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Sporting goods store owner, others create Outpost for learning to hunt


Pat Conley, co-owner of the White Elephant, is flanked by members of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce during the grand opening of the Outpost, the new home for hunter education in the Spokane (J. BART RAYNIAK)
Pat Conley, co-owner of the White Elephant, is flanked by members of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce during the grand opening of the Outpost, the new home for hunter education in the Spokane (J. BART RAYNIAK)

Pat Conley’s sons love the smell of pine and campfire. “They’re outdoorsmen and respect the outdoors,” he said with obvious father’s pride. “They’re law abiding, trustworthy kids and I think it’s because I taught them to love and respect the outdoors. I think that has a lot of do with it.”

Conley traces this father-son connection to the hunter education course they took years ago. “It’s when I bonded with my four boys because we took the class together,” he said. From those positive memories came Conley’s willingness to help when he heard that Spokane’s hunter education course, which is provided through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was in desperate need of a meeting location.

“Pat and his company have always supported hunter education,” said Tom Higgins, a certified instructor with the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Hunter Education Instructors Association for 29 years. “Pat got word on this and made this area available. It’s a great way to support our hunting heritage for the local Spokane area.”

The “area” that Pat Conley made available is a warehouse behind the White Elephant Store on Sprague Avenue in Spokane Valley, which he and his family own. With the help of many hands and generous grants from the Friends of the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, the warehouse was gutted, cleaned and remodeled. High-definition television monitors for video presentations and furniture were purchased in preparation for the formal dedication of the Outpost last week. The first class begins Friday.

Higgins attributes the continued success of hunter education courses to the “American sporting public” giving a hearty nod to President Teddy Roosevelt’s desire to protect the environment and wildlife.

“He was the father of our American conservation scene,” Higgins said. “He had the insight to see that our nation was really damaging our natural resources.”

This progressive insight prompted American sporting groups to push through Congress the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 that placed an excise tax on sporting firearms, handguns, ammunition and archery equipment at the manufacturer’s level. The tax is specifically earmarked for environment and wildlife conservation and education.

“If it wasn’t for the American sporting public, the folks that go up there and use the natural resources, understand them and care for them, we would not have the wildlife in the United States of America that we have now,” Higgins explained. “The American hunter has been at the forefront to make laws, rules and regulations to maintain and enhance our wildlife.”

The week-long course is taught by Higgins and fellow instructor Red Nierstheimer in the evenings and all day Saturday and focuses on outdoor preparedness, survival, muzzle control and hunter ethics and responsibility. Firearms responsibility is “the major portion of the program,” Higgins said. “Once they pick up that firearm, it’s their responsibility to maintain safe handling. If there’s a direct swinging of the muzzle, the student failed.”

“It scares the kids but it’s best for them to learn that way,” Conley said. “When my boys took the class, and I do this with all the new kids that come into the store, what’s the number one rule? Muzzle control. Don’t forget that.”

Conley, who frequently fields calls about hunter education courses, is pleased about an increase in female students. “I tell you what,” he said, “it’s probably 50-50 now of boys and girls. It used to be all boys and that was the norm but now it’s a lot of girls.”

Both Conley and Higgins are avid outdoorsmen where, according to Higgins, “You have the thrill of the hunt; the fair chase of the game. And the fact is that most of the time, 99 percent of the time, the game wins.”

And both are eager for the facility to be put to use for the first of many hunter education courses offered to adults and youths. In particular, Conley is grateful to the volunteers who cleaned the warehouse, donated pinewood, sanded and painted the concrete floor, built cabinets and handcrafted cabinet handles and a coat rack from deer antlers, to ready the building for its debut.

“I want it to be like the outdoors. I figure a kid, who is new to the outdoors, comes in here and sees all of this, it’ll help them strive to have the experience,” Conley said.

“Basically the new facility will be a great improvement and a fantastic boon for the public to give good, responsible, high-quality classes,” said Higgins.

A wide smile stretched across Conley’s face. “Yeah,” he said, “It’ll be great.”

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