Course offers hunters lesson in safety

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 5, 1999

Mike Bell takes his crusade seriously — lives are at stake. Bell, an officer with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Parks, was conducting a youth hunter safety class Saturday at the Natchez State Park.

His mission is to instill safety habits in hunters while they are young.

&uot;Once these kids are in the woods, it is no longer a test,&uot; Bell said. &uot;It is real life and they have to know what they are doing.&uot;

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It is Mississippi state law that anyone born Jan. 1, 1972, and beyond must take a hunter’s safety course.

One problem that particularly bother’s Bell is the dangerous combination of weapons and alcohol. He used a recent fatal accident in Claiborne County that involved the deadly mix to drive his point home to the 33 people attending the 10-hour course.

&uot;The hunter did three things wrong,&uot; Bell said. &uot;He shot an illegal deer, and he wasn’t wearing hunter’s orange. When someone yelled deer, this man raised the gun and fired. He shot a man in the forehead 150 yards away.&uot;

Such occurrences bother Bell.

&uot;I try to stress safety to everyone,&uot; he said. &uot;When something like that happens, I take it personally.&uot;

Bell has one message to all hunters – leave the alcohol out of the deer camps.

&uot;If I catch you with alcohol, I’ll confiscate your weapon,&uot; he warned. &uot;Alcohol and weapons do not mix.&uot;

Bell teaches the safety classes eight or nine times a year.

Classes begin with a lecture and videos about hunter safety. Once these are complete, the students must pass a written test. They have two chances to pass it. If they don’t pass, they have to repeat the class.

After the exam, students get lessons on handling firearms.

&uot;How they handle the firearms is very important,&uot; Bell said. &uot;If they horse around, they fail the test and will not get to go to the firing range.&uot;

Bell’s message to the students was simple. Hunting is a privilege. To keep that privilege, the hunter must be respectful to themselves, other hunters, the property owners and the even the game.

A.W. Thrasher took his grandson Landon Lindsey to the class. The two sat side-by-side going over the class handbook and listening to Bell’s lecture.

&uot;It was a very informative class and I learned a lot of things I wasn’t aware of,&uot; Thrasher said. &uot;I think is was important to take my grandson to this.&uot;