Alaska Department of Fish and Game
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Jerry Soukup Takes Aim
Alaska's Hunter Education Program
Jerry Soukup vividly recalls his first Hunter Education class - and his second, third and fourth. The new director of Alaska's Hunter Information and Training Program took his first hunter ed class as a teenager in Minnesota; decades later, in Anchorage, he took the classes again with his own teenage sons.
"I went through the course with them twice, even though I didn't have to," he said. "I think it's terrific for a mom or dad to go through the class with their kids. I took it again to be bow hunter certified, and I'm doing the muzzle loader class in February."
Soukup was enthusiastic about hunter education long before it became his second career in early December. For the past 20 years, Soukup helped lead the Air Force Band of the Pacific. He started with the big band as a trumpet player and went on to manage the group, overseeing the budget, tour logistics and personnel.
Throughout his career as a musician and band manager for the Air Force, he hunted, trapped and was active in sportsmen's groups such as the Alaska Trappers Association, Alaska Bow Hunters, Ducks Unlimited, Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, and the Alaska Moose Federation. He was also dedicated to passing on outdoor skills and values to his boys, now 15 and 18 years old.
Soukup could've basked in his early retirement and trapped and hunted to his heart's content. But he was drawn to the position with Fish and Game for two reasons - to educate hunters, and to educate people about hunters.
"Education was always something that drew me in, and combining that with hunter ethics, conservation, and traditional values is important - I don't want to see that lost on the younger generation," he said. "Society has so many other options for kids, I want to help pass on the enjoyment of Alaska's outdoors."
"I also want to dispel negative impressions about hunters," he added. "The goal (with hunter education) is not so much to develop master hunters, but to make sure hunters take responsibility for their sport, and that they are safe."
Education was Soukup's focus early on. He earned a bachelors degree in Music Education and a Masters in Human Resources Management, and his wife has been an educator with the Anchorage School District since the early 1980s - first as a teacher, now as a school counselor.
The teachers are a big part of the picture for Soukup. Most hunter education courses are taught by volunteers, skilled outdoorsmen and women who donate their time and expertise. Soukup said an important part of his new job is keeping those valued instructors motivated and involved
"They're the heartbeat of the program," Soukup said. "Without them we can't have this program, they're the most critical part."
The Hunter Information and Training Program also offers bow hunting and muzzle loader classes. The program also sponsors clinics and workshops on a variety of hunting and outdoor related topics. Soukup hopes to revitalize that schedule and arrange for more of the clinics, which proved popular with the public.
"I went to a bear hunting clinic a few years ago - it was excellent," Soukup said. "It was taught by Joe Want, a noted big game guide. We hope to do that again. The department has also offered a steel shot/waterfowl clinic, and a 'sighting in day' on the range where Fish and Game assists hunters in setting up their rifles and scopes for upcoming hunting seasons. I'd like to see one offered on orientation -map and compass and GPS. If we have an expert, we want to share these things."
The hunter education curriculum is somewhat standardized across the country, although states add material and customize the coursework to their needs. Since originating in New York state in 1949, nearly 30 million students have completed the Basic Hunter Education training in the United States. Every state in the country offers hunter education, and all require it to some degree.
The reason is simple. Evidence shows that the hunter education course has dramatically reduced hunting related firearms accidents - up to 75 percent in some states - and has brought about positive change in hunter skills, attitudes and behavior.
"Much of curriculum is based on a national curriculum, which is tried and tested," Soukup said. "But we are developing a new study guide and workbook with a more Alaska specific focus."
The new independent study method has become the norm with hunter education around the country, Soukup said. The focus is on proficiency-driven demonstration - hands on - with more of the reading and preparation accomplished at home. Students can read and learn at their own pace with assistance from their parents.
For more information on Hunter Education in Alaska, and to see a schedule of classes in different communities, visit the Fish and Game website at http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/education/huntered/huntered.cfm
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