North Whidbey Sportsmen take a shot at firearm safety

John Hellmann, North Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association training coordinator, fires a few rounds with his .22 pistol at the NWSA range in Oak Harbor. As an NRA certified instructor, he will help teach a series of classes about firearm safety. - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
John Hellmann, North Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association training coordinator, fires a few rounds with his .22 pistol at the NWSA range in Oak Harbor. As an NRA certified instructor, he will help teach a series of classes about firearm safety.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

While manning the North Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association’s booth at Oak Harbor’s National Night Out in August, John Hellmann asked two teenaged girls what they would do if the child they were babysitting came out of the parents’ bedroom carrying a gun.

“One was dumbfounded,” Hellmann said. “We feel like there are enough firearms in our society that people should feel safe enough to handle one, even if they don’t own one.”

NWSA will offer monthly firearm safety classes by National Rifle Association certified instructors. Classes cost $25 for shooting classes and $20 for non-shooting classes and include a book.

The first class will run Friday, Sept. 28 and Saturday, Sept. 29, with others following monthly.

Classes include NRA First Steps Pistol Orientation, which includes shooting and will be offered by request. New firearm owners are encouraged to take this “first step” of obtaining training in this hands-on introduction to the safe handling of a pistol.

NRA Home Firearms Safety presents the basic knowledge and skills for safe handling and storing of guns in the home; this is a non-firing course.

NRA Basic Pistol Shooting introduces students to the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary for owning and using a pistol safely. Students will learn about pistol parts, ammunition, safety and more, and the course includes shooting at the range.

“We just feel there’s an awful lot of interest out there, especially with recent things happening around the country,” said Hellmann, NWSA training coordinator and NRA certified instructor.

The classes are meant to be a community service, Hellmann said. While he said he’d prefer that the association didn’t have to charge people to attend, they tried to keep the prices down. The association strives to be active in the community. One example is by purchasing lumber for Boy Scouts to make targets, which they sell back to the association for $5 each.

NWSA has been asked to do these classes for a long time, Hellmann said, but only recently was the association able to pay NRA staff to educate local instructors so they could become NRA certified.

NWSA was established in 1937 and moved to its current location at 886 Gun Club Road in Oak Harbor in 1944. The association encourages membership with monthly family potlucks in the clubhouse, a room adorned with antlers and sporting a number of trophy plaques. More than 300 members take part in association activities and Hellmann said there’s someone out shooting nearly every day.

“The club in general just has kind of a family feel about it. People are open to welcoming new members and doing some teaching… There’s a very nice sense of camaraderie,” Hellmann said.

Surrounded by forest, the association’s property features an archery range, rifle range, two trap ranges and two pistol bays. Oak Harbor police and Navy employees train there because the areas are more realistic, Hellmann said.

Hellmann, Navy retired and now a self-employed computer repairman, shoots at the range often. As he practiced a few rounds with his .22 pistol, he recalled his time on the Atlantic Fleet Pistol Team in 1984, a competitive Navy shooting team.

“I got to shoot at Uncle Sam’s expense,” Hellmann said. “All in all very neat. It was a lot of fun.”

Hellmann’s days of teaching pistol shooting began in the early 1980s. He wanted to participate in intramural shooting on the Navy base in Maryland and asked the team to save him a space for the upcoming captain’s cup competition. They didn’t save him a place, but that didn’t stop Hellmann.

“I went out and found seven people who had never shot before or had hardly shot,” Hellmann said. And that was just the way he wanted it because that meant they hadn’t been practicing the same mistakes for years. Hellmann taught them the correct way to shoot from the beginning and they won the competition.

“My non-shooting team beat them all,” Hellmann said.

While safety always comes first with shooting, Hellmann emphasized that recreational shooting should be fun.

“You should enjoy what you’re doing,” Hellmann said.

To register for NWSA classes, call 675-8397 or email For details, visit



Class schedule

Sept. 28-29: NRA Basic Pistol Course

Oct. 20: NRA Home Firearms Safety Course

Nov. 16-17: NRA Basic Pistol Course

Dec. 15: NRA Home Firearms Safety Course

Jan. 18-19: NRA Basic Pistol Course

Feb. 16: NRA Home Firearms Safety Course

March 15-16: NRA Basic Pistol Course

April 20: NRA Home Firearms Safety Course

May 17-18: NRA Basic Pistol Course

June 15: NRA Home Firearms Safety Course

July 19-20: NRA Basic Pistol Course

Aug. 17: NRA Home Firearms Safety Course

Basic Pistol Course costs $25 per person. Home Firearms Safety Course costs $20 per person.

Registration cutoff is one week prior to class dates.

The North Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association range is located at 886 Gun Club Road, off Oak Harbor Road in Oak Harbor.

To register, call 675-8397 or email



We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates