Higher Level Hunter Education In Georgia

For Volunteer Hunter Education Instructor of the Year Eric Massey, becoming an instructor was a calling from God that sprang from his outdoor ministry program.

Brad Bailey | August 1, 2004

For the first time, a first-year instructor, Eric Massey of Gainesville has been named the Volunteer Hunter Education Instructor of the Year by DNR Law Enforcement. The award is presented to the volunteer who goes above and beyond the ordinary in teaching and promoting the hunter education training program.

“We had some outstanding nominees,” said DNR Law Enforcement Capt. James Bell, the Georgia hunter safety program coordinator. “Eric just outshined them all.”

Eric, 39, lives in Gainesville with his wife and two daughters. He has lived in Hall County all his life. He works for Avery Dennison in Flowery Branch. He enjoys hunting deer, turkeys, hogs and doves.

According to Eric, becoming a hunter-education instructor was a calling from God, that sprang from the outdoor-ministry program at his church, the Belmont Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Eric was surprised by his selection for the annual award.

“God had a hand in it,” he said. “My goal was not a plaque that says, ʻInstructor of the Year.ʼ My goal is to have more people exposed to the Gospel.”

On July 12, I was at the recreation room of the Belmont Baptist Church to sit in on a CD-ROM course taught by Eric and DNR Law Enforcement Ranger Craig Fulghum.

In the front of the room, Eric spoke to the class on the various aspects of hunter safety — muzzle control, tree stand safety, being sure of your target and whatʼs beyond it, hunter ethics and so forth.

In the back of the room, by the door, was a Belmont Outdoor Ministries table, manned by Stephen Sexton, a member of Belmont Baptist. There were handouts about the outdoor ministry and the Gospel. Blaze-orange hats with the Belmont Outdoor Ministry logo, window decals and Bibles were also available. There was a three-ring photo album open with pictures of some of the areas this ministry reaches — photos of people with deer, photos of kids shooting BB guns or shotguns, photos of the ministry at the Buckarama, and at a WMA deer hunt. Itʼs an unusual ministry, led by its devoted director.

Eric does not preach to his classes, but before and after the class, students have the opportunity to peruse the information about the outdoor ministy and to talk to Eric.

The class successfully completed, Bryan Landers receives his hunter-education certification card from Eric.

“We are sowing seeds, handing out information about the Gospel, hoping to expand the Kingdom of God,” said Eric.

The Belmont Outdoor Ministry program has been in operation for three years, and Eric is the founder.

“I heard a speaker at a wild-game dinner talk about an outreach program, and how the church could start one,” said Eric. “I couldnʼt sleep that night. God was at work in me. And I knew I had to start an outdoor-ministry program.”

Eric said that the word “direction” came to mind, and that thought was transformed into the logo for the Belmont Outdoor Ministry program, which is fashioned as a compass.

The compass is an appropriate instrument to represent the program, says Eric.

“If you are a hunter, you know how to use a compass to help you get where you are going — to get to that hollow you want to hunt or to that ridge. A compass gives you direction. In our program, it gives you direction, too. It shows you how to get to heaven.”

The outdoor-outreach program is supported fully by the church and is included in the annual budget. It is backed by the pastor, too.

Satterfieldʼs Sporting Goods in Gainesville and the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) are among the groups also lending support.

One of the basic tenets is that the ministry will go to sportsmen, and the Belmont Outdoor Ministry program will have a booth at the Perry Buckarama over August 20-22 (booth 554, if youʼd like to stop by and say hello to Eric ).

Displayed in the booth will be the mount of Georgiaʼs highest-scoring buck of the 1994 season, a Hall County 10-point buck killed by Belmont Baptist member Donnie Mitchell Sr. The buck scored 164 7/8 points.

“That big buck is a great conversation starter,” said Eric.

Another aspect of the outdoor ministry, which is designed to reach hunters and fishermen, is a WMA outreach — an annual camping trip to Tuckahoe WMA during one of the managed deer hunts.

“Before we started the outreach program, there were several church members who hunted Tuckahoe every November,” said Eric. “We talked to Howard Pope (the WMA area manager), about what we wanted to do, and he said to come on down.”

Eight or nine church members attend the hunt, including pastor Billy Compton, who fully supports the outdoor-outreach program and likes to hit the woods with his deer rifle, too, says Eric.

“We put out flyers at the check station inviting people to come by our campsite for fellowship on Thursday night,” said Eric. “On Friday night, we go from campsite to campsite to hand out information. We have hot, boiled peanuts at our campsite and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People can come and talk and give testimony. We also have a drawing for a CVA muzzleloader.

“We want people to know that there is someone there who is interested and who cares,” said Eric. “We go to the hunterʼs environment.”

A Polaroid camera is one of the pieces of equipment that Eric packs along when he goes to Tuckahoe.

“When someone brings in a deer or a hog, I will ask for permission to take their picture with the deer or hog,” said Eric. “Then I tape the picture into one of the Belmont Outdoor Ministry brochures and give it back to them. They are going to open that brochure, and hopefully read it.”

The outdoor ministry has also organized kids fishing days, BB-gun shoots, turkey shoots, wild-game dinners, and father-son camping trips.

Becoming a hunter-safety instructor was a natural progression for Eric.

“I felt led by God to become an instructor,” said Eric. “We were already doing turkey shoots and JAKES day events, so it fell in line with what we were doing in the outdoor program. I met Craig Fulghum (the local DNR Law Enforcement ranger) at the JAKES day put on by the Foothills Chapter of the NWTF. Craig told me how to go about becoming an instructor. I went through the background check and the certification process to become an instructor.”

“Heʼs real genuine, a real outstanding guy,” said DNR Law Enforcement Ranger Craig Fulghum of Eric. “He goes beyond just showing up to teach the class. He spends a lot of his time and his own money to do this, and he doesnʼt get a dime for it.”

Among the details to enhance the class that Eric has financed is a laminating machine that is available after the class to laminate the hunter-education card.

The shotguns, deer rifle and pistol he uses in the class are his own.

He has also brought in guest speakers who have been injured while hunting to drive home the importance of safety and hunter responsibility.

“Itʼs up to you to put this information to use,” he told the class.

Last year, Eric taught 17 hunter-education classes, including four of the 10-hour classes. Prospective students have the option of taking a CD-ROM version of the class at home and then attending a two-hour review and test, or he can choose to attend the full 10-hour class. A total of 295 students were certified in classes Eric taught last year.

When the 10-hour course is taught at Belmont Baptist, Eric recruits member of the church to help provide a meal for the students. Usually there will be a wild-game dish, like venison stew, plus hamburgers and hot dogs.

Conservation rangers are the primary instructors for the hunter-education classes, but the volunteer-instructor program plays a big part in providing assistance. A proficient volunteer available to teach frees up the ranger, especially during deer season when they are apt to be extremely busy.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer instructor, call your region DNR Law Enforcement office.

The class Eric taught on July 12 was his fifth of 17 that he is scheduled to teach so far for 2004 — and he is likely to help out with a class or two in surrounding counties.

If you need to obtain hunter-safety certification, you can call the region Law Enforcement office to find out where and when a hunter-education class is scheduled in your area. You can also sign up online for classes at the WRD website at <>.

“I am going to teach hunter safety to the best of my ability,” said Eric. “But when (the students) go home, they are going to have the opportunity to be carrying the word of God.

“If just one person picks up the tracts and accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior then it is worth it.”

Eric said he has talked to individuals at other churches around the state who are interested in beginning an outdoor ministry at their church. He is more than willing to share how the program at Belmont Baptist works. If you would like to contact Eric, he can be reached at (770) 536-7060 or at the church at (770) 532-4741 ext. 22.

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