Lorrie Ambrosino could be the spryest grandmother in the East Bay.
When she's not out hunting, tending to her own livestock, or practicing her marksmanship at the shooting range, the 73-year-old Livermore resident makes time three nights a week to teach gun safety to budding hunters, as she's been doing for the past 16 years. Until recently, her prowess as an instructor has only been known to Tri-Valley locals, and folks well immersed in California's hunting scene.
But this changed last month, when the California Fish and Wildlife Department acknowledged Ambrosino's years of service by announcing they had named her as the 2013 Hunter Education Instructor of the year, selecting Ambrosino out of a pool of almost 900 volunteer instructors throughout California.
"She was chosen for her continuous dedication. She is the hunter education program for that whole area," said Capt. Roy Griffith, of the Fish and Wildlife Department, who presented Ambrosino with the award. "She's one of those instructors who's become an icon in her area, and her involvement goes way beyond the basic hunter ed instructor."
Ambrosino, who also serves as vice president for the Livermore/Pleasanton Rod & Gun Club, teaches up to eight classes year-round, usually to full classrooms, dedicating more hours each week than she can keep track of. She's the only woman on the gun club's board of directors, but if that weren't enough, Ambrosino stands out because of her trademark: a waffle-sized shiny, silver belt buckle, which Griffith noted was only rivaled by her big smile. Ambrosino says her only motive as a hunting safety teacher is to help pass on her life's passion to others, and that she was totally blindsided by the recognition.
"I didn't think I had a snowball's chance; I really didn't," Ambrosino said. "When they announced it, I was totally overwhelmed."
For sure, it must have felt odd for Ambrosino to one day receive statewide accolades simply for continuing to do something she's been doing her whole life. Born in San Francisco and raised in then-rural Castro Valley, Ambrosino says her dad, a butcher, taught her to shoot in first grade and that she would watch him draw and quarter beef each day, which helped her learn to preserve meat in the wild.
Her passion evolved from there; she started hunting with her husband after getting married and started raising sheep and horses with her family. When her kids went through local hunting safety programs, Ambrosino thought it would be fun to teach one, so she applied. Now on her 17th year, she says she still draws from lessons she learned from her dad to teach future generations.
"My father had a way of teaching us what he wanted us to know without us realizing we were being taught," Ambrosino said. "It was like, 'Hey, Lorrie, go get my shotgun.' Well, that was an honor, especially if he had company over! And then it was all about how careful you were, how you presented it to him; we knew that we'd have to open the action and show it was empty, the whole nine yards. It became second-nature to us."
The hunting scene in Livermore has somewhat diminished over the past 50 years, but the area still has more than its fair share of wild boar, deer, ground squirrels and other wildlife. However because certificates issued to those who pass hunting safety classes like Ambrosino's can be used to acquire a hunting license throughout North America, the importance of the state's safety instructors cannot be overstated, said the Wildlife Department's Griffith.
Before hunting safety implementation, accidents in California would happen with regularity. From 1954-55, before the state required hunters to pass hunter safety classes and acquire a license, there were 163 hunting accidents, 31 of which involved fatalities. Now that hunting education has been implemented, there are 15-20 accidents per year on average, and maybe one or two fatalities, Griffith said.
Ambrosino says she'll continue to teach indefinitely and that she's looking forward to achieving the 20-year mark. When asked about the hard work of her job, she mentions the "drag" of having to occasionally spend time filing paperwork in her office, totally overlooking the demanding physical labor the cowgirl/grandmother/hunter engages in on a daily basis.
"They keep saying they recognize the hard work that I do, and I just never looked at it that way -- to me, this isn't 'work,' " Ambrosino said. "I'm never a person who beats her own drum anyways, so this past month has been totally overwhelming for me. But it's still nice to be recognized."