BILLINGS — With the general rifle season set to kick off Saturday, Friday was cause for celebration for hunters like Evan Trewhella, who say that hunter safety taught in school is basically a rite of passage in the Treasure State.
"Hunting has been a part of Montana’s culture ever since this state was founded. Even before, there were hunters all around," said Trewhella on Friday.
He's a born and raised Montanan who lives and breathes hunting. He learned the ins and outs in school hunter safety class when he was 12.
"Kids like me have been going hunting their whole lives with their families and they haven’t gotten to hunt. But once you go to hunters ed and you do it, you get to first chance to hunt for your first time," added Trewhella.
It's a rite of passage that he's glad other kids will get to go through.
President Joe Biden recently reversed course on a decision to cut federal funding for school hunter safety. Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was instrumental in the change.
"If we’re going to preserve not only the Second Amendment but hunting and the ability to have people know what a gun is and how to use a gun safely and not hurt people or themselves with it, this hunter safety stuff is critically important," said Tester on Friday.
Trewella and Tester are just a few outdoor advocates passionate about the program.
"We don’t just hunt as a pastime; we hunt because it’s our passion. It’s who we are as a people. It’s in our culture. It's ingrained in us. We do it for all kinds of reasons, it’s not just sport, it’s for food, it’s for our heritage, it’s who we are," said Jake Schwaller, the Eastern Montana conservation leader for the Montana chapter of backcountry hunters and anglers, on Friday.
A part of the pastime that some may never have gotten to experience.
"If they’re finding out about it at school and all their friends are doing it, they’re going to get involved. And that’s part of what we want, we want to see hunters carry this tradition on," added Schwaller.
Hunters like Trewhella, who on the eve of general rifle season is geared up for an elk hunt Saturday is thankful for what he’s learned from hunter's safety and thankful others will continue to have it accessible as well.
"It’s a feeling you don’t get from anything else. Hunting is not really about actually shooting the animal its more about the stalking part and the preservation of the animal I should say and how you take care of that animal. It teaches you respect and what to do and what not to do," said Trewhella.