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More than Marksmanship

More than Marksmanship

Ten year olds were playing checkers, Uno ruled the main hallway, and a group of 8 year olds were constructing a house of cards with more square feet and floors than my current home. Smartphones, iPads and videogames were mysteriously absent. The politeness ran thick in the group of more than 2,000 people and 54 teams of young shooters from across the nation crowded into the Rogers, Ark., convention center.

Conversations ruled—not text messages—last weekend at the 48th Annual Daisy National BB Gun Championship Matches. The anti-gun crowd prefers to ignore the evidence, but the shooting sports promote social skills and instill discipline, honor, integrity and respect in the youths who participate. Concentration skills are even polished, and that often reflects positively in their schoolwork.

In four days, with multiple relays and hundreds of Daisy BB guns going back and forth to the firing line, I never once had a gun pointed toward me or my camera. That’s discipline, particularly with youngsters between the ages of eight and 15 who are competing in the oldest and most prestigious competition of its kind in the world.

Fingers stayed off triggers until the range went hot. Shooters in the next relay waited patiently and quietly in a chair staged behind the firing line. When’s the last time you saw a kid this age sit, with barely a fidget, for 10 minutes (shooting time), plus setup time and practice with nothing else to do but watch a teammate? I’d enroll my youngest grandson if my county 4-H had a shooting program.

In regard to honor and integrity, consider the actions of one competitor last year. He turned himself in after he thought he delivered a shot a nano-second after a short cease fire. No one else apparently agreed, including the range officer. But he insisted, endured the penalty and this year Daisy rolled out the Daisy Sportsmanship Scholarship in honor of his integrity. It went to Elisabeth Keeler, who helped lead her team back to the championships despite breaking her arm, breaking her hand, helping an elderly woman who lives nearby, knitting Afghans, giving them to the needy, and a lot more.

Part of the competition includes a safety exam, and it weighs toward their overall scores. One mother told me when she signed up her youngster and attended the first practice it was nothing like what she expected—one hour of shooting practice and another hour in the classroom was a surprise.

Targets are 5 meters from the shooter, or roughly 15 feet. The 10-ring is only .125 inch, as dictated by the NRA Rules. To put that into perspective, a dime has roughly a .7-inch diameter. The 9-ring is .425 inch and a spring-loaded gun like the Avanti Champion Model 499 is used. With a ballistic coefficient rivaling a piece of pumice, the .177-caliber round BB leaves the barrel at a “scalding” 240 fps. There is no rifling and, oh yes, as if all this doesn’t make things a bit challenging, only iron sights are allowed. And the kids hit the bull’s eye with scary regularity. That should be the Webster’s definition for precision and concentration.

The short distance involved and low velocity also makes it easy for parents to construct practice ranges at home. Jarrett Bialas, from Armour, SD, was at the event to watch his two sons compete. His small range in the garage is where you’ll find them shooting many nights, together, away from television, videogames and the Internet.

Quality time with parents is a good thing, but according to Stacey Miron from Sioux Falls, SD, her son’s shooting has positively impacted his schoolwork. “It’s taught him if you study, you get a better grade or score.” Fifteen-year-old Kendra Jacobs probably gave the best adult-like summary among all the young shooters I interviewed. “There’s a lot of life lessons you can learn from it,” she said.

As far as I’m concerned, every youth who had to battle their way through state finals to qualify, families, coaches and those at Daisy who took part in this event are all winners. So I won’t name the official honorees (friend Daisy Outdoor on Facebook if you’re really curious).

Daisy helps underwrite the travel expenses of each team, and planning for next year’s event is already underway. It’s a huge financial and manpower undertaking for the company, one in which it rightfully takes a great deal of pride. Every person I spoke to agreed the company’s efforts are making a huge difference.

This blog may not provide details on some sort of new gun gizmo, but my discovery last weekend is every bit as exciting. The youthful pleasure of BB guns, including the Red Ryder, isn’t dead. They may not be fashionable enough to garner much press from the mainstream media, but the magnetism that captured us all continues to work its magic.

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