The Fulton County 4-H Club recently started a new shooting sports program for area youth. 4-H provides opportunities for youth to acquire knowledge, develop life skills, form attitudes and practice behavior that will enable youth to become self-directing and productive.
Now with a Fulton County Shooting Sports program to back that up, kids can learn firearm responsibility, leadership, sportsmanship, ethics, critical thinking and an appreciation for nature.
"We had an interest meeting last year and found that there was a lot of people in the area interested in the program," Brad McGinley Fulton County Extension Agent said.
"Before we got started we had to have trained instructors. We have Kelly Shrable, Heath Everett, Joe Massy and Gary Phillips," he said. "The instructors are really the ones that make this go.
They are at all the meetings and are teaching the kids hands on. They all went to Little Rock for three days of training where they learned safety procedures; how to teach the kids to shoot, along with the proper methods. When they got back we were ready to go forward, but with a program like this there is a big need for money, donations and equipment," he said.
"Karrol and Vicki Fowlkes donated the money for us to buy the pellet rifles. Lifelong Health donated the money for us to buy our pellet pistols, and Cel-Star also donated. We just received a $1,300 National Rifle Association grant that we can do some good stuff with. Our program deals with archery, shotguns, rifles and pistols right now. There is a muzzleloader category but we don't have trained instructors in that right now," McGinley said.
McGinley said that the program is not restricted to pellet guns. They will also shoot .22 rifles once they get the proper equipment.
"We are here to teach discipline and safety as well as wildlife education. There is a hunting component to this program as well, where kids learn how to use a compass and how to identify wildlife species," he said.
"As soon as it warms up we are going to start meeting at the Viola Boy Scout Camp. Then we will start doing everything. We will be shooting shotguns, clay pigeons and clay targets, that type of thing along with archery," McGinley said.
Along with teaching gun safety, shooting skills, wildlife identification and citizenship the, 4-H shooting sports program has competitions that extend to the national level and beyond.
"We have two different state competitions where we have 4-H kids from across the state compete in range competitions where they shoot at the bullseye and Youth Hunter Education Challenge which is more of a wildlife type competition. They are both held in the summer and are one of the biggest competitions in the state as far as number of kids in attendance. That will be our next step," McGinley said.
The age requirement for the program is nine-years-old to shoot, although younger children may attend the meetings for education.
"We meet once a month now but we will most likely be meeting two or three times a month once we get closer to competition," McGinley said.
Safety is stressed at all times between the instructors and children. "We control all the ammunition at all times. We provide all the ammo; the kids bring no ammo, that way there is no spare round out there. We really focus on safety; it is just such a big part of this. We have a code of conduct and a set of guidelines we always go by," McGinley said.
Kids who are interested in joining this program need to sign up at the Fulton County Extension Office located in the Federal Building on the Square in Salem, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or call 870-895-3301.
McGinley said that kids who win at state level competitions advance on to the national competition where many 4-H kids have gone on to the Junior Olympics.
"We try to teach all those skills and if a kid wanted to take it to that level, our program will give a good foundation to build on," McGinley said.