Hunter safety a family sport

They are called Team Stoffle, and Northwest Colorado hunters who have taken a safety course in the past 25 years probably have met one or all of these teachers dedicated to safe hunting practices.

"Treat every firearm as if it were loaded," Lois Stoffle told the 43 students and parents at Monday night's hunter safety class. "Once you pull that trigger, nothing can bring the bullet back."

Lois leads the ethics section of the classes. Her husband, Ron Stoffle, teaches the section on firearms.

"I get a great satisfaction out of teaching these classes," Ron said. "I'm hoping they'll do the right thing out hunting."

Ron is familiar with the rights and wrongs of hunting. He has been teaching these classes for more than 25 years and estimates that he has signed off on 3,000 students throughout the years.

"The first class I taught was out in Rangely," Ron recalls. "That was in 1980, and I had two students."

Monday night's class was overflowing the classroom at Colorado Northwestern Community College. The reason behind the large attendance is because this is the last class offered before the April 4 deadline for early draw licenses.

"There's a lot of people taking the class just for the knowledge," Ron said. "Women especially want to learn about guns in general."

At the end of the five-day class, students are required to shoot ten rounds from a .22-caliber rifle at the range.

"That's the mandatory gun shoot," Ron points out. "Women are sometimes uncomfortable the first three or four shots. Then they want to shoot again."

Team Stoffle also includes Ron's brother Tony, who teaches the survival part of every course.

Theresa Stoffle is in charge of the animal identification section of the class. She explains to hunters how to distinguish a deer from an elk or a pronghorn antelope.

Ron and Lois are certified master instructors and take classes every summer to keep up on changes in the rules and regulations that go along with hunting in Colorado.

"The biggest change I've seen over the years is the requirement for the 500 square inches of blaze orange on each hunter," Ron said. "That has increased safety a great deal."

He also points out that orange camouflage is not allowed for hunting in Colorado.

Lois has been an instructor for 12 years and has taught 1,300 students. She says she really enjoys teaching the classes and decided to teach after learning that a lot of women are afraid of guns.

"I married a hunter, and I had to learn," Lois said. "My job was to take apart the gun and clean it after the hunt. I learned it was safe if you understood it."

Hunters must have a hunter safety certificate to hunt in Colorado, and classes also are offered on the Internet at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Web site. The last four hours are spent with a certified instructor for the final exam and the mandatory shoot.

Team Stoffle also offers a "crash course" the day before the season begins for out-of-state hunters.

Special guest speakers also are common during the classroom sessions.

On Monday night, Dr. Allan Reishus spoke to the class on hunting accident injuries he has seen in the emergency room at The Memorial Hospital. A DOW speaker also gives a lecture to each class.

There is no age limit for children taking the class, and about 15 youths attended Monday's session.

"We just ask that they can read and write," Ron said. "There's a 50-question written test at the end of each course."

Lois said parents are welcome to sit through the class with their child, as she teaches them to respect every firearm.

"Treat them as if they are always loaded, she said. "You will always watch where the muzzle is pointed, and you won't be unsafe."

For information on online classes, visit wildlife.state.co.us.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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