials recognize a need for formalized firearm safety education.
The Introduction to Handguns course — for hunters as well as individuals looking to learn for personal protection — is offered to the public through the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. During the class, participants receive 1-on-1 instruction and learn the basics of firearms safety and storage.
The 4-hour class also includes time for shooting at the range. Firearms are provided, but attendees can bring their own if they wish. While there is no fee for the class, participants must have a Wildlife Heritage License to attend. Licenses can be purchased online, at local probate offices, as well as at many sporting goods stores. Participants must be at least 16 years old to take a class because that is the minimum age to hunt on Wildlife Management Area land.
Scott Kellenberger oversees 12 counties in Northeast Alabama as regional hunter education coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation. Previously a game warden in Jackson County, he’s been with the Department of Conservation since 1996.
“I’ve been an outdoor person and a shooter my entire life,” Kellenberger says. “I don’t sit down much. I like to be outside moving around.” His father and grandfather hunted, and he has done the same since he was old enough to join them.
Kellenberger’s experience with properly handling firearms fuels his drive to help others learn. He says 1 of the main priorities of his job is to support the hunter education instructors, as well as help teach firearm safety classes at ranges at the WMAs around the state.
“I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and taken pistol classes with some very knowledgeable people,” he says. “I’ve taken and taught a lot of classes, and if you want a good introduction to handling firearms, this is a good and inexpensive way to get it. This Handgun 101 class is basically everything I’ve learned in 20 years of taking and teaching pistol classes.”
The 101 class series includes Handgun 101, Rifle 101, Shotgun 101, and Practical Pistol Skills, which is a nonshooting class. Kellenberger says these classes came from realizing that a lot of people weren’t confident handling guns. “It’s not that they were unsafe, but a lot of people just didn’t have the skill set,” he said. “We want them to use the ranges and we want them to be safe, so it just seemed like a natural thing that we would teach them.”
While the class locations are spread out across the state, Kellenberger says it’s worth the trip to travel to 1 of the free courses, considering the high cost of most private classes.
“People who don’t have friends and family to teach them about firearm safety have a hard time learning about it, and this is a great, economical way to do it,” he says.
Typically, classes are offered during the spring and fall with the number of participants capped at 12.
“These classes are truly designed for beginners, and we invite people to keep coming to class until they are a comfortable stand-alone shooter,” Kellenberger says.