4-H teaching precision, safety

Published 12:26 am Sunday, April 10, 2011

NATCHEZ — Each Saturday, five modern day Robin Hoods go out to the shooting range, armed with air rifles, air pistols and bows and arrows, to train for the Southwest Mississippi District Shooting Sport Competition.

These archers and riflemen and ladies are members of the Adams County 4H Shooting Sports Club and they range from ages 9-12.

While each child on the team trains to become top shot at the competition, they are also learning gun safety in the process, 4-H agent Jason Jones said.

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“Our goal is for the kids to have fun and to teach them safety,” Jones said. “Safety is priority No. 1 in 4-H.”

Students are educated on proper gun safety, never to carry around a loaded gun, range rules and always to have their safety line in their gun when they are not firing, Jones said.

The coach or a range officer is always present when the children are practicing and the kids are taught to follow, strictly, every direction the range officer gives, Jones said.

“It’s important because you’ve seen news about kids not knowing the proper way to handle guns, (and people get hurt),” Jones said.

“We are educating kids what to do and what not to do. Hopefully, they will help spread (the lessons) to friends and other family members to educate them and prevent anything bad happening.”

Elizabeth Freeman, mother of two club members, Kathryn, 10 and Allison, 11, said the club teaches children to always point their weapons in safe directions and always know their target and what is behind it.

“I think that it teaches them discipline, and they have something to be involved in,” Freeman said. “If you can involve them in something constructive you keep them out of trouble.”

Logan Taylor, an 11-year-old team member, said he has learned a lot more than he thought he would during his training.

“They teach us all the rules in the competition and never to point it at somebody. Really don’t touch the gun when the instructor tells you not to, and don’t run with it,” Taylor said.

“It’s like a million times better than I expected (the club to be). I was just expecting we would just get there and shoot, but it’s a lot more. I didn’t know that 4-H taught all the different stuff other than shooting.”

Once the first goal of safety was drilled into the students’ heads, they started training in February for the competition, which will be on April 30 in Pearl at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Academy.

Children ages 8-18 compete in archery, air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle and shotgun disciplines at the competition.

Each student has to log at least eight practice hours in each discipline to be able to participate at the competition, Jones said. A few of the Adams County team members will participate in two disciplines.

This year’s team is: Hannah Russell, 9, Natalie Russell, 12, Kathryn and Allison Freeman and Taylor.

All the team members attend Adams County Christian School.

Hannah Russell will compete in the rifle and pistol events. Natalie Russell will compete in archery and rifle. Kathryn Freeman will compete in the rifle. Allison Freeman will compete in rifle and pistol. And Taylor will compete in archery and rifle.

“Last year all but one member got first or second place in a discipline,” Jones said. “All but one came home with a trophy, and he still placed 12 out of 30 kids.”

Allison Freeman was one of those team members that finished first place in last year’s competition, she said.

She earned first place in her favorite discipline, the air rifle. It is her favorite because it is the easiest, she said.

Taylor is a rookie member of the team, but enjoys the club and hopes to do well in the competition, he said.

“I just wanted to learn more about shooting a bow and shooting a rifle,” Taylor said.

“I’m not positive that I’m going to do great (in the competition), but I guess I’m going to do good,” he said.

Even at the competition, safety is the main goal, and you have to have your safety line in at all times or you can get points taken off, Jones said.

The safety line is placed in the barrel to show that the weapon is not loaded and cannot be fired, Jones said.

Jones said that being on these teams could benefit the children later on.

“There are scholarships involved in shooting sports, and it is important to have these teams (because) if they are in the program long enough it could lead to a scholarship,” Jones said. “Or, maybe they want to go into law enforcement.”

The Adams County team will continue to practice every Saturday until the competition, Jones said.