Saturday, November 19, 2011

4-H Shooting Sports Philosophy, Having Fun, Protecting All

To adult leaders and parents - even though this was written for a local Florida program, it is near identical to the situation in your state.  Please consult with your local County Extension Office on how these policies may differ in your location.

The focus of all 4-H programs is the development of youth as individuals and as responsible and productive citizens. The National, Florida and Brevard 4-H Shooting Sports Program, stand 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.

In Brevard County, Florida we have 5 shooting sports clubs that meet 10 months of the year in four disciplines. Archery, Rifle (air and small bore), Shotgun and Traditional Black Powder Muzzle Loading. In addition to the community clubs, we also have partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to teach a monthly Hunter Safety Class and beginning in 2012 an Advanced Archery Class. In the summer we host one day camp and two residential summer camps, which all include the shooting sports. Geographically our community clubs are accessible to most Brevard residents with two clubs in Mims, one in Cocoa and two meeting in Palm Bay.

One of the many challenges the Brevard 4-H program pays close attention to is “age appropriate” activities, and managing some of the challenges kids face while shooting. We confront the age appropriate issue on two levels. At the most basic level, we don’t allow 8 year olds for example, to shoot a 12 gauge shotgun. At the deeper level, we make sure that same 8 year old has equipment that fits them and that the challenges we put in front of them they can find success. For example, that same child will start with an air rifle they can pump themselves and hit bulls-eyes at 5 meters distance. When that becomes too easy for the child, we increase the challenge to keep them interested and excited about the sport. Likewise with older teens. If the challenges are too easy they will get bored and leave the program. In shooting sports we challenge the older youth with holding them to higher standards of shooting competence, higher-end firearms, longer distances and leadership responsibilities. In matches, every Junior (age 8-10) wins something, but as they get older the awards become harder to achieve and are more meaningful.

In 4-H Shooting Sports safety is our number one priority. Our coaches are all screened through the county as volunteers that are safe to be around children as per Jessica’s Law. If they have been screened by a government organization, we don’t screen them again. For shooting competence, each club has a Certified Instructor which goes through a mandatory 20 hour course that was developed and is sanctioned by the US Department Of Agriculture (the 4-H lead sponsor) in partnership with the National Rifle Association. This training is delivered to the instructors by the University of Florida, State Shooting Sports Committee who have been trained at the national level. In addition to this 4-H certification, we also strongly encourage the leaders to receive the NRA Basic Rifle training (identical curriculum) and training by other organizations such as CMP to help them be some of the finest coaches available.

Insurance – every approved 4-H activity is covered by at least two blanket insurance policies, one by the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners and by the University of Florida. I have Certificates of Coverage from both organizations. Also during 4-H activities, each registered 4-H adult volunteers is acting for and is covered similarly to any University of Florida faculty member. For that hour or two during 4-H, the volunteers are agents of the university, and as long as they lead within the shooting and child protection guidelines established with caution and prudence, they have the full backing and support of the University of Florida system.