Why is teaching youth the proper way to handle firearms so important? Many people believe that 4-H should not have shooting sports programs. Over 1,000 children are killed by guns each year, and many more are injured. If firearms are in the home, from BB guns to shotguns, adults are responsible to make sure they are stored properly away from children. In addition, proper education about firearms is essential. Through Florida Fish and Wildlife’s Hunter Safety courses and camps, classes taught by private organizations, and through the efforts of trained volunteers and staff with 4-H, youth can learn how to properly handle firearms.
“The focus of all 4-H programs is the development of youth as individuals and as responsible and productive citizens. The National 4-H Shooting Sports Program stands out as an example. Youth learn marksmanship, the safe and responsible use of firearms, the principles of hunting and archery, and much more. The activities of the program and the support of caring adult leaders provide young people with opportunities to develop life skills, self-worth, and conservation ethics, (https://4-hshootingsports.org/).
According to an article in the Journal of Extension (JOE), from February 2019, (https://archives.joe.org/joe/2019february/comm2.php), “The rationale for introducing 4-H members to firearms, as supported by the program’s priorities, focus, and commitment to safety, is multifaceted. For youths who are curious about or have an interest in archery and firearms, the 4-H Shooting Sports program (a) assures proper training in the safe and responsible use of archery equipment and firearms; (b) places youths in the care of trained, caring adults; (c) provides opportunities for quality family involvement; (d) provides positive peer groups for youths; (e) teaches youths to respect the deleterious potential of improper use of archery equipment and firearms; and (f) emphasizes respect for other people (Goodwin, 2018).”
Volusia County 4-H offered a one-day air rifle day camp on July 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to 16 youth, ages 8-18. Volusia County 4-H uses Daisy 853s, a .177 caliber air rifle. Youth are taught to shoot from bench, kneeling, standing, and prone positions. Volusia County 4-H, thanks to grants, owns an inside range with collects the lead pellets and allows us to operate year-round, mats, shooting rolls, the Daisy 853s, paper targets and silhouettes, and safes to store the equipment.
The popular model that 4-H incorporates, “Do-Reflect-Apply,” (based on the “Experiential Learning Model”) is used to engage youth in project area activities. It works like this: the educator introduces or shows the youth what they will be doing, and then the youth engage in the educational experience. Following the activity, youth discuss and think about the experience – asking questions, evaluating their performance, and developing goals. Using their new-found knowledge, they apply what they have learned to begin the process over.
In a shooting sports class, the first thing covered by the Range Officer are the Range Rules, including keeping a firearm pointed in a safe direction, that all in attendance may call “Cease Fire,” and the importance of following directions. Youth learn that SAFETY is the most critical aspect of handling firearms. The parts of a range and terminology are also covered: the waiting line, firing line, and targets; and the parts of the firearm: for example, sights, stock, action, and pump. We then determine eye dominance using two methods. People are better shooters if they shoot using their dominate eye.
The first experience the youth have handling a firearm is called “dry-firing” from the bench position. Essentially, youth sit in a chair at a table and learn the mechanics of operating an unloaded firearm: following range orders regarding pumping the air rifle, opening and closing the action, how to use the safety, practicing sight alignment, and firing.
Once the youth are comfortable with the steps, pellets are added. It is not the goal for them to hit the bullseye at this stage, just for them to understand sight picture. After the bench position, we move on to standing, then kneeling, and finally the prone position. Standing is the most challenging because it is the least stable position, whereas prone is the most stable because more of the body is supported.
Of course, when dealing with any mechanical tool, problems arise. A part of the class is teaching them how to safely handle malfunctions such as jams and preventative maintenance. We insert a controlled “Cease Fire” situation in the program so they will have the opportunity to practice what to do. Essentially, make the firearm safe, put the firearm down, and step away. We also cover washing their hands with cold, soapy water to remove residue from ammunition.
The discussion and sharing part of any lesson is critical. For our shooting sports program, we had an ongoing dialogue throughout the day. When anyone is handling firearms, whether for the first time, or if they have been shooting for years, instructors start with the basics. In 4-H, we want to make sure that the youth are taught correctly and that those lessons are repeated every time we meet. Questions are strongly encouraged and periodic checks of presented material is conducted. Lessons are progressive – building upon what the youth have learned in the previous lesson.
Youth enjoy shooting sports. For all youth, handling firearms requires focus and skill. In addition, shooting sports lessons open up many STEM subjects including physics concepts like force, velocity, pressure, and environmental education topics, like wildlife management, sportsmanship, and ethics.