Photograph by Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. ·


4-H Shooting Sports

From the Spring 2009 issue


Recreational target shooting has always been a part of rural America. Most of us grew up going out with our dads to go shooting. Whether cans in the back yard or rocks in a creek, we have all sent our fair share of .22 bullets down range. But it seems to me that today’s children are not afforded this wonderful pass-time anymore. This is a tragedy as few things in a young person’s life will teach them more responsibility than handling a firearm. The lessons young people learn through shooting sports will serve them for a lifetime. Unfortunately, even in rural America today it has become more difficult for young people to find areas to shoot. This is where the 4-H Shooting Sports Program can make a difference.

The 4-H Shooting Sports Program spans nation wide with over 300,000 young people participating. This program is one of the largest shooting education programs in the United States. In Mississippi alone the program involves thousands of youth and grows every year. The 4-H Shooting Sports Program is not just about shooting; it is about teaching life skills to aid youth in becoming responsible Americans. The program’s ultimate goal is youth development. Young men and women learn responsibility, sportsmanship, self-discipline and patience. This program also encourages youth to celebrate natural resources by exposing participants to the outdoors through shooting and hunting.

Parents that know little about firearms can trust a group of over five hundred qualified instructors to teach firearms safety and marksmanship to their children. Youth are taught safety and marksmanship, but they also learn teamwork and sportsmanship through involvement in team competitions. The personal growth kids experience is unbelievable. I can testify to that first-hand as I was blessed enough to participate in this program for two years before I surpassed the age limit. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Friends were made and competitions won. We were lucky enough to compete in the nationals held in Pennsylvania and later New Mexico. The experiences from those trips will long be remembered.

The program is set up to allow youths ages eight to eighteen to participate. Depending on the youth’s age, he or she can participate in three of eight disciplines. Disciplines include: air pistol/rifle, .22 pistol/rifle, bow re-curve/compound, muzzleloader, and shotgun. Each discipline offers different challenges depending on age class. Junior 1 level is age’s eight to nine. These boys and girls can compete with only the air pistol and air rifle. Junior 2 and 3 levels are divided into ten to eleven and twelve to thirteen years old. They are allowed to compete with all disciplines except .22 pistols. Senior 1 and 2 levels are divided into fourteen to fifteen and sixteen to eighteen years old. They can compete in all disciplines.

Firearms/bow and ammunition are supplied by participants. Local clubs exist in nearly every county in the state. These clubs are hosted by trained volunteers that are capable of teaching safe gun handling skills and marksmanship. Once youth are signed up in a local club, practice begins. Dates of practice are established by each local club, but for the most part it is an all year event. After learning the ropes, youth shoot a qualifying match to see who makes the cut for one of four regional matches. After regional matches are completed, senior level shooters go on to compete in one of two state matches. Winners of state matches are then selected to form a national team and compete against other states. The 2009 nationals will be held in Grand Island, Nebraska during the month of June.

Benefits of 4-H Shooting Sports are not only enjoyed by youth and instructors, but parents of participants are also encouraged to get involved and spend time with their child at practices and matches. Like a ball game, this too is a spectator sport for parents. Parents of prospective participants are welcome to come out to local practice sessions or matches to see how everything works and meet other parents and instructors. Also, parents or even someone who loves mentoring youth are welcome to become an instructor or volunteer. To become a volunteer, all one needs to do is contact your local club’s instructor and ask what you can do. Whether you prepare snacks and drinks at practice or just encourage youth to do their best, your help will not go unnoticed. To become an instructor, a two-day training course is in order. There are two levels of instructors. Level one is coach of the local club and is certified on a state level. These are the men and women who work with youth to teach them skills necessary to succeed in the program. Level two instructors are certified on a national level. These men and women train and certify level one instructors. Training required for a level one instructor entails a two-day work shop usually held on Saturday and Sunday. These courses are taught twice yearly during late summer and early fall. Participants must be 21 years of age or older to be certified. National certification courses are once a year, usually in early spring.

State Matches for this year are as follows:

  • The 4-H Shooting Sports State Invitational will take place July 17-18 in Pearl, MS at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy.
  • The 4-H Shooting Sports Sate Shotgun Invitational will take place July 24-25 in Starkville, MS at the Starkville Gun Club.

In today’s world, with the decline in outdoor involvement among youth, I think programs like these are precisely what we need. Video games, televisions, and computers have become the primary pass-times for most adolescents, and the life lessons that outdoor experiences impart are rapidly disappearing from their educations. Get your child involved in 4-H, even if it’s not in the shooting program, and give them the opportunity to build character and social skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.

Information about signing up your youth or becoming an instructor can be found on the MSU CARES website, If shooting sports is not something that interests you or your child, 4-H offers many more activities that are worth a look. This website contains a wealth of information about all programs offered by 4-H for our Mississippi youth. Other options for information about 4-H shooting sports can be found at your county extension office where your local agent can provide the information you seek.