Despite the cold weather, 36 kids showed up to the Barton County Winter Classic Air Rifle and Air Pistol shooting match that was held at the Great Bend Expo Complex on Saturday.
“This event is like their county fair,” rifle instructor John Reh said. “These kids get to show off their skills in what they have learned and to compete a little bit against other shooters. The skills they learn from these matches and being a 4-H shooter is very important. We view 4-H shooting as a lifelong skill — what these kids learn from it they can use all their life.”
According to 4-H pistol instructor Kate Wary, shooting sports is a wonderful program focused on firearms safety and marksmanship. The kids start with classes on safety and firearms basics. These introductory lessons must be completed before they are allowed to shoot on the range.
All of the instructors are certified, which requires attending a multi-day training at Rocksprings 4-H Camp in Junction City. The disciplines offered are archery, muzzle loading, pistol, rifle, shotgun, and hunting skills – and there are subsets within each of these disciplines.
“Basically, there is something for any child who is interested in getting involved,” Wary said. “In general, kids in 4-H shooting sports can be ages 8-18, but some of the disciplines are reserved for the older kids or require a certain amount of shooting experience in order to participate.”
Practices for air rifle and air pistol are held together and are twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Instructors are always present to maintain range safety, answer questions, and provide guidance to the kids.
“We have some shooters that attend just enough practices to be able to qualify to compete, but then we also have shooters that are at every single practice trying to better themselves. Like anything, it depends on the kid. But we have a lot of kids incredibly dedicated to this sport.” Wary said.
The event hosted this weekend was an air rifle and air pistol match. In order to move on to the next round of competition and shoot at the State Match, shooters must first achieve a qualifying score in that discipline at a local match. This was one opportunity to do so.
A lot of Barton County shooters took advantage of this opportunity because of the close proximity, Wary said, but shooters also came from other counties.
This match, like all local matches, was open to any Kansas 4-H shooter who is enrolled in the program and meets the registration requirements.
“We already have shooters from here registered to go to matches in Sedgwick and Gray counties later this season. We usually have quite a few kids from Barton County qualify for the State competition, and they always represent Barton County well,” Wary said. “Beyond the state competition is the National Competition. The last couple years we have had Barton County kids go to Nationals, which is a really big deal.”