Dressed from head-to-toe in camouflage, Whitney Bowden, 10, pulled back the string on her bow and let loose. Her parents Eric and Renee cheered nearby after the arrow plunged neatly into the target for the first time. Whitney grinned from ear to ear.
Whitney joined the summer-long Shooting Sports Education Program lead by Scott Darst, a 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent through the University of Kentucky.
Some 50 school-aged children signed up for the program and will practice almost every Monday night at the Central Kentucky Wildlife Management Area shooting range in Berea.
Children received an introduction to the safe and responsible use of firearms and archery equipment last week. Monday night, many of the children had the opportunity to shoot an arrow or handle a shotgun for the first time while supervised by trained 4-H volunteers and teen coaches.
By the end of the program, children will learn about shotguns, rifles, pistols, muzzleloaders and archery equipment.
Before Whitney mastered the bow and arrow, the 60-pound 10 year old tried a few rounds with the 20-gauge shotgun. Although the gun’s kickback was a bit much for her, “she still had to try it and see,” her mom said.
Both parents were impressed by the coaches’ patience while instructing each child.
Jonathan Makinen, 11, shouted “Pull!” to signal the launch of a clay pigeon. He followed the clay disc with a squinted eye and managed to shoot down three or four targets throughout practice.
“I love to hunt,” said Jonathan, who joined the program to “improve accuracy.”
Although this was not the first time he has handle a gun, this was the first time he had ever shot at clay pigeons, he said.
Firearms instructor and 4-H volunteer Liz Burton guided shooters through very strict rules.
The “action” of the gun must always stay open, she said, so that others are aware of when the weapon is loaded.
The gun’s safety must stay on and fingers are to be off the triggers at all times, until they are ready to be fired, Burton said.
Most importantly, instructors teach children to always point the gun in a safe direction, she said, to maximize safety whether the gun is loaded or not.
Guns and bows are always kept in cases when transported to and from practice or competition, she said.
Shooters also must have both hands on the gun and wear safety glasses and ear plugs.
“Absolutely no horseplay is allowed, as well,” Burton said. “Some of the safest kids at all of the shooting competition are 4-H kids.”
Burton would know. Her two sons competed in shooting competitions all through school.
“I never had to worry about where my kids were Friday and Saturday nights because they were with me at shooting competitions,” said Burton, who also is the coach of the Eastern Kentucky University Trap and Skeet Club.
Her son Wes, who also is a 4-H volunteer, is president of the club.
Sport shooting is an “any age, anytime” activity, Burton said. “You can be 10 years old or 73 years old and have similar ability.”
During shooting and archery competitions, “you either hit or miss,” she said. “It’s not about who you know or how expensive your gun is.”
Children are not required to compete but Burton estimated that at least 50 percent of them will.
The District Four 4-H Shooting Sport Competition is scheduled July 13.
The program’s enrollment is open until June 8 but children must obtain a hunter safety card to join. An $8 membership fee is charged to cover the cost of competition T-shirts. Competitions have additional costs if children choose to compete.
For details, contact the Madison County Extension Office at 623-4072.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.