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Gary Hebler of Pierz, the Minnesota

(L-R) CO Paul Kuske, Pierz; Gary Hebler, Pierz; DNR 2012 firearms safety education volunteer instructor of the year, and Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR enforcement education program coordinator.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota --( It’s the little things that do make a difference to Gary Hebler of Pierz, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) 2012 volunteer firearms instructor of the year. Hebler received the award at the recent Game Fair.

A certified instructor in the small Morrison County community of Harding since 1987, Hebler remembers a bare-bones operation at the start that now features four lasershot guns, eight .22 rifles, a trap thrower, professional looking shirts and hats for instructors and more.

“In the beginning you had to bring your own guns, but local clubs and organizations stepped up over the years since they realized hunting in the area is a family activity they wanted to support,” he said.

Today 30-40 kids and adults are DNR firearms safety certified each year, many from the surrounding area.

“We attract them from as far away as Brainerd and Little Falls due to the reputation of the staff, a team that gives 110 percent to the students and DNR’s firearms safety program,” Hebler said.

Hebler has recruited a least a dozen instructors over the years and is proud of the fact that three females are among the dedicated group.

“We’re seeing more and more females attending our classes and we felt adding female instructors would make these young ladies feel more comfortable during training,” Hebler said.

Hebler designed a unique field day that included a series of stations where students got hands-on experience before they went afield. Deer stand safety and walking in the woods and crossing fence scenarios were among the stations.

Instructors, assisted by DNR conservation officers, have made the field day a family event, inviting parents and siblings of the students to come join in the fun, including lunch on the range.

Going the extra mile for students is the norm for Hebler. When a physically challenged youth arrived for class, Hebler went to work.

“The student was bright and enthusiastic, but would have problems navigating the stations on crutches, so I coordinated with a fellow instructor to find a golf cart to chauffeur the student around the stations. Lots of smiles that day,” Hebler said.

An avid hunter and trapper, Hebler loves taking kids along whether in the deer stand, duck blind or target shooting in his backyard. His knowledge of the outdoors and wildlife is great and he’s always willing to share it.

“If I can help one child prevent an accident while hunting it’s been well worth it.”

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