If you’re an Atikokan hunter, you know Wayne Docking and Gary Parker.
Since 1967, Docking has been teaching hunter and firearm safety courses in Atikokan, and Parker has partnered with him since 1995. That seventy-plus years (combined) of service is coming to an end.
“Both of us have wanted to bow out for a couple of years now,” said Docking late last month. There are now several instructors based in Thunder Bay who are offering courses there and in surrounding areas, and they have been advised they are welcome to come to Atikokan.
Parker suggested Atikokanites contact them directly to encourage them to bring their courses to town.
Last fall, the men taught the firearms safety course to twenty-eight, and had over thirty complete their hunter education course. Teenagers were a majority in both classes, but they always do get significant numbers of adults. The make-up of the classes has changed over the years.
“We see more and more girls and mature women every year,” said Docking, a high school teacher (retired) and canoe builder (Souris River Canoes).
“It’s close to fifty-fifty now,” said Parker, a retired conservation officer.
The courses have changed over the years, too. And to good effect as well.
“When I started, there was no handling of firearms in class. It changed in the nineteen-eighties with the arrival of the FAC [Firearms Acquisition Certificate]. That came with a huge step forward with hands-on training,” said Docking. “You really can’t teach the safety skills without having them handle a firearm in class.”
“I get guys all the time who come up to me saying: I still remember ACTS, and PROVE,” said Parker.
These are acronyms the teachers use to help engrain safety practice in their students: ACTS is Assume the firearm is loaded; Control the muzzle; keep your finger off the Trigger; Safe? PROVE it. PROVE is Point safely; Remove ammunition; Observe the firing chamber; Verify the feed path is clear; Examine the bore for obstructions.
The training has had the desired effect: hunting is safer than ever. “It’s one of the safest recreational pursuits now,” said Docking.
During the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties, hunting fatalities were a fairly common occurrence; they are rare now. The sport used to be once directly associated with drinking; that’s changed, too.
And if nothing else, all the regulation around firearms have led to them being handled far more safely.
“People are getting the message,” said Docking. “Guns are now stored safely and transported safely. Those are regulations that have worked, good moves that are keeping people safe.”
Both men have also been very committed to promoting ethical hunting behaviour.
“We emphasize that when you are out there dressed in orange, you are very visible, and people will recognize you as hunters,” said Parker. “You have a responsibility to act [in a way that reflects] well on hunters.”
“We want them to be sensible, responsible, and discrete hunters,” said Docking. “Don’t violate people’s sensitivities. Be conscious about leaving debris in the bush. Clean up your messes.”
Hunter and firearm training here in the 1960s was offered by the Sportsmen’s Conservation Club. Harold Antler, Norman Hagen, and Allan Quinn were in charge of the club’s education programs when Docking arrived in Atikokan in 1967.
The requirements – for both the training and for instructors’ qualifications – grew steadily over the years. Both men have had to work hard to keep up; both are certified under the Ontario Hunter Education Program, and by the Firearms Safety Education Service of Ontario.
“Part of the expectations are that we keep abreast of all the regulation changes; we have to answer questions about them all the time, in and out of the classroom,” said Docking.
“I’ve even had police officers call me to get something in the regulations clarified,” added Parker.
Teaching the courses is a big time commitment. In years when enrolment is high (as many as 60 have signed up in the recent past), they end up running three firearms safety courses and two hunter safety programs. Logistically, it’s far easier for two instructors to team up to offer the courses here (one of the issues is that an instructor isn’t allowed to test his/her own students). But that means the courses generally have to be in the fall to accommodate both men’s schedules.
“We start in late September, and it always runs into November; one year we went almost to Christmas,” said Parker. “I know it really cuts into my hunting time; if I have a class that evening, I can’t go out during the day.”
Over the past few years, the men have been keeping an eye out for someone here who might be interested in becoming an instructor. But getting certified isn’t easy – and does cut into hunting time.
This year they’ve spoken with an instructor based in Thunder Bay who runs the courses as a small business, and he is planning to start offering courses here.
While they won’t be introducing ACTS and PROVE to new hunters any more, Docking and Parker have built a legacy in Atikokan’s hunting community they can be proud of.