Tell your story
“I think that it is very important that we are aware of the Second Amendment. It is part of who we are in this country.” Stated Mike McKernan, local HuntSafe instructor of 35 years.
The passion for hunting, fishing and shooting began at an early age for McKernan. While growing up in Sisseton and Clear Lake, S.D., he remembers watching neighbor kids shoot BB guns and dream of the day that he would have one of his own. McKernan’s father assured him that as soon as he was old enough to take the HuntSafe class and learn firearm safety that a shotgun would be in his future. When the patiently awaited 12th birthday finally came around McKernan took the HuntSafe class and as promised, a single shot 20 gauge was finally his to keep.
What first began at the age of 12 until current McKernan has enjoyed the thrill of hunting whitetail, mule deer, antelope, elk, geese and pheasant. He proudly acknowledged that the influence of his father greatly accredited his passion for both hunting and fishing. McKernan shares that his father raised him with knowledge and respect for the great outdoors. To this day, his father’s integrity and life values have impacted McKernan’s journeys.
Throughout the years of high school McKernan and his friends were crazy about hunting. With every chance they could get the friends headed out of town to spend time at their favorite hunting spots. The fall of McKernan’s senior year kicked off what seemed to be a normal hunting season but with a heavy heart he shared that a freak duck hunting accident took the life of one of his classmates. The impact of the tragedy instilled a passion and drive for firearm safety in McKernan’s own life. He has since spent 35 years making an impact in the lives of young hunters as an instructor of HuntSafe classes. The story of McKernan’s high school friend serves as one of the main reasons that HuntSafe is important to him.
Throughout South Dakota, HuntSafe has been offered since the late 1950’s. In Murdo, classes are held once a year instructed by McKernan, Greg Miller and Kit Talich. For the past two years HuntSafe has been held at Jones County Schools and offered to the sixth grade class and those 11 years or older. Though the name “HuntSafe” portrays a hunting theme, classes are aimed towards providing each participant, hunter or not, knowledge of all around firearm safe handling.
McKernan explained that in order to become HuntSafe certified, students are required to attend 10 hours of classes (broken into five, two-hour classes), attend a five-hour interactive field day and also pass a final test at the end of the class. Though HuntSafe stresses firearm safe handling as the main topic, participants are also taught the importance of habitat conservation, hunter ethics, survival, landowner respect and several other prominent topics. To provide students with hands on interaction, non-firing rifles, shotguns and dummy ammunition are used for handling practice in the classroom. A local conservation officer also attends the classes and field day to provide teaching and personal interaction with students. McKernan stated that the seriousness of gun safety is highly stressed and he is proud of the level of respect shown from Jones County students toward both firearms and instructors.
The 35 years of HuntSafe instructing experience is not McKernan’s only teaching expertise. After graduated from Sisseton High School in 1963 McKernan went on to attend college in Aberdeen, S.D., where he acquired a degree in chemistry and math. In 1967 McKernan took a teaching position in Murdo and taught classes of chemistry, physics, physical science, algebra one, geometry, advanced math and several other classes throughout his career. Though not having children of his own, many will agree that McKernan has mentored and taught Jones County students as if they were his own. McKernan retired in 2007 after 39 years of teaching at Jones County Schools.
According to McKernan, retirement has continued to keep his life busy with activities. Hunting, furniture building and reading (mainly non-fiction) keeps his schedule full on a daily basis. For the past 20 years McKernan has served as an observer for the National Weather Service providing weather reports to the Jones County High School every morning. McKernan has also served as a member of the Lions’ Club since 1967. When speaking of his favorite hobbies and past times, travel stood out as a highlight. With Irish ancestry, McKernan shared that he has travelled to and toured Ireland three times so far. Other destinations include Germany, Holland, England, London and Scotland. McKernan mentioned that he finds Europe especially fascinating and plans to journey there again in the future.
Along with the above mentioned activities, McKernan served as president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation in the 1980’s, a group dedicated to promoting conservation hunting and fishing. McKernan later became involved in the SDWF Conservation Camp and has served as camp director since 2001. Year round McKernan pours himself into the camp’s growth and success managing the behind the scenes organization of the camp. McKernan was excited to report that several students have gone on to pursue wildlife conservation careers after attending the SDWF camp. The camp itself serves as an opportunity for high school students to participate in a variety of educational outdoor activities. McKernan shared that it is always a joy for him to meet all of the young people attending camp each year.
There is no greater impact than the influence of a life well lived. Generations of youth have been privileged to learn from McKernan about the importance of school education, the great outdoors and how to safely practice our Second Amendment right and privilege as Americans.
A small word of advice given to our youth and rising leaders, “Follow your dreams and when you have the opportunity, give back the opportunities and things that have been provided to you.” -Mike McKernan