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Firearms teaching award goes to a team

Mike Neault knows it's his name on the plaque recognizing him as Minnesota's 2010 Firearms Safety Instructor of the Year. He received the award, given by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Thursday night at the Minnesota Deer Hunters ...

Mike Neault knows it's his name on the plaque recognizing him as Minnesota's 2010 Firearms Safety Instructor of the Year. He received the award, given by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Thursday night at the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association banquet in Carlton.

But he thinks someone else's name should be on it, too. His wife's.

"Linda deserves this award as much as I do," said Neault, 56, of Barnum. "She works just as hard or harder than I do."

The Neaults, who have been teaching firearms safety for just six years, put on memorable classes, said DNR conservation officer Scott Staples of Cloquet.

"They're both fantastic at the class," Staples said. "It's almost like they put their whole lives into it. They go all out."

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The Neaults put on three firearms safety classes a year, teaching 20 to 30 youths per class, Mike said. In addition, they do classes just for women. They also supervise people who take a new online firearms safety class.

When Mike had trouble scheduling field firing classes at other shooting ranges, he spent $400 of his own money to build a shooting range in his back yard.

Linda Neault, 60, is the one who nominated Mike for the award he received Thursday.

"I felt like he goes above and beyond," she said.

She cited a couple of examples of the effort Mike puts into the classes. After teaching a class to women employees at state parks, he asked them to bring their own shotguns along, Linda said. After the standard field firing exercise in the morning, Mike spent the whole afternoon teaching each woman about the specific shotgun she had brought, Linda said.

In another case, Mike and Linda had taught firearms safety to a boy who also happened to be working on a shooting merit badge for Boy Scouts.

"After we did the class, Mike worked with this boy to help him earn his shooting badge," Linda said. "That's the kind of guy Mike is."

Both Mike and Linda take the lead in different parts of the classes, Mike focusing on gun handling and aspects of shooting. Linda handles firearms carrying techniques, safety, survival and other aspects. The couple often brings in outside speakers such as law enforcement officers or muzzleloader hunters. Their classes tend to involve students in hands-on activities.

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"In this last class, we had some very shy youngsters," Mike said. "The mother of one came up afterward and said she could not believe that I had talked her daughter into coming up front and explaining a shotgun shell. We try to get the kids involved."

Mike suffered a serious heart attack last year.

"It's a very emotional experience," Linda said. "The fact that he was going to teach these kids kept him going."

Mike awards trophies after each class, one of which goes to the top shooter at the field firing event, he said.

"They have to compete against me," Neault said. "The best of five shots at the target. The trouble is, I always happen to take six shots and get disqualified. We try to put a little humor into teaching."

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