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4-H shooting sports teach youth important life skills
MISSISSIPPI STATE --Developing responsibility, sportsmanship and self-discipline is the No. 1 priority of Mississippi's 4-H shooting sports program.
"Most people probably think our first goal is to teach kids to hunt and shoot," said Ben West, Mississippi State University Extension Service assistant wildlife specialist. "But that's not true. Our No. 1 goal is to teach discipline, concentration and other skills young people can use in the future."
Young people develop these qualities through the shooting sports program because their success depends almost solely on individual dedication and practice.
"With the shooting sports program, there's a very direct relationship between commitment and success. This is why we think the program has been so successful," West said.
Children involved in the shooting sports program can choose to develop skills in several areas, including shotgun, air rifle, .22 rifle, air pistol, .22 pistol, archery, black powder and hunting skills. About 1,500 Mississippi 4-H'ers participate in local shooting sports clubs, and about 1,000 of those compete in either the North- or South-region competitions.
Senior 4-H'ers can participate in a third state competition. The top four in each discipline then go on to the national competition. Mississippi 4-H shooting sports teams ranked second out of 15 state teams and 250 4-H'ers at the competition held this year in Raton, N.M.
"The performance of our 4-H'ers is a great testament to our Extension agents, volunteers and youth, and to the quality of our program. Competition allows the kids to see the results of their practice and reinforces the importance of dedication -- both very critical life skills," West said.
Youth who attend competitions must receive eight hours of one-on-one instruction from one of about 600 volunteers statewide. Adult volunteers attend a two-day shooting sports safety workshop where they learn techniques to help young people learn how to participate and compete safely.
"There's a lot of emotion involving kids using guns," West said. "But statistics show that shooting sports are the safest sports out there. In 30-plus years, Mississippi 4-H has not had a single shooting-related injury in this sport."
While parents must make the personal decision of whether or not their children should have access to guns, West emphasized that firearms are an important part of the Mississippi culture.
"This is a way for kids to get off on the right foot with guns," he added. "Obviously guns aren't for everybody -- that's why we have so many other programs in the 4-H Field and Stream Program for kids to choose from."
The shooting sports program is part of the Mississippi 4-H Field and Stream Program, a joint venture between the MSU Extension Service, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and 4-H.
Begun in the 1970s, thousands of children each year learn responsibility, sportsmanship, self-discipline and other qualities critical to the development of productive citizens, West said. The shooting sports program is one of the largest 4-H programs in the state, with 6,300 young people enrolled this year. The program doubles in enrollment every four years.
Other 4-H Field and Stream programs include 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program, 4-H Youth Sportsfishing, School Enrichment Modules, Catch-A-Dream and Hunting Skills.
"4-H Field and Stream uses these specific program areas as tools to engage youth and teach them important life skills. As a natural and important byproduct, participants in 4-H Field and Stream learn about the shooting sports, wildlife and aquatic ecology, natural resources management, and hunting skills and ethics," West said.
For more information about the 4-H Field and Stream program, contact West at (662) 325-3174.