Longtime Volunteers Help Prepare the Next Generation of Hunters

Leonard Howke has been leading a hunter’s education course in Whitefish since 1965

By Justin Franz
Instructor Leonard Howke as seen during a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ hunter education course at the Les Bauska Target Range north of Kalispell on March 7, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon Howke has taught hunter’s education and safety for over 50 years. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Inside Leonard Howke’s hunter’s education course material binder is a date scratched in blue pen: “Starting Date 3/24/1965.”

That’s the date Howke began volunteering to teach hunting safety courses on behalf of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and 55 years later he’s still at it. On March 14, FWP is hosting its regional hunter and bow-hunter education instructor workshop, where it will recognize the contributions of Howke and two other longtime local instructors, Donald Gardner and Paul Murphy, who have both given 50 years of service.

FWP Region 1 Information and Education Manager Dillon Tabish said the years of service are all the more remarkable considering the role is all volunteer.

“These people aren’t doing it for the money,” Tabish said. “They’re doing it because they’re passionate about hunting and they care about the future of the sport.”

Montana’s hunter education programs were developed in the 1950s following a series of accidents, Tabish said. State law currently mandates that anyone born after 1985 must complete a hunter’s education course and pass a safety test. Tabish said gun safety is at the core of the program although the classes cover other things like animal identification and survival skills. The courses, which run in the evening for one to two weeks, include class time and a field day where students get to practice what they’ve learned.

Howke got involved with the program after some friends of his convinced him to help, and he’s been helping run the course in Whitefish every spring ever since. Howke said the course has changed dramatically in the last 55 years and the student’s textbooks have almost doubled in size over that time.

The longtime instructor said he keeps coming back year after year because he loves working with the kids. He also said it’s rewarding when a young hunter gets his or her first deer and want to call him first.

“When the kids get their first deer, they’re just so excited,” he said. “I just love seeing their excitement.”

FWP holds hunter education classes throughout the state, including in a number of communities in Northwest Montana. For more information about the classes, visit www.fwp.mt.gov/education/hunter.

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