I was fortunate enough that I grew up with a father who was not only an avid shooter but also a good instructor. A teacher by trade, he did a good job of introducing me to the sport of shooting, making safety the primary focus of each session and helping me improve my technique to improve accuracy. Over the years, I've come to appreciate his guidance and the special set of circumstances that allowed me to develop into a competitive shooter and, later, a professional gun writer. My dad was very knowledgeable about firearms. He took the time to teach me the basics, and we had a place to shoot right outside our back door.
Not all kids are so fortunate. Some have parents who, although they'd like to teach their children to shoot, simply don't have the experience required. Others have some experience shooting but don't have a place to shoot. From a personal standpoint, I know I would have missed out on a great deal in my life if my dad hadn't taught me how to shoot. I have enjoyed countless hours on the range and in the field. I competed across the country as a member of my college's trap and skeet team, and I've had the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of the shooting sports with kids through participation as an instructor in youth programs like 4-H Shooting Sports. I know that there are millions of kids that have never been afforded this opportunity because they didn't grow up with parents who shot.
Safety is always paramount when introducing a youngster to any sport, whether that sport is swimming, gymnastics, football or shooting. Thankfully, there are a number of organizations that are dedicated to helping youth learn to shoot safely and properly, so even if you aren't a shooter that doesn't mean you can't introduce your children to the shooting sports. There are also programs like the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program that recognizes the achievements of young shooters as they progress and become more proficient. Here are a look at eight great programs designed to help kids develop the skills and confidence they need to become better shooters.
Youth Shooting Sports Alliance
Many parents would like to offer their kids the opportunity to shoot, but their own limited experience and resources makes that difficult. That's where the Youth Shooting Sports Alliance steps in. This organization works to promote shooting by providing youth organizations around the country with the supplies they need to help introduce new shooters to the sport. According to the YSSA website, the group's mission is twofold. First, YSSA identifies and supports the needs of safe and successful youth programs, and it also provides leadership to develop and promote family friendly shooting range facilities. By making an effort to provide young shooters with a place to shoot and the basic essentials to get started (including instruction), the YSSA is working to ensure that all kids who want to shoot get that opportunity.
National 4-H Shooting Sports
Like other 4-H programs, National 4-H Shooting Sports programs focus primarily on youth development, helping provide kids with "opportunities to develop life skills, self-worth, and conservation ethics" according to their website. 4-H volunteers teach safe gun handling and marksmanship, and each year more and more youth shooters present their shooting sports projects on a local, state, and national level. 4-H has offerings in pistol, rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, archery and more, and if you're an accomplished shooter, becoming a 4-H shooting sports instructor is an excellent way to help encourage young people in your area to learn the fundamentals of shooting. The National 4-H Shooting Sports website makes it easy to find a participating club near you.
National Wild Turkey Federation's JAKES Take Aim Program
Aside from its successful efforts to conserve wild turkey populations, NWTF also works to introduce youngsters to the shooting and hunting. The Take Aim program, part of NWTF's youth-oriented JAKES organization, provides NWTF state chapters with trailers equipped with airguns and targets that can be used at outdoor and indoor ranges. In addition, NWTF also provides ammunition and clay targets for registered NWTF events at local shooting ranges. This offers young shooters an opportunity to learn from experienced NWTF volunteers and helps kids understand that safe shooting and responsible resource management go hand-in-hand.
"Shooting sports offer a level playing field for youth," says Mandy Harling, Hunting Heritage Programs Manager for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "Age, sex and skill level don't matter at JAKES Take Aim events. Any young person who's willing to learn will have an incredible time."
For more information on these programs, contact the National Wild Turkey Federation at www.nwtf.org.
NRA National Junior Shooting Camps
These camps are designed to help take new shooters to the next skill level with the aid of qualified instructors in the pistol, rifle, and shotgun disciplines. These camps are conducted at ranges across the country, and skill levels vary from intermediate to advanced and even Olympic-level, so no matter how skilled your young shooter is, they can find an NRA National Junior Shooting Camp who helps them achieve at the next level. In fact, students at the top of their game can even receive Olympic-level training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Whether your new shooter is simply ready to take the next step up from beginner instruction or focused on bringing home a gold medal, the NRA Junior Shooting Camps are a great place to start. No matter the skill level, proper gun handling and safety are priority number one.
Shoot Like a Girl
Karen Butler established Shoot Like a Girl in 2008 as a way to encourage women and girls to become involved in shooting sports. Today, Karen travels the country in her custom 52 foot trailer, which doubles as a mobile shooting range, and she encourages girls to shoot. Many of the girls who visit Karen's mobile shooting range have never fired a gun before in their lives, and they are coached in safe gun handling and proper marksmanship by Butler and her team.
"We must encourage youth to get involved in shooting sports, but there is a much greater likelihood of lifelong participation when we get families involved!" Butler says.
Butler's efforts have helped her introduce thousands of new girls to the sport of shooting, and she hopes that her efforts will help promote lifelong enjoyment of the shooting sports. To contact Karen or to find out when the Shoot Like a Girl team will be in your area visit their website at www.shootlikeagirl.com.
NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC)
Since its inception in 1985, the Youth Hunter Education Challenge has been building upon the basic skills taught in state hunter education programs and helping develop a generation of young hunters that are safe and responsible. The NRA refers to YHEC as a "graduate studies" program in hunter education, and it teaches skills in wildlife identification, safe gun handling, orienteering and much more uses rifles, bows, and muzzleloaders to shoot at life-sized targets in real hunting scenarios. Over the course of its 30-year history, the YHEC has helped more than one million youth hunters develop the skills they need to be safe and ethical in the field. Qualified instructors help students learn to make the right decision when handling guns and help them learn to recognize and avoid unsafe situations.
Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF)
In 2007, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, trade association for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry, established the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, which according to their mission statement, "is an educational-athletic organization that exists to introduce school-age youths to the shooting sports and to facilitate their continued involvement by providing, promoting, and perpetuating opportunities to safely and enjoyably participate and compete in a high-quality, team-based sport led by trained adult coaches focused on enhancing the personal growth and development of their athletes." The SSSF includes the Scholastic Pistol program and the Scholastic Clay target Program, both of which offer a number of annual contests in their respective disciplines. The SSSF website directs parents to local Pistol and Clay Target clubs where coaches can help students develop their skills. In addition, the SSSF hosts a number of competitions annually.
AIM (Academics, Integrity, Marksmanship)
AIM is the youth organization for the Amateur Trapshooting Association. Trapshooting has been a popular sport for over a century, and competitors shoot at 108 mm clay targets that mimic flying birds. AIM focuses on developing young shooters by providing instruction and coaching as well as individual and team competitions for shooters from elementary school through college age. Shooters are classed by age to ensure a level playing field. Not only are AIM athletes taught safe shooting skills, they are also eligible for competition that can help them net scholarship money or a trip to the AIM National Championships at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, Illinois. Instructors at local clubs can help teach young shooters the skills necessary to be a safe and accomplished shooter while also encouraging personal development, self-worth, and discipline. To find a club near you, visit www.aim4ata.com.
NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program
The NRA Marksmanship Program is one of the oldest youth shooting initiatives in the country, dating back to 1903. The program is designed to allow students of any age to develop and improve their shooting skills by reaching certain proficiency levels. According to the NRA, "the program can be self-administered, or taught by parents, club leaders, coaches or instructors. Qualification shooting can be conducted on any appropriate range and courses of fire are open to everyone — men, women, and youth. Progression is self-paced and par scores to reach new certification levels are challenging but attainable. By the time a shooter completes the Distinguished Expert rating in rifle, pistol, shotgun and 3-Gun, they have attained a proficiency level paralleling that of a competitively classified Sharpshooter." No matter what discipline your young shooter chooses, they can keep track of their successes and development through the NRA's Marksmanship Qualification Program.