A child somewhere is playing a game and aiming a gun to fight off killer robots and alien invaders. Many kids spend their days blasting away in these first-person shooters and never learn how to safely handle a firearm or experience the exhilaration of hunting ducks, deer and small game in the real world.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program may be the bridge between the two worlds. Statewide competition winds down June 22-23 with more than 600 kids competing in Arkansas's first state championship.
The championship at the Remington firing range in Lonoke culminates a full year of competitive shooting across the state.
Through this competitive trap-shooting league, high-school-aged children experience the excitement of real-world shooting without the need for expensive leases or equipment.
"As technology has grown, we have less time for the outdoors," said Mike Bonds, AGFC assistant chief of education. "Shooting sports like trap are great entry-level activities to get people back outside."
The AYSSP is fashioned after the National Shooting Sports Foundation's program.
"The NSSF's program was a great guideline to start with, but there were two things we wanted to change," said Chuck Woodson, state shooting sports coordinator. "Under their program, all the kids had to be registered and sponsored by a local gun club. They also had to be registered with a recognized shooting league.
"We took out these two requirements because many areas of the state don't have gun clubs or shooting leagues. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for the kids to get out and break some birds."
Each team consists of at least five high-school-age members and a coach who has attended certification training through the AGFC.
Teams can be all boys, all girls or a mixture of both.
"We have two classifications based on age, but that's the only thing we separate shooters by," Woodson said. "Shooting a shotgun isn't a feat of strength. It's about coordination and concentration. In fact, we have many girls who can outshoot the boys."