4-H shooting sports training teaches safety, responsibility

Published 12:36 am Sunday, March 14, 2010

NATCHEZ — Natchez resident Walter Harrison fired his first .22 rifle when he was 4 years old.

“I was in my grandfather’s backyard, which had train tracks going across it,” Harrison said.

“My dad would line up 10 cans across the tracks, and he would sit on the ground and stand the rifle on his shoulders, because it was too big for me to hold. I would stand behind him, aim it and shoot it.”

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Now, many years later, he’s helping children learn to shoot as a certified rifle and shotgun instructor at the Adams County 4-H shooting sports training program.

The program, which hosted its first of several instruction sessions Saturday, teaches youth how to safely fire a .22 rifle and pistol, as well as a bow, shotgun, air pistols and air rifles. The program allows children to get certified so they can take part in the 4-H national shooting sports competition.

“Shooting sports is something that anyone can do,” Harrison said. “It builds confidence and teaches safety.”

And the requirement that children learn how to properly handle firearms makes shooting sports one of the better sports a child can partake in, said Melanie Sojourner, an Adams County Extension Service associate.

“Safety is so critical in this, and that’s why its statistically the safest youth sport offered in the U.S.,” Sojourner said.

Jack Withers, a 4-H instructor and junior director of the Mississippi Civilian Marksmanship Program, was helping children with air rifles and pistols. He said the 4-H program has made a difference in the youth brought up through the program in terms of gun safety.

“I’m a high school teacher at West Feliciana High School,” Withers said. “Whenever I have students come back from the hunting camp, the only ones that say to me, ‘So-and-so really wasn’t handling their gun correctly’ were the ones that came through this program.”

Because he’s a teacher, Withers said he feels right at home at the 4-H training program.

“I teach the Navy ROTC at West Feliciana. I love teaching and shooting, so if I can teach shooting, we’re talking heaven.

“The real beauty of the 4-H program is, it keeps things simple and inexpensive, so it’s available to everyone. It also teaches responsibility, and when they go home, they take that with them.”

Sojourner said the training session is preparing the youth for a district 4-H meet in late April.

“These kids have to be certified before they can compete in the district meet, and they need a certain number of hours with a certified instructor,” Sojourner said.

“Between now and the end of April, we’ll do this several more times. If anyone’s still interested in doing this, they can call the Adams County Extension office.”