“I am the first to admit I am not the best hunter in the group.”
That might seem a funny thing to acknowledge when you’re the coordinator of a hunter safety education program serving up to 100 students each year. But veteran veterinarian Bob Harms is as quick to share credit as he is passionate about wildlife and nature.
Harms, whom many know from his years at Streator’s Countryside Animal Clinic, started hunting when he was around 8 years old. His father was an infrequent hunter, but nevertheless it struck a chord with young Bob and became a lifetime passion.
“I often hunted or target shot alone on our family farm after school and on weekends,” Harms told me in an email interview, “the same family farm I still operate to this day. Hunting was a common thread I had with my friends and family and it created many fond memories.”
Today he counts as close companions a handful of core instructors who teach hunter safety through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“Some of us have been friends for years and some were introduced as a result of teaching the HSE class,” Harms said. He’s been teaching for 13 or 14 years, two full days twice a year, with 75 to 100 students each year from ages 8 to 75. The instructors share “a passion and appreciation of nature. Successful hunting requires an incredible knowledge of animals, their behavior and their environment.”
Repeatedly stressing hunter education is a team effort, Harms said all the instructors — he figures the combined group has more than 300 years of hunting experience — actively participate in each topic over the weekend session. But his specialties are ethics and conservation.
“These areas are very personal for me and I attempt to emphasize them accordingly,” he said. “I feel these characteristics are what an outdoorsman needs to truly appreciate and perpetuate the privilege to hunt. Respect of nature and of people is paramount, and this respect is earned.”
Illinoisans born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, must have a hunter safety education certificate to buy any type of hunting license, and the certificate is required to hunt in most states and Canadian provinces. I knew the class size was limited to 50 because we run announcements ahead of each March and September session, but never before bothered to ask if they filled. In other words, just how popular is the activity?
“Roughly 5 percent of the population hunts and that number is declining,” Harms said. “Approximately 5 percent of the population opposes hunting and is increasing. The other 90 percent is indifferent. It is our duty to ensure we as hunters are ethical and respectful as to promote and not disrepute hunting. … This tradition needs to be preserved and an ideal way to do it is exposure to passionate hunters at a young age.”
Harms spends about 12 hours preparing for each class: coordinating with the DNR, corresponding with students, setting up and organizing. That leaves time for personal pursuits. Target shooting with a bow is a source of relaxation from an often stressful profession, and Harms said “the time I practice shooting, setting up stands, scouting and processing game is rewarding and enjoyable and often done with family or friends.”
Helping teach hundreds over the years could be a tall order for someone who hadn’t been a professional educator. But Harms said working with families who entrust care of their animals to him involves much direct education about preventive care, why an animal might be ill and how healing can take place.
The next class meets from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 17, and Sunday, March 18, at the Sandy Ford Sportsman’s Club clubhouse and range. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Students should plan to bring a lunch and drink; anyone younger than 9 must be accompanied by someone 16 or older.
Harms’ fellow teachers “are a very knowledgeable, interesting group from different walks of life and professions. They are also true sportsmen whose teaching delivery methods are captivating and often humorous. Between the group we have made many mistakes, but we admit them, have learned from them and laugh at ourselves. We share many of them with the class so they will avoid the same pitfalls.”
Laughter is the best medicine, according to one adage. Another proclaims experience is the best teacher. Harms and his buddies seem to embody both phrases, and the future of hunting seems better off for their efforts.