‘The best I’ve ever done’

554 youth at Millstone 4-H Center compete in state hunter safety championship

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Mackenzie Eubanks, of the Smyrna School Shooting Team, lets an arrow fly from 15 yards out Saturday morning at the 36th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament at Millstone 4-H Center hosted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Mackenzie Eubanks, of the Smyrna School Shooting Team, lets an arrow fly from 15 yards out Saturday morning at the 36th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament at Millstone 4-H Center hosted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

ELLERBE —Mackenzie Eubanks was not fazed.

Each shooter on the .22-caliber rifle range had 30 fellow competitors on the line trying to do better, plus hundreds more waiting for their turn. The fan gallery, situated about 100 feet behind the line, was packed with team coaches, family members and boyfriends and girlfriends.

Eubanks, an eighth grader with the Smyrna School Shooting Team, had the added pressure of a reporter’s presence and the rapid-fire click-click-click of a camera’s shutter. Instead of caving to the pressure, however, Eubanks took advantage of the situation.

“I timed my shooting by the sound” of the camera clicks, he said after leaving the range on which he and fellow young riflemen — and women — from from distances of 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards. “That’s the best I’ve ever done.”

Some 554 teens and tweens participated in the 36th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament at the Millstone 4-H Center east of Ellerbe. There were four categories — archery, orienteering, and the .22-caliber rifle shotgun ranges on Saturday. Combined with a previously completed written essay, teams and individuals with the top scores were honored at the end of the day. Another 2,500 people were on hand as spectators and event volunteers.

Participants are divided into senior (high school) and junior (middle and elementary school) divisions. Teams are organized within public and private schools, while teams comprised of home-schooled students and 4-H groups also are eligible to compete.

The event was hosted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and managed by uniformed WRC officers and longtime hunter safety education volunteers from across the state.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Trevor Patterson, 16, a sophomore on the Western Harnett Hunter Safety Team from Lillington, focuses from 50 feet out on the .22-caliber rifle range.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Trevor Patterson, 16, a sophomore on the Western Harnett Hunter Safety Team from Lillington, focuses from 50 feet out on the .22-caliber rifle range.

“It’s a test of hunter education skills,” said Travis Casper, the state hunter education coordinator.

Of all the skills tested on Saturday, Casper emphasized the importance of “lifelong skills” such as “safety and sportsmanship.”

The event has grown significantly in pockets around the state since Casper became involved in 2002. In District 1, comprised of 13 counties in northeast North Carolina, there were seven teams competing in the state tournament in 2001. Last year, there were more than 30. The 11 counties in District 7, which includes Iredell, Davie and Forsyth counties, sent 12 teams to the championship in 2001. Last year, 64 teams represented the same area.

Richmond County, in District 6 with Moore, Montgomery, Stanly, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Union and Anson counties, did not field a team at this year’s event.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Sidney Hughes, 17, of the Bunker Hill Hunter Safety Team from Catawba, takes her turn on the 12-gauge shotgun firing range.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Sidney Hughes, 17, of the Bunker Hill Hunter Safety Team from Catawba, takes her turn on the 12-gauge shotgun firing range.

Still, Casper said, “we’ve definitely seen a growth in interest.”

Some of the top teams and individuals will compete July 20 through July 25 in the National Rifle Association’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge in Mansfield, Pa.

Safety first.

The safety officer in charge of the .22-caliber rifle range on Saturday reminded all 17 groups of competitors that if safety wasn’t the primary factor, no one would have any fun.

The participants, ranging from elementary to high school, listened and adhered the warning. They they had fun firing at the targets, stationed 50 feet away, from the prone, sitting, kneeling and standing positions.

Arrows pointed towards the target. Muzzles pointed down range. Rifles down when finished firing, even if no more ammunition. Hearing and eye protection on. No exceptions.

Low-tech, high class

There wasn’t much technology needed for any of the four events contested on Saturday. A rifle or shotgun, a few rounds. Sure, bows used by archers weren’t what their grandfathers grew up with but there were no LCDs screens on display.

That is, until spectators walked through tent city — a mix of impromptu corn hole tournaments, family meals and naps — on the way to the John F. Lentz Hunter Education Complex and the 12-gauge shotgun firing range.

There, an old school clay pigeon target thrower was the catalyst to any action, but there wasn’t a power cord in sight.

Only out in front of the building for event officials and coaches was there any real recognition of screen-dominated technology. On three tables sat three large flat-screen televisions which viewers could watch for updated results.

More people, however, were drawn to the basketball court on the other side of the facility. Or the hunter giving a demonstration of techniques with his hunting dog in the lake. Or, in Wildlife Village — think athletes village every four years for the Olympics, only smaller — there were set-ups on outdoor cooking, aquatic insects information on freshwater fish and a demonstration on how to make your own lure.

No smartphone required.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The range officer for the .22-caliber rifle competition addressed each of the 18 groups of 31 shooters with the same message: safety first.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The range officer for the .22-caliber rifle competition addressed each of the 18 groups of 31 shooters with the same message: safety first.

“The secret is just give them the opportunity” to get outdoors, Casper said of today’s youth.

They’ll put down the iPhones and tablets, log of Facebook and Instagram — if given a chance to do something else.

“Yes, video games and electronic media have taken up a lot of time (but) they just have to have the opportunity to do it,” he said.

Casper noted that some of the top-selling video games are promote outdoor recreation, such as hunting and fishing. Games such as those can be a gateway to kids getting out and getting hands-on experience. It helps, he said, if the community has an active school team or 4-H group.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors

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