IN MANY RESPECTS, the setting for the 4-H Shooting Sports’ district-level competition last weekend was a “Field of Dreams” for youngsters gathered to demonstrate their skills in archery and a variety of firearms, ranging from air pistols to shotguns.
The shooting complex sits a few miles southwest of Culpeper, tucked into rolling farmland near the Cedar Mountain Battlefield. Cornfields abut parts of the venue and it was easy to become fanciful imagining teams of young shooters with bows and guns emerging from the corn.
This Northern Virginia District Shoot was a preliminary to the state match in September, which determines the kids who get a chance to shoot in the 2022 nationals in Nebraska. Thirteen clubs, with a total of 136 youngsters and just as many coaches and parents, dealt with hot humid conditions.
The competition was hosted by the Cedar Mountain Incorporated youth shooting club, based in Culpeper. The club and its shooting complex have grown considerably since its rifle-range-only beginnings in the 1980s. Latest additions include an archery range and a trapshooting field. Curtis Cooper, a Rixeyville resident and Cedar Mountain’s coach, said the complex is the only club-level facility in Virginia that can handle all the 4-H shooting events simultaneously.
Planning and executing a shoot involves teamwork and logistics, identifying match directors for each event, a range master and assistants for each range, scoring officials, plus all the set up and clean up related to targets and the complex itself, Cooper said.
Skills for Life
The National 4-H Shooting Sports Program emphasizes marksmanship, safe and responsible use of firearms, the principles of hunting and archery, and more. Local 4-H Shooting Sports clubs are open to youngsters ages 8 to 18. About 500,000 boys and girls participate each year, according to 4-H Shooting.
Local level programs are staffed and managed by volunteers, with adult volunteers receiving training in shooting sports at state and regional workshops. Teenage leaders can also be trained to assist with instruction.
Culpeper’s youth club is overseen and funded by the Cedar Mountain adult shooting club, which holds fundraising shooting events every Sunday morning at the facility. They occasionally lease the complex to other agencies for firearms training.
Cooper’s club was well represented Saturday with nearly 20 youngsters. He said the club practices as a group every Sunday from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and schedules supplemental practices throughout the week for kids who want to work on individual skills.
Both of Cooper’s children are involved, with his oldest son a “graduate” of the program. He said he sees growing interest in shooting sports.
“I think it really fills a niche for kids who might not be comfortable in team sports, maybe more introverted and highly focused. The shooting sports teach self-discipline, focus and responsibility. I’m a big fan,” Cooper said.
Andrew Cooper competed in 4-H programs since he was 10. He is now 20, a student at James Madison University and active in the Army ROTC program there.
“I shot everything from archery to muzzleloader to .22, you name it,” he said, adding that participating in an organized shooting sports program helped him in myriad ways.
“First, there is responsibility. It teaches kids to be responsible, especially around firearms and with all equipment in general. It teaches that they are tools, not toys, and need to be treated a certain way,,” he said.
“Then, there is discipline, learning how hard work pays off. It take a lot of time to master just one [firearm or bow], but if you’re going to do them all, it takes a lot of work. Leadership is a big thing with 4-H. I was president of the CMY [Cedar Mountain Youth Shooting Team] for about six years and that taught me a lot about how to work with the younger guys.”
Lexi Loughner, 18, an archer with the King George Arrow Splitters club and a past national competitor, was at the event for her final year of competition. She said she particularly likes going to competitions and meeting new people. The practice it took for her to attain and hone skills sufficient to compete on the national stage was arduous but enjoyable, she said.
“It got to the point where I would practice every day for two to three hours. It takes a lot of time and focus,” she said.
She said the skills and discipline she’s learned via 4-H shooting have helped learn how to better interact and work with people, including her employment. “It taught me a lot about leadership and teamwork,” Loughner said.
Andrew said the experience has helped him transition to college and in his ROTC endeavors.
“It helps you grow up. I personally don’t think I’d be the same person I am now if I hadn’t participated in shooting sports. I use everything I learned here every day,” he said.
Other clubs participating in Saturday’s shoot included: the Augusta Archers, Prince William Bullseye, Fauquier County Bow Benders, Frederick County, Madison County, Orange County, Shenandoah Seven Bends, Warren County Skyline 4-H, Spotsy (Spotsylvania) Hotshots, Prince William Trigger Time and Warrenton Rifles.
For more about 4-H Shooting or to find contacts affiliated with the program, visit https://4-hshootingsports.org. Maybe a young person you know might find it a rewarding challenge.