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An inspiring instructor: Chamberlain's Schmiedt goes 'above and beyond'

Justin Schmiedt, of Chamberlain, was named the 2016 HuntSAFE Instructor of the Year. He also serves as firearms instructor for the SD Highway Patrol. (Matt Gade / Republic Illustration)

CHAMBERLAIN — Justin Schmiedt loves the outdoors, especially in South Dakota.

And now his hunting and survival skills he's developed over decades have earned him the title of HuntSAFE instructor of the year.

Schmiedt, 36, is going into his ninth year as a patrolman for the South Dakota Highway Patrol, but in the last few years he's taken on a new task as an instructor for South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks HuntSAFE program. The program is for children between 12 and 15 years old, teaching how to safely handle firearms.

Schmiedt also teaches firearm instruction for the Highway Patrol, and recently, he's been asked by various organizations — including Becoming Outdoor Women of South Dakota and the Outdoor Women of South Dakota — to teach firearm safety and outdoor survival.

And even though the father of four has "a great love for South Dakota," the reason he continues to teach gun safety for many organizations is not just for his fondness for firearms.

"It's extremely important everybody to get to go home every night, and that includes law enforcement," Schmiedt said. "And if I can pass on some skills to them or enhance their shooting performance where they might save their life or a citizen's life someday, then that's a skill I want to pass on."

'Passionate about safety'

Since Schmiedt was very young, he's always had an interest in firearms "of all kinds," learning shooting, accuracy and precision.

Through the HuntSAFE course, he loves passing on the skills he's picked up. Schmiedt spends a majority of his instruction time in Plankinton, Kimball and Chamberlain, averaging between four and six classes each year.

And as he instructs children in HuntSAFE courses, he hopes it'll help them, and himself as a highway patrolman, later in life.

"I figured if I could become an instructor, guide them down the right path, make sure they're doing everything legally and ethically ... that's less I'll have to do on the other side being a trooper on the road," Schmiedt said.

Schmiedt said for children in the HuntSAFE program, it's not about whether they'll be hunters, it's about respecting firearms and how to be safe.

But as much as he loves teaching children, the children love learning from him, according to Chamberlain-based conservation officer Diana Landegent for GF&P.

Landegent nominated Schmiedt for the instructor of the year award because he goes "above and beyond" during safety courses.

"He's very passionate about safety," Landegent said. "He's very specific and just the way he teaches to the kids about keeping the finger off trigger guard, pointing muzzles in a safe direction ... the way he teaches is just spectacular."

An avid outdoorsman

Schmiedt is a Chamberlain native, and graduated from the high school in 1999. From there he went into the U.S. Marines for five years, before moving back to South Dakota.

While completing an online degree in criminal justice, Schmiedt worked at Cabela's, helping hunters with their "once-in-a-lifetime" hunt.

But after earning his degree from the University of Phoenix, he decided to put it to good use. South Dakota Highway Patrol had an opening, so he applied.

And for the last nine years, Schmiedt has been a trooper, starting in Wessington Springs and eventually moving to the Chamberlain office.

While he teaches his own four children, and those involved in HuntSAFE, he hopes everybody can learn about firearms, not just for fun but to keep communities across South Dakota safe.

"I think it's super important that everybody learns, because a negligent discharge is 100 percent preventable," Schmiedt said.