LOGAN — The <a href=”https://wildlife.utah.gov/index.html” target=”_blank”>Utah Division of Wildlife Resources</a> (DWR) hosted an awards ceremony at the <a href=”https://wildlife.utah.gov/cache-valley-public-shooting-range.html”>Cache Valley Public Shooting Range</a> on Friday, July 7, to honor Logan resident Becky Smith as its 2016 Utah Hunter Education Volunteer Instructor of the Year. Smith, who has mentored students for 21 years, was also named the regional Hunter Education Instructor of the Year for northern Utah.
Gary Cook, coordinator of the DWR’s Hunter Education program, said Smith was chosen for the award because she is always willing to go the extra mile.
“As long as I’ve known Becky, she’s just been such a positive, great ambassador for hunter education,” Cook said. “She’s a great instructor. She has a real passion for the program, for hunting and hunter education, and that really comes across with her students. She teaches a very enjoyable class, and the students like her. They like to learn from her and what she has to offer.”
<a href=”https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunter-education.html” target=”_blank”>Utah’s Hunter Education program</a> serves about 10,000 students annually, with more than 450 active instructors. Established in the 1950s, the program has been extremely successful, and only 10 fatalities have occurred in Utah from hunting-related accidents over the past 20 years. During that same time period, more than 5.8 million hunting licenses and permits were issued.
“We’ve got a great hunter education program,” said Cook. “We have a good safety record in Utah, and that’s mostly in part to those volunteer instructors. We rely on those volunteers heavily to deliver our program and that safety message. That’s really the priority in hunter education to those new hunters out there across the state.”
Smith has been personally involved with Utah’s Hunter Education program for more than 30 years. Having taken the class herself at age 11, she took training to become an instructor at age 15 and taught her first class six years later. With classes ranging from two to 33 students, Smith has easily taught more than 1,000 students. Working as a volunteer, she teaches four or five classes each year and would love to teach full time.
“I feel like hunter education is important whether you hunt or not, just for the aspect of firearm safety,” she said, “especially in the community and area where we live. A lot of people have firearms in their homes. Even if you don’t have guns in your own home, it’d be a good idea for your child to know what to do if there’s a gun in their presence.”
Smith said her passion for hunting and firearm safety was fueled by her father, Kirk Smith, who was a Hunter Education instructor and Utah Hunter Education program coordinator until he passed away in October 2016. She said receiving the Instructor of the Year award was special for her because of her connection with her dad.
“I had always wanted this award, and he used to present the award,” Smith said. “I always wanted him to present it to me, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that way. I was very happy to get it and to be able to get this award means a lot. My dad was the one who got me into Hunter Education. I just wish he could have been there to see it.”
Along with teaching classes, Smith has competed in the Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) at state and national levels and says her greatest satisfaction comes from making one-on-one connections with students who are shy, nervous or may need extra help.
“Probably the most rewarding part of this is when students come up to me afterwards or if I see a student in town and they come up to me and say, ‘Hey, do you remember me? You were my instructor five years ago.’ That’s the rewarding part for me,” Smith said, “when they remember the class and they tell me how much they enjoyed it.”
Smith’s 15-year-old son has been her ‘classroom assistant’ since he was a small child, and he now shoots competitively with YHEC. Her one-year-old daughter is next in line, and Smith said she’ll start teaching her about firearm safety early.
“When youth get into it early and you teach them from the beginning, they don’t develop the bad habits over time,” she said. “Say you have a son and they’re over at their friend’s house playing, and that friend’s parents have a rifle in the closet. If they’re playing hide-and-go-seek and they go hide in the closet, what do you do? If they’ve been trained, then they know, ‘I’m not supposed to play with this. I need to go tell an adult or I need to leave the area.’ But if they’ve never experienced any of that, then they’re curious and that’s when accidents happen.”
Cook said both Hunter Education students and fellow instructors statewide can benefit from Smith’s example. He said he appreciates how she has always been willing to step up and help out wherever she was asked.
“It’s never been about Becky,” Cook said. “She was a little bit humbled to receive this award, and that’s just the kind of person Becky is, just always willing to help out the program and what’s best for what we’re trying to do with all those students. She’s just a joy to work with.”