Horses, hogs, cats, cattle, cakes and crafts oftentimes pop into your mind with the mention of 4-H. Dig a little deeper into the nationwide youth organization and you’ll discover a shooting program that encompasses urban and rural youth with a full lineup of shooting disciplines to satisfy any young shooter.

The 4-H Shooting Sports program provides firearm safety and instruction in a supervised setting. After the youth become familiar and comfortable with the firearms of their choosing, the organization offers scheduled practice with the chance for competitive challenges. Youth from ages eight to 18 learn firearm safety and then are introduced to shooting disciplines, including air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle, .22 pistol, muzzleloader, shotgun sports and archery. If your family doesn’t have access to firearms or archery equipment, many of the clubs own different firearms for club use, and others partner with local sportsmen’s associations to use their facilities and firearms.

County and state competitions allow qualified shooters to advance to national shooting matches. In addition to competition, 4-H Shooting Sports members learn about hunting principles, archery strategies and conservation ethics. This education creates self-worth and satisfaction, plus the chance to achieve marksmanship goals.

NRA Whittington Center

Cole Kayser at the gate to the NRA Whittington Center

Trip To Whittington

Wyoming takes the program one step further by partnering with the NRA’s Whittington Center, a premier shooting range facility located in the mountains 10 miles southwest of Raton, New Mexico. To applaud the efforts of top point winners at the Wyoming State 4-H Shoot, 14 members are selected each year to attend an awards trip to the Whittington Center. Twelve youth winners receive the award solely based on their shooting skills during the state competition, and two additional winners receive the award based on the review of submitted portfolios. If these portfolios emphasize an outstanding passion for shooting sports, they’ll also be invited along for the honor. Youth only receive the invitation once, and if you decline the opportunity, you will not have the opportunity to take part in the event again. Last year my son, Cole, was awarded this honor, and with it, our first visit to the shooting facilities at the NRA’s Whittington Center.

During the tour, you immediately begin to experience the immense size of the facility—33,000 acres—plus the numerous ranges nestled in the valleys and canyons throughout. In 2013, the center celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Many ranges are covered for weather shelter, and shooting tables and seats are provided. The shotgun area includes skeet, sporting clays, trap and a clubhouse facility for dining or social events. The welcome center also encompasses the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest. Historic firearms of the region and pioneer era highlight displays, but you’ll also discover historic exhibits on warfare firearms and Native American history of the region. 

A multi-day visit is necessary to fully appreciate the offerings at the center, and there are housing accommodations on site. RVers will appreciate the full hookups at the campground. Tent campers are also welcome. Competitors and visitors have access to the competitor housing units that can accommodate 90 guests. If you like it more rustic, the center has an area set aside with 11 log cabins. This is where the Wyoming 4-H delegation set up base camp for the weekend shoot.

Gearing Up

After  Cole discovered that he had won the coveted trip to the Whittington Center hosted by the Wyoming 4-H Shooting Sports’ volunteers, his local instructors advised him to take along plenty of ammunition and firearms to shoot. It didn’t take him long to inventory our ammunition resources and ask me to contact my friends at Hornady for a boost. Neil Davies, a good friend of mine and the sales and marketing manager at Hornady, was happy to set us up with some additional cartridges for the trip. I also tapped into my contacts at Nikon and Thompson/Center to round out our arsenal.

Before our departure we had the truck loaded with more than enough rubber totes filled to the brim with ammunition to cater to any shooting discipline. The bulk of Cole’s ammunition stockpile consisted of .22 LR, but he also padded the container with ample reserves of .223 Remington and .30 TC. His favorite firearm to shoot is his Smith & Wesson M&P15 customized with a variety of Magpul accessories. With hunting season just around the corner, he also realized the trip would be the perfect opportunity to check the zero on his T/C Icon .30 TC, his main hunting rifle. I also brought along my T/C Dimension and Venture, both in .300 Winchester Magnum, to confirm zeros and ready for my months of hunting ahead.

4-h shooting sports

Cole Kayser using the lever action at the NRA Whittington Center

Holy Grail

Arriving late on a Wednesday in early September gave us three solid days of shooting before a Sunday departure. The group of 14 included boys and girls from across Wyoming eager to hit the different ranges, and a daily plan was set so everyone would get a taste of all that the Whittington Center has to offer.

Metal silhouettes are the norm for most of the rifle ranges, and for Cole and I, the high-power rifle silhouette range was a favorite. Targets ranged from the 200-meter chicken silhouettes to the rams sitting solidly at 500 meters. Pigs were stationed at 300 meters, and turkeys at 400 meters.

After pounding our way through the foursome of metal targets, we eyed the far hillside behind the range for a true challenge. The white buffalo metal silhouette, a 6-foot-by-10-foot target, sits a distant 1,025 meters (or 1,123 yards) from the shooting bench. It’s the holy grail of targets everyone hopes to ding during a visit to the high-power silhouette range.

Cole was up first with the .30 T/C rifle, and I commanded spotter duties through my Nikon EDG spotting scope. It took six shots for Cole to begin pounding bison like Wyoming’s iconic frontier character, Buffalo Bill Cody. In a rare performance of topping my son, I had my T/C Venture dialed into the buffalo after four shots.

If your local shooting sports program doesn’t offer a similar awards trip, then simply contact the Whittington Center directly and inquire about their Adventure program. Instructors teach youth about firearm safety, shooting skills, wilderness skills, hunting tactics, tracking knowledge and backcountry camping. When you finish the program, you’ll leave a well-rounded outdoor person and have hunter safety certification from the state of New Mexico.

By the time we packed to leave on Sunday, our ammunition totes were pounds lighter and our rifle barrels a bit more worn. Nevertheless, the shooting experience for us and for the other Wyoming youth involved cemented a foundation for a future of shooting enjoyment ahead. The trip to the Whittington Center certainly won’t be our last. 

For more information, check out these helpful sites: nrawc.org. and 4-hshootingsports.org. Both are worth the trip!

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Fall 2014 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here

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