Photos by Mike Anschuetz and Daisy Outdoor Products
For 53 years, Daisy Outdoor Products has sponsored this unique air rifle event that tests both the intellect and athletic ability of our nation’s youth. This year, from July 3 to 6, the event will attract up to 80 squads, totaling 560 girls and boys, vying for the coveted National trophy. Add in individual shooters returning for the Champions Championship, coaches, parents and other family members, and you’re looking at well over 1,000 people attending the four-day match.
Daisy’s overall goal for the shooting program is not to provide a national tournament or even promote their products, but to help kids better themselves and learn the importance of gun safety.
“Daisy wants to be a part of the other organizations that are helping to shape the youth of today, such as 4H, the Royal Rangers, the NRA, the American Legion, etc. These organizations are helping young kids become productive and confident young adults,” said Lawrence Taylor, Daisy’s director of Public Relations. “Yes, gun safety is a big part of the Daisy Nationals. Daisy has been actively involved in promoting gun safety since the 1950s through Daisy’s 10-step learning curriculum on gun safety for children.”
So, is it working? Just ask Leah Kennedy, 15, from Fairview, Tennessee.
“I’ve learn so much more than shooting a gun. You learn gun safety, you build friendships and you learn leadership skills and life lessons,” she said. “Daisy Nationals has also inspired me to continue in the shooting sports. It made me want to compete in air rifles, which I’m doing now. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”
Getting to Nationals
The Nationals are not a match where anyone can just show up, pay an entry fee and shoot. You have to earn an invitation. This means a team of five main shooters and two alternates must place first, second or third at their county and/or state sanctioned matches. These happen months in advance of the Nationals. The only way an individual can compete is if they had competed as part of a team the previous year. All returning individuals are placed in the “Champions” category.
For competitors, qualifying is more stressful than the National shoot-off. “There are 10 other shooters from my 4-H team that I’m competing against,” said Ty Mattox, 14, a three-time competitor from Colbert, Georgia. “The Nationals are so much easier to shoot in.”
Teams that participate one year cannot qualify the next year unless they have turned over the entire roster of the team. Daisy requires this to allow more kids a chance to compete. That’s why the number of teams coming each year tends to fluctuate, Taylor points out.
“Sometimes, if a team is particularly young and not as strong as the team they had the previous year, they won’t come or couldn’t qualify,” Taylor explained. “Teams will either wait a year for the original team to be eligible again or set out to build up the skills of the new shooters they have.”
Daisy prides itself in that teams are comprised of both boys and girls, and they compete as equals. In 2017, a girl won the individual championship, followed by a boy in 2018. To be eligible for the shooting program, kids have to be between the ages of 8 and 15 years at the time of the event (which is strictly enforced).
Qualification rules also requires all competitors use the same model of Daisy air rifle – the Model 499/499B and peep sights. No optics are allowed. After teams and competitors have signed in on the first day, they must turn over their rifles for inspection. Teams are allowed to address issues and can ensure correct operation the next day when the ranges are opened up for practicing.
The beauty of the Model 499 is its simplicity. It’s a muzzleloading air rifle that is cocked using the lever action. Since it is so simple to operate, it accentuates a rapid learning curve.
“Making the transition from my .22 was easy. I never shot with a peep [sight] before, so it was something new. I actually now like shooting with it,” said Kennedy, who learned to shoot using a Marlin XT-22 .22LR bolt action. “It was easier to load by dropping the BB into the top and then cock it.
“I had friends who had never shot at all before, and they would come in and pick up shooting with the rifle quickly. It’s a great way to introduce others to the shooting sports.”
The shooting portion of the match is held over the final two days. All shooting is done inside at the John Q. Hammons Center/Embassy Suites in Rogers. Besides providing a climate-controlled venue, the facility is large enough to have 28 targets (56 total) stretching down two walls of a ballroom with a support area and spectator seating running down the middle.
Kids are scored on how well they shoot from four shooting positions – prone, standing, sitting and kneeling – with targets placed 5 meters (16.4 feet) away. At each position, shooters have 10 minutes to shoot 10 shots. However, they don’t go in cold. Competitors are allowed “sighter shots” on auxiliary targets on the target page to make sure they’re still sighted in.
How well do the kids shoot? Let’s just say match officials have turned to computer scanning of the targets to determine scores.
“These kids shoot so much better than I ever have,” Taylor said chuckling. “The targets are collected after each round and fed through the Orion Scoring System. It goes pretty quick. After each session of shooting, the scores get posted outside the room for everyone to see.”
So, how good are the top shooters? According to Taylor, it’s not uncommon to see the top shooters pounding the bullseyes 8 out of 10 shots. However, Mattox knows a shooter will have to do better than that and not just in the shooting disciplines to win the tournament.
“Best I shot was 9 out of 10 on a position,” said Mattox, who competed in the 2018 alternate competition. “I would have won if I had done better on the safety test.”
That’s where the uniqueness of this championship differs from other shooting events. Not only do the boys and girls have to be good at perforating bullseyes, they have to be just as sharp knowing their gun safety and match rules. How important is the 50-question test? It makes up 20 percent of a shooter’s final score.
“Test questions are split between Daisy’s 10-lesson curriculum and the NRA rule book,” Taylor said about the test taken on the first day of the Nationals. “Questions can be on everything from details about the shooting positions used in the tournament to how to cross a fence with a firearm. It’s very heavy on gun safety and rules.”
So, do ties still happen? According to Taylor, they do not. There is a long scoring process that eliminates any need for a shoot-off, with the Orion Scoring System playing a large role assuring shots are scored accurately.
A Tight Schedule
Four days to manage 600 or more shooters vying for championships keeps Daisy organizers hopping. But they find a way to make it work for the kids and the people who get them to the event.
“Our biggest challenge is keeping it within four days. There are so many kids shooting,” said Taylor. “You have to give them a practice day to make sure everything is working right. Plus, some families can’t take off more time than that. We are respectful of their commitment.”
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. On the second night of the match, the teams participate in the “Opening Ceremonies.” Teams are announced on stage usually dressed up in costumes, with prizes awarded for the best presentation. Teams are also welcome to compete in the “Best Team T-Shirt” contest. Then on the last night, following the awards ceremony, Daisy hosts everyone at the local water park for a night of wet fun.
Because of the love the organizers put into the Daisy BB Gun Championship and program, it has had a lasting effect on the families who have become involved in the program.
“Sure it’s a huge time commitment, but what you put in is well worth the output you get back out. Daisy has brought us closer together as a family,” said Lisa Kennedy, Leah’s mom. “We usually extend our stay a few days after to tour the town and see the Daisy Museum. It’s turned into a family event. Daisy is something we can enjoy together.”
For more information on the Daisy Nationals and how you and your organization can get involved, go to daisy.com/daisy-nationals.
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