By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
HAMILTON, Ohio — Children are curious; if they see a firearm, chances are they’re going to pick it up and play with it. So, the 4-H shooting sports program teaches kids firearm safety early.
It takes that curiosity away, said Barb Haverkos, coordinator, Butler County 4-H shooting sports. “They understand, and they respect firearms at an earlier age, and they also understand what firearms can do,” she said. “Today firearms are part of our world; I think that everybody needs to understand and respect them, and we help teach that.”
Cecilia Guenther, 12, and sisters Sophia, 13, Caroline, 11, and Rebekah Mignery, 9, are all members of the Butler County Sharp Shooters. They like it because it is fun, educational, something different and gives them a chance to hang out with their friends.
Across 47 states, 450,000 children take part in 4-H shooting sports, said Todd Kesner co-chair of National 4-H Shooting Sports – and that takes 20,000 well-trained instructors.
“Shooting sports, like any other 4-H project, is about getting a young person in contact with a positive adult other than their parents and then developing that relationship. They are connected to their peer group, and to other adults in the program,” Kesner said.
“You learn that you are a part of something bigger, you have a place where you belong, where you’re safe to be yourself and that you matter to people.”
Hannah Persell, a freshman at the University of Missouri, is 18 and an ambassador for the 4-H Shooting Sports Program. During her 10 years in it, she won national 4-H championships, both team and individual. She credits most of her successes, shooting and otherwise, to 4-H.
“When I started 4-H, I was very shy,” she explained. “People knew me, but they didn’t know who I was because I wouldn’t talk. 4-H brought me out of myself. It taught me a lot of life skills like responsibility. No one can make you want to shoot; it is your responsibility to practice.”
Persell said she developed critical thinking skills. If she wasn’t hitting the target, she had to decide, was it her stance? Something with her equipment? From being too shy to talk, she went on to be Master of Ceremonies and presenting awards at the National Championships.
“Some people don’t have a connection with shooting sports except through video games,” she explained. “It puts them in an imaginary world, where they don’t understand the safety, don’t understand how things work.”
“Archery is the most popular discipline right now,” Kesner said. “Air rifle is the second. There is also air pistol, small-bore rifle, small-bore pistol, muzzleloading, shotgun, hunting and Western Heritage. Offerings vary according to what is available in your state.”
Haverkos sees benefits to the program beyond shooting skills.
“They start out, maybe they can’t even hit the target,” she said. “Then they can get one shot on the target; then they can get all their shots on the target. We work on building their life skills, their leadership skills.
“We talk about the things that are important in shooting, such as calming yourself down, breathing, focus, self-discipline, getting them to focus on the fundamentals of shooting and doing it in a fun way.”
Christa Jones has three kids in the program. “I grew up shooting and I think it is important to understand and respect firearms,” she said. “This is one way for them to learn the proper way to handle firearms and gives them an opportunity to learn about safety.”
For more information, visit http://4-hshootingsports.org