Herald Journal, Feb. 16, 2004
4-H shooting sports program takes aim in New Germany
By Dave Cox
The Minnesota 4-H Shooting Sports/Wildlife Project targets personal development and responsible environmental behavior for all members of the family.
The shooting sports program, which began in New Germany Jan. 8, includes air rifle, air pistol, BB gun, and archery, in addition to the wildlife biology section. The wildlife section includes topics such as tracking, identification and wildlife photography.
Kim Bartz is the lead volunteer for the group that meets in the New Germany city hall during the winter months. "There is a 50-50 ratio of girls to boys in the program, and the girls are good shots," Bartz said. "The girls tend to concentrate more."
Carver County 4-H Program Coordinator Rachel Bender also observed that "the girls may work harder because they feel they have something to prove - that they can perform as well or better than the boys."
Young people that register in the program must participate in all of the different types of shooting sports. They meet on Thursday evenings throughout the winter, and rotate between types every half-hour.
"This is a full program, not just one discipline," Bartz said. "We want them to become familiar with all areas."
When the weather is warm enough, the group moves to the gun club in Waconia. At that time, the wildlife portion is completed, and sections are added for black powder rifle and pistol, and tomahawk throw.
"Carver County is one of the top counties in the state for black powder," Bartz said.
The program focuses on ethics and responsibility, as well as marksmanship. "People who are interested in hunting learn about all aspects of the sport, such as asking to use land before they hunt, identifying game before taking a shot, and using what they shoot," Bartz pointed out.
"They also learn about gun safety and cleaning and taking care of the equipment," she added.
The shooting sports program goes well beyond the typical gun safety course, and this is what draws some people to the program.
"We have some parents who are terrified of guns, but have enrolled their children in the program," Bartz observed.
"I talk to people who have never been around guns, and they don't want their children to be exposed to them," Bartz added. "I ask them, 'wouldn't you rather have them know what to do in case they ever do come in contact with guns?'"
Bartz describes the program as "a family thing," that allows all members of the family to participate. "Shooting sports brings the dads into 4-H, in general. This brings them in the door, and then they want to become involved in other areas," she said.
Kim's husband Dean has been a certified shooting sports instructor since 1996. Bartz explained that when her daughter wanted to join the program, she gave her husband the choice of taking her to the meetings or staying home with the two younger children. He chose the former option, and has been involved in 4-H ever since.
The shooting sports program requires a parent or other responsible adult to stay with the participants rather than just dropping them off.
The program provides an opportunity for participants to go on to the state competition, which is held the week after Labor Day. "We average 16-19 kids that go on to state each year," Bartz commented.
Carver County is one of the few counties that has its own competition. This runs four hours per night during the last two weeks in July, and results are posted at the county fair.
In order to qualify for the state competition, participants must complete 16 hours of instruction in each discipline in which they wish to compete.
"We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to practice indoors in New Germany," Bartz stated. "We are able to complete more than half of the required hours before summer, which makes it much less stressful for the participants."
Bartz said that many programs do not have the luxury of an indoor facility, and this forces them to complete all of their training outdoors in the summer.
The training has been done at the New Germany city hall since 1978. There are 68 participants signed up for the program this year, including 21 new members.
Bender pointed out that the 4-H policy of "youth teaching youth" is a big part of the shooting sports program. Participants can enter the program when they are in third grade. They can participate through the time they leave 4-H. The wide range in ages of the participants is not a problem.
"The older kids help the younger kids, and the younger kids help the older kids," Bender observed.
Bender noted that youth seventh grade and older can become certified youth instructors. The opportunity to teach others helps participants to develop leadership and communication skills that will help them in other areas.
"Sometimes, the participants learn more quickly from the youth instructors than they do from the adults," Bender said.
The cost of participation in the program is $20 per year. All equipment and ammunition is provided, which is a key benefit.
"This program gives young people a chance to try a variety of things to see what they like without spending a lot of money on equipment. This is especially important for activities like archery. As they grow, they don't need to spend more money each year to get equipment that will fit them." Bartz said.
"Other local shooting sports programs can be found in McLeod County, which is one of the newer programs at three years old, and Wright County, which is one of the more established programs in the state," Bender said.
Over 4200 young people are registered in the program. There are over 800 certified adult leaders running local and county programs which can be found in 50 of the 87 counties in Minnesota, Bartz added.
Bender noted that the Shooting Sports/Wildlife Biology program is just one of the programs 4-H provides.
"There are 20 4-H clubs across Carver County, and 92 projects that youth can participate in," Bender explained. "There are lots of opportunities. If they come to us, we will find something that they are interested in."