Tim Lawhern (left) was inducted into the International Hunter Education Association Professional Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony earlier this year.Lawhern is also the only person in the history of the association to serve twice as its president.
Targeting a safer hunt
A Wisconsin warden is recognized internationally for his work in hunter education.
When conservation warden Tim Lawhern was contemplating retiring from the Department of Natural Resources, he did so knowing that he would leave the state a safer place to hunt than when he began his career there nearly 25 years ago.
According to DNR records, in 1966 — the year before the state's formal hunter education began — there were 44 shooting incidents per 100,000 hunters in Wisconsin.
By 2012 the rate had drastically dropped to 3.9 incidents per 100,000 hunters.
In fact, Wisconsin has one of the best records of hunter safety in the nation, earning that distinction largely on Lawhern's watch.
From 1994 to 2011, Lawhern was DNR's Hunter Education Administrator charged with leading the state's hunter education program and overseeing volunteer instructors. In January 2011, Lawhern was promoted to administrator of the DNR's Enforcement and Science Division.
Hunting is in his blood
Throughout his life, Lawhern has worn many hats. From being named Mr. Macho during a recent vacation in Mexico,to a stint as a professional touring musician, to DNR administrator.
But the one hat that fits him best is blaze orange, and sometimes camouflage.
"People ask me, ‘Do you like to hunt?'" Lawhern says. "And I say, ‘No. I love to hunt.'"
Lawhern started hunting when he was just 7 years old in his native Tennessee after his parents gave him a .22 rifle. They knew he was ready for hunting (physically and mentally). His favorite species to hunt while he was growing up was cottontail rabbit.
As an adult, Lawhern's hunting passion turned to bigger game.
"My favorite thing to hunt is elk, I love where they live…how they look," explains Lawhern.
Another big change from his childhood is that Lawhern now calls Wisconsin home, a move that he credits to "a girl."
From country music to conservation warden
As a young man, Lawhern attended Tennessee Technical University on a full scholarship for music with the intentions of becoming a teacher. He had been recruited by world–class musician Winston Morris. Later, as an accomplished jazz and country music bassist, Lawhern joined a big–name band (he prefers to keep the name of the band a secret so as to not detract from his other accomplishments) and toured.
One of those tours found Lawhern playing in Madison at the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. While staying at a hotel in Madison, Lawhern saw the girl who would change his life.
"This girl walked right in front of me, I dropped my luggage and I told my boys, ‘If I could have that, I'd never want anything else.'"
Lawhern reveals that he struck up a conversation with that mystery girl that night at the hotel bar and then went back to Tennessee the next day. Almost a year later, he returned to Madison and learned that the mystery girl had been asking his friends about him.
"She remembered me," he says.
They started dating and Lawhern gave up touring with the band to move to Wisconsin and marry that girl.
"She's my finest catch," he beams.
Living in Wisconsin and with his touring days behind him, Lawhern needed to find a job.
As a boy, he thought being a warden would be "a neat job" because wardens get to go around and check people's hunting, fishing and other licenses.
So he applied for a position as a conservation warden. He recalls making it to the last stage of hiring but not getting the job because he didn't have a law enforcement or a natural resources–related degree.
Lawhern, not one to back down from a challenge, whether it be hunting elk or wooing a Wisconsin girl, went back to school, earned a degree in wildlife management from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and two years later reapplied and got the job of his boyhood dreams.
Taking Wisconsin to the next level in hunter safety
As a warden Lawhern can cite many accomplishments. Establishing and promoting the four safety rules of TAB–K is one.
TAB–K stands for:
Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
Be certain of your target and what's beyond.
Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
TAB–K grew from an analysis of how people were hurting others and themselves when hunting. Lawhern says that since the TAB–K safety rules were put to use, the hunting accident rate in Wisconsin dropped from 44/100,000 to 4/100,000.
In addition to TAB–K, Lawhern implemented the use of hunter safety web crawl messages during local weather forecasts since most hunters will check the weather report before leaving to hunt. Lawhern also reached hunters through TV commercials that were aired at critical viewing times for the audience. His messages included hunter safety and how to get licensed and involved.
"We have always been on the cutting edge here in Wisconsin," Lawhern says.
And to continue to improve on the state's stellar safety record, Lawhern was behind seeing that Wisconsin learned from the successful hunting education strategies used by others around the world.
Two of those strategies adopted were creating a hunting incident database and using the International Hunter Education Association's forms for incident report gathering.
A discipline he holds dear
Today, many years after Lawhern was handed his first rifle, he still holds that hunting, like music, is one of life's great disciplines. Lawhern believes that he is a better wild game cook (you can call him Chef Tim), photographer, gunsmith and that he learned many valuable skills, like reading a map and animal biology, because of hunting. He truly holds hunting dear to his life.
While Wisconsin hunting has been the focus of most of Lawhern's law enforcement career, he has garnered international respect for his efforts to make hunting safer.
Lawhern has devoted countless hours to the International Hunter Education Association(IHEA), an organization comprised of 67 international voting jurisdictions with a mission to "educate hunters worldwide to be safe, knowledgeable and responsible."
"The IHEA mission and the work that they do are directly related to hunting, which is one of my great passions," Lawhern says.
Lawhern can cite many accomplishments with IHEA.
One of those accomplishments is being inducted into the IHEA Hall of Fame. Dr. Charles Bruckerhoff of Connecticut wrote in his Hall of Fame nomination, "I know of no other person that is active in IHEA today that has done so much to help promote its mission and has served in so many capacities in that effort."
Lawhern is the only person to have served as president of IHEA twice.
"I served a second term, the only person to do that, a very high honor," he expresses.
He has also received every award that can be given by the association, including an award that had never been given to anyone before — the Instructor's Award, which was presented to him in front of his peers and volunteer instructors.
Creating a future for hunting
Lawhern says recruiting volunteers for the organization is essential.
"We need people with an aptitude toward hunting, safety and wanting to give back to asport that they love," Lawhern says.
There are 65,000 to 70,000 IHEA volunteers in the United States,with hunters making up the majority. Volunteer instructors teach with the principle known as EDOC.
E is for Educate. "Tell them what they are to know; no more, no less."
D is for Demonstrate. "Show them exactly how it looks when it's done correctly."
O is for Observation. "Once you tell them and then show them, you want to see them do it hands–on."
C is for Congratulate. "Use positive reinforcement as opposed to negative. Teach instructors to build self–esteem in the students," explains Lawhern.
Lawhern affirms that the EDOC method helps every student, no matter what their learning style.
Among Lawhern's other IHEA accomplishments is the creation of the first Junior Instructor Program and the Hunter Education Instructor Academy.
The Junior Instructor Program aims to retain younger members.
"There were a lot of young people who showed great aptitude and interest when they were going through the class, but we knew we'd probably never see them again," Lawhern says.
The goal of the program is to let young members do things that instructors do, and at 18 years old, they can then become instructors themselves, explains Lawhern.
Lawhern also helped develop and implement the Alternative Delivery Certification Courses, including IHEA's Internet student certification course.
"It is not a dumbing–down of the course," he says. In fact, Internet certification students have shown to score higher on the test and retain information longer.
Teaching tools such as Internet–based courses are reaching hunters where they live. It makes the experience more convenient and accessible, something educators like Lawhern hope will help address the continuing decline in the number of people getting a hunting license nationwide.
Lawhern suggests hunter numbers are down because there is so much competition for people's free time today. Often, people are choosing activities that are far more expensive than getting a hunting license and going hunting, explains Lawhern.
Lawhern also suggests people are losing the motivation to hunt because they are losing a connection to the land.
"We no longer have to hunt to get our meat," he notes.
He does, however, find some good news in a boost in the locavore movement. A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not transported long distances to market.
Lawhern says the future of hunting, including recruiting new hunters and keeping the ones who are already hunting engaged, just might hinge on five factors with an acronym of STEEP:
S is for Social acceptance. The social acceptance of hunting will be critical for its survival.
T is for Technological changes.
E is for Environmental changes. The more we develop the land, the less land there is to hunt.
The second E is for Economic changes. Can we afford to hunt because of the cost of equipment and finding land?
Lastly, P is for Political changes. Hunting laws are complicated. "We need to find a way to make things more simple for people," Lawhern says.
Retiring but not retreating from a challenge
"In order for me to accomplish all the things that I want to do, I would probably need seven lifetimes," Lawhern says. "But we only have one life so you have to prioritize those things that you want to accomplish."
One goal on his bucket list is riding his 10–year–old horse across the nation. In retirement, Lawhern also plans to do consulting work, training and volunteering. He would especially like to volunteer in natural disaster stricken places because as he explains, "It satisfies your inner soul."
The most important job any person can have "is to be a person of integrity and to be a good citizen," but most importantly, an active citizen, Lawhern notes.
"Being a citizen who doesn't vote," he says, "is like being a hunter but never going hunting."
Karely Mendez is an editorial intern with Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. She attends the University of Wisconsin–Madison.