Denver resident Link Grass has been selected as this year’s recipient of the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA-USA) Volunteer Instructor of the Year award.
He is one of more than 55,000 IHEA-USA instructors who reach more than 650,000 hunter education students annually. Grass received the award at the 2014 IHEA-USA Annual Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.
According to Grass, the IHEA-USA selection committee takes into consideration the nominee’s years of service, the dedication he or she has to the program and the accomplishments achieved throughout the years as an instructor. Now nearing his 60th birthday, Grass has spent the past 15 years as an IHEA instructor.
“This award was a total shock,” Grass admitted. “I was nominated through the International Hunter’s Association back in March, and I don’t know how many hundreds of volunteers were nominated. I received the phone call the latter part of April letting me know that I had actually received the award.”
While he has received multiple “Instructor of the Year” awards at the state and local level, he has never been honored with “an award of such prestige.”
“To my understanding, North Carolina has only received this award once before,” he said.
Growing up in Mecklenburg County, Grass was introduced to the outdoors and the sport of hunting at a young age.
“My father was brought up through hunting and outdoors and those kinds of things,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to hunt the majority of my life.”
In 1973, Grass graduated from West Mecklenburg High School and moved with his family to the Denver area. Shortly after graduation, he accepted a job an as employee for Duke Energy at the McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, where he has worked for the past 40 years.
“Becoming a (hunting) instructor wasn’t in my regime, so to speak,” he said. “It wasn’t until I was talking to some of my friends who are wildlife officers that I became interested in getting certified.”
According to Grass, he began his training in the late 90s, beginning with a basic hunting course as a student. After completing the 16-hour course, he spent a year observing the teaching styles and techniques of other instructors before he began teaches classes of his own.
“I began by teaching one or two classes a year,” Grass said. ”And then, in 2003, I became really active in Lincoln County, teaching about three classes a month.”
While his home location is the Lincolnton Sportsman Club, where he serves as the club’s president, Grass also instructs classes at Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain. In addition to his hunting classes, Grass also teaches muzzle loading, trapping, boating and orienteering.
“There have been a lot of different avenues I picked up and gotten certification for over the years,” he said. “Becoming an instructor, I’ve realized the importance of passing on the sport through education. It’s been challenging with the onset of internet courses to pass that knowledge on…but it’s very instrumental to the sport in becoming a mentor and having the ability and knowledge to pass it on to those who want to learn.”
While the hunting course itself is designed on a sixth-grade level, it is open to all ages.
“I was the first instructor across the state to certify a 7-year-old when the age limit was restricted,” Grass said. “There used to be a 13- or 14-year-old age limit, but when it lifted, I had lots of younger students coming in wanting to develop their technique.”
While the majority of Grass’s instruction is done in Lincoln County, he has traveled across the state to teach the program.
“It’s been a very challenging mission throughout the years of not only presenting the information, but getting involved with the students and being able to help them be successful and safe,” he added. “Without the help of the other instructors and officers, I couldn’t have accomplished what I do today.”
Those interested in learning more about the International Hunter Education Association should visit www.ihea.com.