4-H Shooting Sports Are On Target

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Ashe County 4-H shooting

As the fastest growing 4-H program in North Carolina, shooting sports point more youth than ever in the right direction.

“What we try to do in 4-H in general is teach life skills to help members later on in life, everything from discipline, respect, concentration and problem solving,” says Charles Young, coordinator for North Carolina 4-H Shooting Sports. “It takes tremendous amounts of concentration and thought to do some of the shooting disciplines we are talking about.”

More than 1,000 North Carolina youth compete annually in 4-H shooting competitions, a sharp increase in participation in just the last decade, says Young, a 4-H shooting instructor for nearly 25 years. Under the guidance of certificated instructors such as Young, 4-H members from ages 8 to 18 learn and practice disciplines of their choice, whether archery, shotgun, rifle, muzzle loading, air pistol or other categories.

Ashe County 4-H shooting

Through frequent practices at shooting ranges, youth learn the safe and responsible use of firearms, gain marksmanship skills, understand the principles of hunting and appreciate natural resources. The sport extends their classroom education, with opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering and math. At the same time, the competitions and team-building relationships provide participants with opportunities to build character, identify self-worth and develop leadership skills.

Shooting puts passions in focus for 15-year-old Caleb Dalton, who shoots frequently with his shotgun, rifle or compound bow. He proves highly skilled with his shotgun, evidenced with his title of 2015 North Carolina 4-H Junior Shotgun Champion.

Ashe County 4-H shooting

“I’ve never really taken an interest in any other sport,” says Dalton, a member of the Ashe County 4-H Shooting Sports Club and a sophomore at Alleghany High School. “I’m in high school and don’t play any other sport. I can do something I love, and I can do it while competing on a team with other people. It really helps me just to get out of the house and be with friends who love the sport as much as I do.”

Dalton shoots 50 to 200 rounds per week at the local wildlife club or a range at his home. With each shot, he practices safety, a priority ingrained in his psyche since first holding a firearm.

“Shooting has one of the worst names on it,” Dalton says. “All you’ll see on the news now is that guns are bad and that they kill people. A gun is a tool. Just like a knife, you can use it for good or bad. If you use the gun the right way, no one will ever get hurt.”

Ashe County 4-H shooting

Young iterates safety at every practice and confirms that statistics show shooting sports, by far, tout the lowest injury rate of any other sport, whether football or baseball. Yet, like other sports, shooting expenses add up and prompt the need for fundraisers. While the state’s 50 to 60 4-H shooting clubs may offer access to firearms, youth and their families eventually purchase their own shotgun, rifle or compound bow valued at hundreds of dollars each. The investment proves worth the return.

Ashe County 4-H shooting

“I think North Carolina’s 4-H Shooting Sports is a great program,” Young says. “Like any other program, we’re dependent on our adult volunteer instructors, and we’re very dependent on all of the support that we get from the local community and statewide. … When you have a group of kids that enjoy what they’re doing and listen to you to get better, and you’re involving them in something you enjoy doing, that’s a big satisfaction.”

For more information about the program, visit nc4-hshootingsports.org.

– Joanie Stiers

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