Minnesotan Tina Dokken is a passionate bird hunter, amateur dog trainer and recreational shooter. She was introduced to shooting and hunting in her mid-30s, and is among the small percentage of people who started hunting as an adult. Dokken, 52, a seventh-grade math teacher and golf coach, also is a staff pro for Italian gunmaker Franchi, promoting the company’s Catalyst line of shotguns for women. She is married to well-known dog trainer and entrepreneur Tom Dokken of Dokken’s Oak Ridge Kennels in Northfield, where they live. She is the keynote speaker April 14 at the Ramsey County Pheasants Forever banquet in St. Paul. Below are edited excerpts from a recent conversation:

On getting into hunting

I have had Labs my whole life. I had a chocolate Lab before I met Tom. I used to take her to Game Fair every year. I felt bad she never hunted, even though her parents did. I entered her in all the contests and attended all the dog seminars to try to educate myself on how to train her.

That’s where I met Tom in 2001. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family and had no knowledge of hunting or guns.

Tom is the one who got me into shooting and hunting. I obviously got into it late in life. We actually traded golf lessons for dog hunting lessons. He trained my dog, and I helped him with his golf game. To this day he says my dog was way better trained than his golf game.

On her motivations

The passion and drive I have to hunt is really from my dog — watching her work. And I enjoy all the other stuff that goes along with it. I love shooting. I love working out and exercising. But it’s really all about the interaction with my dog. When she’s on a bird, I’m following her. We don’t have kids, so for Tom and me, taking the dogs hunting is our family time.

On learning to shoot

Tom did the smartest thing he could do as a husband and had a friend of ours teach me how to shoot. I had a lot of concerns when I first started out. I didn’t know if I could shoot a bird. I had to get comfortable shooting a gun. Everyone goes through that when they start out. When I talk to people about my experiences and they hear about some of my fears, I think that helps them see that they can overcome those.

On recruiting women

I was really excited when the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League took off. It’s the fastest-growing high school sport, with more participants than hockey. I helped coach the first couple of years at Northfield. We had 97 participants last spring. Watching the girls shooting was the most empowering thing I’ve ever seen. These shy girls who were in my class were just slamming those clay targets with a gun. These are girls who were afraid to raise their hand in my class and too intimidated to try some sports. But here’s one where you don’t compete for playing time; you don’t even get cut. It’s just such a phenomenal sport. Anyone can do it. I tell them they don’t have to be strong, lift weights or run fast to be on the shooting team. These kids are building confidence that they can do anything.

On the need for mentors

Mentors are really the key to recruiting more people to hunting. It’s great that dads take their kids out. But my challenge to them is this: Have you ever thought about taking your wife out on a hunt so she can see her child in the field? Make it a family thing. It’s all about exposure. You don’t know if your wife or girlfriend or daughter will be interested unless you take them out. Give them that experience. I’m encouraged that there are more programs for women, including the (Department of Natural Resource’s) Becoming and Outdoors Woman. It’s an awesome opportunity for just women to get together and learn about hunting and fishing in a relaxed and supportive environment.

I think women and girls are more accepted now in shooting and hunting. And I think it’s just going to keep getting better.

Doug Smith is a former Star Tribune outdoors reporter. Reach him at doug.smith23@charter.net.