Kenneth Gautreaux | 2/2/2017 4:27:44 PM
If numbers are any indication, young people like to fling arrows and bust clay targets. Nearly 6,000 youth are involved in the 4-H shooting sports program, which is one of the newer programs offered by the organization. The first shooting sports event took place in 2000.
One of the biggest draws of the program is its ability to get the entire family involved, said 4-H shooting sports coordinator David Boldt.
“If you attend any of our events, you can see tents set up, cookers will be going, and just about all members of the family will be here,” Boldt said. “They will be out here all day for both the competition and the camaraderie.”
Benny Bell, an agriculture education teacher at Ebarb High School in Sabine Parish, sees the program as an opportunity for students who are not involved in traditional extracurricular activities such as football, softball or track.
“I pick kids that don’t compete in other sports. It’s an outlet for them that they might not have otherwise,” Bell said.
Just like traditional sports, Bell said, the students practice at least once a week. Bell has had six students advance to the national finals held annually in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Miles Singara, a 17-year-old 4-H’er from Tangipahoa Parish, competed in the national finals held this past June. He was crowned national champion in the air pistol silhouettes and the air pistol slow fire categories. He was also a member of the Louisiana team that won the overall air pistol team national title.
“It was an overwhelming experience to win the national championship,” Singara said. “The ultimate goal is to just qualify, and to win, it was just breathtaking.”
Singara has been a competitive shooter for nearly six years. He grew up shooting and hunting with family members and learned that 4-H had started a shooting sports program. He decided to explore the program and figured it would be something he might try for a couple of years.
“It brought me further than I expected,” he said. “Being able to shoot this long and in competition has been a real awesome experience.”
Singara has competed at shooting events across the country, including events in Fort Benning, Georgia; Anniston, Alabama; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Bob Davis, of Jackson Parish, served as the coach of the national championship air pistol team. He became involved because his secretary’s son had joined the program and was looking for a coach. He has served as both a coach for participants and a trainer for other volunteers.
“It’s very gratifying to see young people grow by being a part of the program,” Davis said. “You can definitely see their confidence grow. It also teaches them a system of a way to get better at something. It takes time, discipline and dedication to improve.”
According to Boldt, one of the critical components of the shooting sports program is the many volunteers who help coordinate the events and serve as coaches to the competitors. This year, nearly 1,000 volunteers helped stage competitions and served as coaches statewide.
Scott Blank is one of those many volunteers. He became involved in the St. James Parish program when his son joined 4-H five years ago and is a volunteer instructor. He has seen firsthand how the program has influenced its participants.
“One of the biggest impacts I see is it teaches goal setting, focus and concentration,” Blank said. “Youth from all walks of life and different athletic abilities are able to set goals and stay focused on achieving their goals.”
While having a good time is important to the program, both Blank and Boldt added that safety is an essential element of any shooting sports activity.
“All of the kids competing have to go through hunter education to get their card in order to participate. Safety is our No. 1 priority. We want them to have fun, but we want to be safe,” Boldt said.
“Each participant has to have eight hours of instruction in each discipline they choose to participate in,” Blank said.
Davis, who is a certified instructor through the National Rifle Association, echoed the program’s commitment to safety. “It is a continuous effort. If we can stop one accident, then we will have made a difference,” he said.
An array of categories is available to participants in shooting sports. They can shoot air rifles, pistols, shotguns, rifles, muzzleloaders or bows. They also can compete in an outdoor skills competition that includes wildlife identification test, shooting a bow, rifle and shotgun, and an orienteering activity.
Nan Arthur, an AgCenter 4-H agent in Sabine Parish, plays the role of both volunteer and parent. Her son, Conner, competes in the outdoor skills program and the modified trap shooting contest.
She said the program has taught her son responsibility.
“He is responsible for getting all of the equipment he will need over the entire competition together and packing it. It also teaches sportsmanship and being disciplined,” Arthur said.
Conner normally practices shooting his bow or shotgun every day, and the Sabine Parish team typically has organized practices twice a week, she said.
Arthur said about 12 parent volunteers are in Sabine Parish. The volunteers provide adult supervision at competitions and practice.
The Louisiana shooting sports program has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception. The first match had approximately 75 competitors. This year, nearly 2,000 youth competed at the two regional shooting matches. With a reputation as being a sportsman’s paradise, shooting sports is a natural fit for Louisiana. And with a large group of eager volunteers and participants, it will remain an integral part of 4-H.
Craig Gautreaux is a communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.
Kaitlyn Watson, from Bossier Parish, was among 350 Louisiana regional shooting sports winners who participated in state competition in Shreveport and Grand Cane, Louisiana, in April 2015. Photo by Brandy Orlando
Brooke Walker, 16, of Webster Parish, examines animal pelts during a wildlife ID test. The test was part of the outdoor skills competition held during the Louisiana 4-H North Regional shooting sports contest at the Long Range Gun Club near Frierson. More than 900 4-H youth competed at the event, with qualifiers advancing to the state finals held April 20-24 at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. Photo by Craig Gautreaux
Dakota Puckett, of Webster Parish, competes in bow competition in the north Louisiana shooting sports contest at the Long Range Gun Club near Frierson in March 2016. The five components of the outdoor skills challenge are a wildlife ID test, shooting a bow, shotgun and rifle, and an orienteering test. Photo by Craig Gautreaux