Shooting sports has the strictest regulations of any Illinois 4-H project. Governed by the national 4-H Shooting Sports program and the University of Illinois, volunteers working with the program must complete a weekend certification before being accepted as an instructor.
Certainly, safety is a priority, said Dan Dawson, University of Illinois Extension state shooting sports educator. “We need adults who will follow the regulations of the program exactly to ensure that youth learn the responsible handling of firearms while under constant supervision of a trained instructor.”
But, shooting is only part of the program. “Shooting is simply the subject matter that we use to do what 4-H does so well, and that is prepare and empower young people with the skills they need to be successful in life,” said Dawson.
So far, the formula has worked. This spring, Dawson certified the 1000th shooting sports volunteer since the program began in 2009. It’s a milestone for the Illinois 4-H program which has seen its share of big moments as a life-changing organization.
Just eight years ago, the program didn’t exist.
In 2009, Illinois 4-H sent five staff members to the National 4-H Shooting Sports training program. It was the realization of a 20-year dream by people who were convinced that shooting sports was another avenue to positively inspire youth who might not be reached through other 4-H opportunities. There are now 19 nationally trained volunteers in Illinois who are responsible for conducting all of the state 4-H volunteer trainings in each of the disciplines.
Trainings are only held two times a year. The next training is Oct. 13-15 at 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello. Cost is $125, though some counties assist with that cost. Learn more at local Extension offices. Illinois needs volunteers in archery, shotgun, rifle, pistol, and hunting and wildlife project areas. In addition to each discipline, any county offering the shooting sports program must have an overall coordinator to oversee the entire program.
“After the training, our 4-H volunteers understand their role in mentoring youth to become self-directed, confident members of their community,” Dawson said. “Yes, they’ll also teach the fundamentals of safe shooting, but their bigger role will be helping youth feel welcomed, empowered, and successful; generous in spirit; and thoughtful of their fellow club members and communities they live.”
Currently 2,600 youth participate in 4-H shooting sports in Illinois each year. That number has remained consistent for the past five years. “As 4-H members age out of the program, new youth are finding the excitement of shooting sports,” Dawson said.