Rodney Skare receives a plaque and watch from Minnesota conservation officer Steven Chihak in honor of his 52 years of service as a firearms and hunting safety instructor. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Rodney Skare receives a plaque and watch from Minnesota conservation officer Steven Chihak in honor of his 52 years of service as a firearms and hunting safety instructor. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The signs - full of holes - were right in front of Rod Skare 52 years ago.

"I did this because I got tired of seeing signs, road signs all shot up," said Spring Valley resident and 52-year firearm safety instructor Skare, speaking of how he chose to become a firearm safety instructor in 1960. He recalled that experience as he stood before a gathering of people who came to see him honored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and DNR conservation officer Steven Chihak this past Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Spring Valley Sportsman's Club, south of Spring Valley.

Skare began teaching youngsters how to shoot properly and think about bullets differently shortly after the establishment of a state firearms safety program in the mid-1950s.

"This is a pretty special and rare occasion to meet somebody who's been a safety instructor for over 50 years," said Chihak.

The hunter education and firearms safety program has been in existence in Minnesota since 1955, and the first actual program that was documented in the United States was in 1944. Minnesota started its hunter education program in 1947.

Skare has been doing it almost as long as he began teaching on the range in 1960, and he retired last year. This occasion on Saturday was to show the appreciation from the state of Minnesota, because in the first two years of the program, there were approximately 13,000 students, and as of 2008, there are now over 1 million students trained and certified, noted Chihak.

"It's a completely volunteer program. The DNR has no input, other than what the conservation officers present them," said Chihak. "Countless lives have been saved and injuries prevented through the work of safety instructors, including Mr. Skare."

As Skare received the plaque and watch that Chihak presented, he had two uncles who used to take him hunting, and "they taught me everything I needed to know about hunting...I learned it all from them."

He pointed out that hunter education is very important, because the privilege of carrying a firearm comes with responsibility.

"There's a lot to hunting that people don't think about," he said. "You don't go hunting with enemies - you go hunting with friends - and if you accidentally shoot somebody, you'll carry that with you for a long time."

Skare concluded that he enjoyed instilling that responsibility in young people.

"I like the fact that I might've helped answer some kids' questions about firearms and sport hunting. They're safer in the woods knowing what they know," he explained. "I told them to think about where the bullet is going before they shoot, and knowing that they do gives me satisfaction."