Story and Photos by Jessica Wiegandt, Lord Botetourt High School
“Is the line ready?”
“Line one, ready. Line two, ready. Line three, ready,” said participants, as they readied to fire.
“You may fire,” said Edwin McCoy, rifle instructor for the Shooting Education Club.
The 4-H Shooting Education Club was founded in 2005 in Botetourt County, with the purpose of teaching youth, ages 9-18, about shooting safety. Participants are also taught how to shoot guns.
In light of the recent Newtown, Conn. school shooting, talking and learning about shooting may seem taboo, but McCoy doesn’t think so.
“The youth in the 4-H Shooting Education program are learning a sport; how to participate in that sport safely and the techniques and practice that will make them better at the sport,” McCoy said. “If someone uses a baseball bat to attack another person, the use of the bat has nothing to do with baseball, nor does the use of a firearm to attack someone have anything to do with the shooting sports.”
The club meetings are held in the Botetourt Center at Greenfield. The basement of the building provides a large area of space for the club to shoot. Tables are set up on one side of the room in a line, and on the opposite side of the room are large cork boards. Participants sit at the “line” to shoot at the targets on the boards.
Before anyone can even think about pulling a trigger, McCoy makes sure everyone is behind the line of safety, then reviews the rules of safe shooting with the participants.
One of the rules is called Muzzle Action Trigger (MAT). “Muzzle” reminds the participants to keep their muzzle under control and safe. “Action” reminds the participants to check their bolts and make sure it is in the right location. “Trigger” reminds the participants to keep their fingers off the trigger until they are ready to fire.
After the safety review is complete, McCoy asks the lines if they are ready, each line responds with the line number and if they are ready or not. Once each line is ready, McCoy gives the firing command, allowing them to fire.
Seconds later, the room is filled with popping noises as the guns are shot at the cork board targets.
The guns used for the club purposes are air-powered, meaning they work similarly to an Airsoft gun. The pellets are like any other kind of pellet, and work similarly to a BB gun.
Once everyone had finished firing, McCoy called down the lines to make sure they were safe. Participants were then able to walk to the targets to see how they did.
McCoy told all of the participants to walk to and from the targets because if they ran, their heart rate would increase, and that would mess up their shooting ability.
Janus Learning Center junior Emmogail Bowers said her dad signed up her whole family as a surprise.
“It’s something for the family to do, and it’s a great skill to have,” Bowers said.
All of the Bowers children participate: Elizabeth (freshman), Robert (seventh-grader), Levi (fifth-grader) and Elaina (fourth-grader), are all members of the club, and students at the Janus Learning Center. They shoot rifles at the meetings.
McKenzie Baker, a fourth grader at Breckenridge Elementary, and Brian Howard, a fourth grader at Eagle Rock Elementary, are both members of the club and have been for about a year. They shoot pistols at the meetings. Baker and Howard both said they joined the club because they hunt, and wanted to become more experienced with gun control.
“I like it,” Howard said. “You can shoot different kinds of guns, and sometimes there’s archery.”
Howard recently competed in a shooting competition and received the bronze award.
There are shooting education clubs all over Virginia, and also competitions for the members to compete in. There were over 300 competitors at the Virginia State competition this fall, said Doug Lang, pistol instructor for the club.
“The most important thing about this club is not competition, though,” Lang said. “It’s about firearm safety. If [youth] are going to be introduced to firearms eventually, they might as well learn about the safety and how to properly use them early on.”