Story by Tom Loeffler | Sep 23, 2015
Brian Flowers of the Missouri Department of Conservation teaches survival skill classes that give students confidence and a greater appreciation for the outdoors.
Most of you have seen the TV show Survivor. It’s been on since the Clinton administration, after all. Some of you may still watch it. If you never have, it pits people against one another in nature while trying — as the title suggests — to survive in less-than-ideal conditions, in places such as Guatemala, Samoa and secluded spots in Africa. If you’re in real danger, of course, one of the CBS crewmembers filming your every move will make sure you’re OK, so this is not really a matter of life of death. But in the end, the last man or woman standing wins $1 million.
Missouri has its own version of Survivor, and you can learn how to win in nature through a class at the Missouri Department of Conservation. The class: Emergency Outdoor Preparedness. The teacher: Brian Flowers.
“This class deals with the basics of how to find shelter, build a fire, find water, identify edible plants, those type of things,” says Flowers, an outdoor skills specialist with the MDC. “It’s been equated to Survivor, but most people don’t spend the night out there.” Not on purpose, anyway. “It happens sometimes,” Flowers says with a smile. “Of course, there are a lot of people who enjoy spending a few days and nights out there.” Emergency Outdoor Preparedness is one of many classes taught by Flowers and offered by the MDC. “My job is to teach conservation through the hands-on teaching of outdoor skills,” he says. “We teach the shooting sports, rifle, pistol, shotgun; we teach archery; we also teach all the fishing activities, from basic fishing classes to the more advanced fishing techniques; we teach camping, backpacking and canoeing. We teach folks how to be safe and responsible and how to appreciate conservation and enjoy the outdoors when participating in outdoor skills.”
There are myriad classes taught at MDC venues around the state, including the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City, and you can find a list of these classes and other programs at mdc.mo.gov. But perhaps the most important classes deal with hunting and guns, classes that can literally be matters of life and death.
“These courses are designed to teach folks how to be safe and responsible with firearms and give them those skills that they need to handle firearms safely in the field,” Flowers says. “We teach them everything from how to load and unload firearms safely, to crossing a fence, to how to be safe in a tree stand. Our program (mandatory classes for hunters started in 1988) has been very successful in reducing the number of hunting incidents. These incidents have dropped considerably.”
When Flowers says “incidents,” he really means accidents, right? No, not even close.
“We use the term incident because we feel like they were all preventable,” he says. “An accident maybe implies that it was not preventable, but if folks will follow the basic safety rules, then they are preventable.”
Although these are usually male-dominated endeavors, more women are getting involved all the time, and there are classes designed specifically for them. “A lot of times they just enjoy learning around other women,” Flowers says. “We see different kinds of folks from various backgrounds covering a range of ages in our programs,” he continues. “There was a time that there seemed to be a disconnect, and these things weren’t being passed along to children. But now we’re seeing more parents and grandparents getting involved and wanting to bring their kids to classes, to brush up on their own skills and teach their children.”
Flowers grew up in south-central Missouri in a small town called Houston, which is the county seat of Texas County. The population is 2,000. “It was only about 1,200 when I lived there,” he says. “They didn’t have a stoplight back then, but now the town has a couple of them.”
After graduating from high school, where he lettered in football and golf, he earned his degree in natural resources and recreation management from the University of Missouri in 1994. But his love for nature blossomed, if you will, long before that.
“I can remember picking up books at the library about Missouri fish and wildlife when I was in the first grade,” says Flowers, who’s been with the MDC for 14 years. “And being in the Ozarks, we had a lot of opportunities to hunt (his favorite hunt now is for wild turkeys) and fish (his favorite quests are trout and smallmouth bass) and enjoy the outdoors.”
Now, Flowers is one of those lucky few in life whose work is also his love. And according to many people, there’s no better place to love and enjoy nature than in Missouri. Although there’s no $1 million jackpot waiting at the end of an adventure, you’re a winner just for experiencing it.
“Missouri has so much to offer in the way of fishing and hunting and other outdoor activities, and Missourians care deeply about those type of things,” Flowers says. “They care deeply about their connection with the land.
“Naturalist Aldo Leopold, who was from Wisconsin and known as the father of modern wildlife management during the ’20s and ’30s, said if conservation would work anywhere in this world, it would work in Missouri because Missourians have such a great connection to the land,” Flowers continues. “And, that’s still true today.”