According to Scouting magazine, the Rifle Shooting merit badge was number two of the non-required badges earned by all Boy Scouts cross country last year with 43,196 Rifle Shooting merit badges sewn on sashes. Since 2009, again according to Scouting, nearly 350,000 Rifle Shooting merit badges have been earned. That’s a lot of merit badges—and a lot of .22 Long Rifle downrange.
There are 11 required merit badges needed to become an Eagle Scout, and it's no surprise that First Aid came in overall as number one. But with 10 of their merit badges on the path to the Eagle Scout rank, Scouts get a choice. And they often take the easy route, which is Fingerprinting (43,743 in 2015)—a badge that can be done in a few hours. But after easy, Scouts select one of the toughest badges—a badge that has been part of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) since the first Boy Scout Handbook in 1910, Rifle Shooting. Think it’s an easy one? Far from it. Check out the requirements.
Back in 1910 to earn the “Marksman” Badge of Merit, you had to "Qualify as a marksman in accordance with the requirements of the National Rifle Association." And NRA and the BSA of have had a strong partnership for more than a century, and both organizations remain committed to teaching firearms safety and marksmanship. And that 350,000 number represents just the boys that completed the badge—millions more shot safely through the Scouting program. Today, Scouts can shoot .22s and shotguns (Cub Scouts and Webelos shoot BB guns and air rifles, respectively), but Ventures and Explorers can shoot any firearm legal in the state in which the unit is chartered. And they do so under the watchful eyes of NRA Certified Instructors. A friend of mine, Kevin Dawson, ran a Venturing Crew that shot NRA Highpower Rifle with M1 Garands, M19103s and M1 carbines.
Many companies over the years have produced guns specifically for the Boy Scouts. Ruger commemorated the BSA’s 100th anniversary with a limited-edition 10/22. Remington and Beretta have also done special Scout guns. And there is even an Eagle Scout commemorative made by Henry Repeating Arms Co. And I think I wrote the closest thing to a tear-jerker blog I've ever produced regarding one of those guns.
As a volunteer with the Goose Creek District for many years, I still regularly sit on Eagle boards of review. And when Mr. Keefe is across the table from you, and the question of what your favorite merit badge was comes up, Rifle Shooting is always the right answer.
Top image: Winchester commissioned this painting for .22 Long Rifle ammunition packaging to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Boy Scouts.