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BRIAN PETERSON: How not to shoot your eye out

I was Ralphy before there was a Ralphy, my Christmas story that year not a whole lot different from Ralphy's "A Christmas Story." And I was hardly alone. I was about the same age as Ralphy (of iconic "A Christmas Story" movie fame) when I got my ...

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Gun safety classes are scheduled all across the Northland in 2016. (Minnesota DNR)

I was Ralphy before there was a Ralphy, my Christmas story that year not a whole lot different from Ralphy’s “A Christmas Story.”

And I was hardly alone.

I was about the same age as Ralphy (of iconic “A Christmas Story” movie fame) when I got my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. I can’t speak for all the other kids who got a Red Ryder for Christmas back then - there probably were a lot of them - but as it was with Ralphy, all things considered, it’s probably the best Christmas gift I ever received. The most used, that’s for sure.

“A Christmas Story” was set in Indiana in the 1940s, about a decade after the Red Ryder BB gun was introduced. It was a far different time than the 1970s, when the guns were immensely popular, and when I received my Red Ryder. And, as “A Christmas Story” wouldn’t come out for another decade or so, when I got the gun, I heard nothing about the risk of shooting my eye out.

But with guns, even BB guns, there always are risks. And with hunting’s prominence in the Northland, where kids about Ralphy’s age or younger handle shotguns and rifles, it’s safe to say that guns will be fairly popular Christmas gifts for kids again this year.

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And we’re not talking just BB guns - air guns, shot guns, even rifles for deer hunting.

Those gifts of guns for the kiddies probably already are tucked under Christmas trees across Northland Outdoors country, or will be there by Christmas morning. So the hope is that parents chose the right model for their kids and already have made plans to get out and help them get comfortable with their new firearms.

And, most importantly, that parents enrolled those kids in firearms safety classes beforehand, or plan to do so soon.

Fortunately, natural resources agencies across the Northland offer dozens of related classes.

About once a week, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department will send an update on a class to those on the department’s electronic mailing list. It’s nonstop, and as of Wednesday, there were openings in 15 classes across North Dakota (apps.nd.gov/gnf/onlineservices/lic/public/online/hunterEducation/hunterEdCoursesList.htm), starting in Garrison just over a week after Christmas (Jan. 4-18) and running into May. The NDGF also includes a class that starts three days after Christmas, just across the border in Lemmon, S.D.

Also in South Dakota, the state Game, Fish and Parks Department has many openings in each of its HuntSAFE education classes (gfp.sd.gov/outdoor-learning/hunter-education/ClassList.aspx). The courses are numerous and well-attended - more than 150 classes and 3,600-plus certifications are pretty much the norm each year, according to SDGFP numbers.

Also as of Wednesday, the Wisconsin DNR has openings for 14 classes across the state, with the first offerings a month after Christmas (jc.activeoutdoorsolutions.com/wise_student/app/classSearch.do).

And in Minnesota, there still are openings in almost two dozen classes across the state in 2016 ( www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/firearms/index.html ), with the first one starting Jan. 5 in St. Stephen.

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As was the case with Ralphy, it - saving the best present for last - is fitting; it’s a nice touch to make the gun the last gift your child opens this Christmas.

And here’s hoping that, this Christmas, all of you in Northland Outdoors country are fortunate enough to get your Red Ryder BB gun - a gift, whatever it may be, that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

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