Photo courtesy of John Wallin.
Calvin Wallin, age 80, started volunteering to teach youth firearms safety in Pequot Lakes, Minn., in the autumn of 1969, just a few months after Apollo 11 landed on the moon. And his younger brother, John, age 78, has been teaching it with him since 1970.
In the spring after Calvin’s 50-year anniversary, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) honored him at an annual banquet they hold for volunteers. They later presented him with a commemorative watch. Now that John has hit the 50-year mark, he’ll probably receive something similar next spring. The community also honored the brothers after the most recent course, throwing a party complete with cake and banners celebrating their 50-year anniversaries.
The brothers have taught the Minnesota DNR firearms safety certification course to more than 2,000 kids since they started. Youth in the state can obtain a hunting license at age 12 once they complete this course, which requires a minimum of 12 hours of classroom learning on safe firearms handling, hunter responsibilities, and wildlife conservation. Students also complete field experience, which includes scenario-based training on a range.
While the course’s name emphasizes firearms safety, the Wallins said they teach much more than that, such as water and boating safety and what to do if lost in the woods. John said the two grew up hunting and “learned early the value and importance of being safe.”
John told America’s 1st Freedom they make sure their young trainees understand the seriousness of the course. He tells them: “This is a very important seven nights you’ll be spending in here, and this is your one and only warning to take it seriously.” If the students are disruptive or clearly not paying attention, they don’t earn their hunting license and must try again later.
The Pequot Lakes community has been very supportive of the course. A local high school hosts the class in a “gathering room” with tiered seats. Parents and grandparents often learn alongside the youth shooters, and Calvin said he gets a lot of thanks from students of all ages.
“It’s a good program,” Calvin told America’s 1st Freedom. “I would like it to be required to be taught in all schools, even if the person chooses never to hunt or shoot, just so they understand firearms and how to handle them.”
The Wallin brothers say they’re both encouraged by how much interest young people are showing in hunting and shooting sports. For example, nearly 12,000 students participated in the state’s youth trap shooting program last year. “It’s one of the safest sports,” John noted. “And it’s something you can do if you can’t do other sports.”
Given their ages, Calvin and John Wallin aren’t sure how much longer they’ll be teaching. “We’ll just keep doing it until we can't,” John said with a laugh. Others have said they want to take up the mantle, though—including one Wallin nephew.