If a BB gun is at the top of your child’s Christmas list, a Georgia 4-H gun safety expert urges you to put “target sport safety equipment” on that list, too.
“As parents, we would never send our kids out to play in a little league football game without the proper protective equipment,” said Mark Zeigler, who coordinates the Georgia 4-H Shooting Awareness, Fun and Education program, or SAFE. “Target sports also require the proper protective gear, and the most important part of that gear is sound safety education.”
More than 3,500 youths participate
Zeigler leads the program’s certified coaches who are trained in youth development as well as shooting education and safety. SAFE coaches teach target sport safety to more than 3,500 students across Georgia.
Although he didn’t have a BB gun as a child, Zeigler doesn’t discourage parents from buying one for their child. “It can be an appropriate gift when used under the supervision of an adult and if the child is taught basic firearm safety,” he said. “It’s paramount that children are properly educated first. I just can’t stress that enough.”
4-H'ers use the Daisy 499
In the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story," Ralphie longed for "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, Range Model air rifle with a compass on the stock and this thing which tells time." Unlike Ralphie, Georgia 4-H’ers use the Daisy 499 model, which is specifically designed for target sports, Zeigler said.
“The 499 is so specific, it can’t be bought in stores,” he said. “It was designed specifically to support shooters competing in international BB championship matches.”
Learning to concentrate
Though the SAFE program teaches the safety aspects of shooting sports, he says the most important thing students learn has nothing to do with sports.
“Studies have shown that participating in shooting sports helps kids improve their concentration levels and their grades,” he said. “And it’s the lowest injury rate sport. In 4-H, we teach firearms safety mirrored with youth development standards and principles.”
Like most 4-H activities, students can compete in target sports on the regional, state and national levels. “Although competition isn’t the goal of the program, when used correctly, competition can help young people develop life sills and positive habits they can carry through life,” Zeigler said.
The Georgia 4-H target sports program is open to fifth- through eighth-grade students for BB and through high school for other shooting sports like archery, rifle, pistol and shotgun.
Many training opportunities exist
In addition to Georgia 4-H, target sport safety training is available through Boy Scouts, the National Rifle Association and the Department of Natural Resources Hunter Education Program. Conservation programs like Ducks Unlimited and The National Wild Turkey Federation also offer programs for youths to develop interest in shooting sports.
For more information on the Georgia 4-H SAFE Program, contact your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.