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OUTDOOR HAPPENINGS: Firearm safety, education is the key

Fishing on the lake has proven quite lucrative this spring as the crappies and sunfish stage in the bay awaiting the proper water temperature that will induce spawning activity.

Much has been said over the last several months concerning firearm violence and stiffer legislation on the purchase of firearms.

Speculation on limits on the type of firearm ownership and magazine capacities has been bantered around causing paranoia on all sides of the issue. Legal firearm and ammunition sales have skyrocketed due to potential legislative action on both the state and federal level. Much of the turmoil is due to a lot of hype and trepidation. Actions of a few demented individuals have caused grave losses and emotional trauma to so many.

What should and can be done to solve this problem will be debated far into the future.

I firmly believe that new legislation will have little effect on any of the intentional travesties committed on the law abiding public. Chicago and Washington, D.C. have some of the most restrictive legislation on the books and also the highest levels of firearm misuse.

Increased penalties on crimes where a firearm is involved could potentially help the situation and a "no tolerance" attitude on the books could perhaps get the first offender put away before their second offense. The debate will continue.

What I feel could really affect some of the tragic scenarios we hear about and occasionally experience, are those that involve the accidental misuse of a firearm. Firearms are a tool not unlike an automobile or a chain saw.

The improper use of any tool produces the potential for that tool to be dangerous and this fact should be stressed. Education on the proper use of these items should be of high priority and start at an early age. All of the accidental firearm incidents we hear about are preventable. Common sense, understanding of the firearm's operation and potential plus following the four rules of firearm safety would prevent all accidents!

• Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

• Keep the muzzle of the firearm pointed in a safe direction.

• Be sure of your target and what is beyond.

• Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to use your firearm.

Growing up with firearms in the house made me aware at a very early age that firearms were a valuable tool to be respected. They are not toys and have a proper place for use in several different applications. At one time firearm education and hunter safety classes were a viable part of the school curriculum. If this could again be part of the formal classroom teaching schedule, both young girls and boys would be much less apt to misuse firearms.

Presently anyone born after 1973 must attend and pass a Wisconsin DNR certified Hunter Education course to be eligible to purchase a Wisconsin hunting license. Most towns in Wisconsin have dedicated groups of volunteer instructors who teach these courses. What these classes teach go well beyond the basic safety issues but also cover a wealth of other factors including ethics, wildlife education and love of the outdoors. Adults would also benefit from these classes and many moms and dads attend with their children.

We are extremely fortunate to have exceptional groups of competent teachers in our area that have put together a tremendous series of classes. I am planning to feature the group that teaches the New Richmond hunter education classes in a future column. The history of this group goes back several generations.

Neighborhood Wildlife

With the later than average spring arrival, many annual events have either been modified or postponed. Leaves that usually are in full bloom are only now starting to foliate the numerous species of trees in the woods.

Because of this, arboreal birds that utilize the leaf cover for camouflage and concealment are much more visible as they go about their daily business. Many species of migrating birds such as warblers and finches have provided bird enthusiasts an unusual opportunity to view them on their journey north.

Recently a friend who lives on the Willow River Widespread in New Richmond told me that she had seen several interesting birds that have been visiting her bird feeder. A male scarlet tanager has been taking advantage of her hospitality. The red intense coloring of this beautiful bird makes our common male cardinal seem drab in comparison. This morning when I walked down to pick up the morning paper I too was treated to the sight of a tanager in full courting plumage. I hope he can entice a mate to set up shop and raise a family nearby.

Fishing on the lake has proven quite lucrative this spring as the crappies and sunfish stage in the bay awaiting the proper water temperature that will induce spawning activity. I usually fish early in the morning to catch a few fish for supper on days that Sally's menu indicates the need for a half dozen panfish. Fishing off the dock one calm, quiet morning, I was treated to a chorus of calls. A tom turkey was gobbling his heart out behind the house while a group of sandhill cranes were causing a ruckus on the lake to the west as a pair of barred owls was hooting up a storm deep in the woods.

A lone, lonely loon was calling to a mate across the lake while a gaggle of cantankerous geese were stirring up the inlet to the bay. Several species of frogs were croaking away in the pond in our yard and numerous songbirds were providing background music as they vied to cajole a cooperative mate. This type of auditory perfection makes for the perfect start of a perfect day.