NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry.
Our mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry.
Our mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
Search NSSF

4-H Shooting Sports Program Takes Aim on Future

A program where shooting helps promote positive youth development

By Bill Hilts, Jr.

Since 4-H was created more than 100 years ago -- focusing on head, heart, hands and health -- this organization has blossomed into the country's largest youth-development network. Since its inception, 4-H has focused on helping young people and their families develop the skills they needed to be a leader in their communities. The group connected -- and continues to connect -- with youngsters by utilizing practical, hands-on learning experiences outside the classroom. One important aspect of 4-H is the highly innovative Shooting Sports Program, fitting in perfectly with the organizational ideals and directives.

One important mechanism that was put into place to facilitate 4-H was the creation of the Cooperative Extension System through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 4-H network had a natural partner, a perfect fit to expand the goals and objectives of the 4-H mission. Though the initial focus was on rural relationships, 4-H now has an extensive reach to not only rural, but also urban and suburban, communities in every state.

Currently 47 states run active 4-H Shooting Sports Programs, impacting more than 200,000 youth while under the supervision and direction of several thousand volunteers. Similar to other 4-H programs, the shooting sports wing is a partnership between government, private industry and various funding institutions. However, not every 4-H Program has this shooting sports aspect as part of a county Cooperative Extension package. You can find out where the nearest program is at a Cooperative Extension portal through the 4-H website.

Muzzleloading is one of the several shooting disciplines taught in the 4-H Shooting Sports Program
(Photo courtesy of Katie McIntyre)

Every state is slightly different when it comes to the shooting sports.

"For example, in New York there are 13,000 to 15,000 youth who participate in regular shooting programs that involve a minimum of six hours," said William Schwerd, who heads up the program with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, N.Y. "Another nearly 20,000 youth sample the program at fairs and other events, often with air guns, laser shot simulators and archery. We have over 500 certified active instructors including a number of teens. We also have great support at 4-H Camps with all camps offering some type of shooting program."

The age of youth involvement, generally from five to 19 years of age, is somewhat decided by the counties and the state in which the program exists.

"In New York, the Cloverbud program involving archery starts for kids ages five to eight in some counties; eight years and up in others," said Schwerd. "Firearms are 12 years of age and older. The counties decide what disciplines they would like to offer including Rifle (air gun, smallbore and centerfire), Air Pistol, Living History, Hunting and Wildlife, Muzzleloading and Shotgun -- all are included as options for a county to choose from."

The process for a county to start a shooting program begins with the county staff or volunteers meeting and deciding to move forward. Each discipline that is offered must have a state-certified instructor. Only one is required, but the person needs to be present when the program is held. A series of instructor workshops is offered each year. The Winter Workshop in Ballston Spa, N.Y., this year certified 99 volunteers, according to Schwerd. New York's 4-H will also hold a spring and fall workshop, with specialty workshops for camp counselors in rifle and archery disciplines. Similar setups can be found in other states around the country. Just contact your state through the National 4-H website.

The impact of the 4-H Shooting Sports Program can be huge on the next generation of shooters.

"I got involved in the 4-H shooting sports program when I was 12," remembered 17-year-old Katie McIntyre of Averill Park, N.Y. "My dad actually got me involved in the program after he heard about it at the state level. It looked like a lot of fun, and our 4-H club was looking for a new program because we were getting a bit bored with the existing things we were doing. The shooting-sports offering was that new program.

"I really enjoy this program because it's an activity that my whole family can be directly involved in," she continued. "My dad and I go to the range a lot and shoot. This program also has so many other things to do. What I really like is the fact that this program teaches you life skills. Even when I age out of the program I can pass what I've learned down to my kids. I can take what I've learned and apply it to various parts of my life. This program is very important to me because of the fact that it is part of an awesome youth program that, in this case, uses shooting sports as a vehicle to promote positive youth development.

"Being involved in the program has taught me a lot," McIntyre said. "It has taught me how to take accountability for my actions, and it has also taught me responsibility and concentration. Being a Junior Instructor in three shooting disciplines (rifle, muzzleloading and shotgun), I have learned how to talk in front of my peers and work with adults in a positive environment."

It sounds like the 4-H Shooting Sports Program is more than just on target. For Katie McIntyre it scored a bull's-eye! Be sure to check for information on 4-H shooting sports programs in your state.


Track Hunt and Shoot Opportunities in Every State . . .

Find Shooting Ranges Near You