Jackson County 4-H’ers help revive shooting sports club

They shot their rifles in three different positions while following all of the safety protocols.

They had learned a lot from the instructors.

Then it was time to end the second spring/summer season with some fun.

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Jeannie Redicker walked to her vehicle and returned with a rimfire dueling tree. She broke the group of boys into two groups and had them shoot from the prone position. The team to hit all of the circular targets to move them to one side was the winner.

While the boys liked ending the meeting with more shooting, they were most excited about the high-stakes prize: M&Ms.

This was a prime example of the three goals of the Jackson County 4-H Shooting Sports Club: Be safe, have fun and learn something.

“They were safe, attentive and implemented what I taught them to the best of their ability,” said Redicker, leader of the shooting sports rifle club. “They were also funny, happy-go-lucky and just a pure joy to be around. Just an all-around good group of kids.”

After a nearly six-year hiatus, the shooting sports club was revived in 2017.

Redicker had been working with a similar club in Greene County and approached Heather VonDielingen, 4-H youth development educator for Jackson County, about getting it going here again.

Once equipment was obtained and instructors completed training, the club had its first live fire practice in the spring of 2018. Ricky Eggersman, a certified rifle and shotgun instructor, became the coordinator of the club, and Redicker was a rifle instructor.

“The shooting sports group had archery and shotgun before. They never had rifle,” Redicker said. “This rifle program that we have here has been built from scratch, and everything that we’ve gotten has pretty much been donated except for some small items that Rick and I have paid out of our pockets for.”

The NRA Foundation Inc. awarded the club a grant of more than $5,000 in 2018 and again this year to purchase equipment, clays, ammunition and more.

Plus, local gun stores and a few individuals have donated items. Last year, Redicker said she put a callout to her shooting friends letting them know she was starting a 4-H rifle club and needed rifles.

“When I posted that and then took off for Indy, by the time I got to Indy, I had a rifle donated from Plymouth, Indiana, and already knew how it was going to get here from a gentleman,” she said.

Two other men donated rifles, one man donated a brand-new one and local gun shops made donations.

“We’ve had really good support from the local merchants,” Eggersman said.

Ed Goodwin, a member of South Central Gun Club in Freetown, was at a meeting when Redicker asked about using the facility for club meetings, and members agreed to donate range time.

The shooting sports club had seven members in the spring of 2018 and picked up four more in the fall.

This year, there are 15 4-H’ers. From March to July and then restarting in September and October, they meet every other week for an hour and a half.

The members start with a safety briefing before even picking up a rifle to shoot.

“My main concern here is to always be safe,” Redicker said. “That’s a big responsibility that we take on teaching the kids firearm safety, and I make it very clear they have to go through a safety briefing at the beginning of the year before they can ever participate in a live fire practice.”

The briefing includes laying out the rules and how to follow them, talking about the importance of wiping their hands off after touching lead and explaining the emergency action plan if any type of accident occurs.

The instructors also let the parents know they may have to touch or be close to the kids to help get them in the correct position, whether it’s prone, seated or offhand.

“We cover all bases. We go through all of that beforehand,” Redicker said. “Safety is a big concern with kids out here, so safety is our No. 1 goal. We have to be safe.”

Goodwin said teaching safety helps the kids any time they are around a firearm, and fellow instructor Brian Jones said they are encouraged to look out for other people’s safety, too.

“If they see me do something wrong, I expect to be yelled at, ‘Don’t do that,’” Redicker said. “I’ve said, ‘You all own the range, too. You’re range safety officers with us if you see something that’s not safe.’”

Once they know the rules, it’s time to pick up rifles and have fun shooting.

“So they can start having fun, they’ve got to learn the fundamentals of firearms safety first,” said Goodwin, who has been a firearms instructor for 33 years. “Once they start being safe, they can start having more fun than they already have. That’s the hardest thing you’ve got to learn first before you can start having fun. It’s like reading a book. You’ve got to learn to read before you can have fun reading it.”

Redicker said the learning aspect can be difficult because they only meet for an hour and a half every other week, and it’s hard to build on what they know. Plus, kids have had to miss meetings for various reasons, so then club members are at different levels.

This year, the first-year members, referred to as marksmen, were broken into one group, and the second-year members, called riflemen, were in another.

“That way, we could give enough individual attention with the kids because it’s fun to shoot, but we want them to learn something,” Redicker said. “Occasionally, I’ll throw in a tidbit of history on them, and they’ll say, ‘Well, I never knew that,’ and they said, ‘We’re getting history and shooting.’”

Colton Whittymore of Brownstown and Conner Wynn of Freetown are among the two-year members.

“It’s just stuff to do over the summer when you don’t really have anything else to do instead of just staying inside or working,” Whittymore said of why he chose to be a part of the club.

“I got started because my dad introduced me, and I’ve always been interested in guns, so it’s kind of a thing I picked up along the way,” Wynn said.

Whittymore said it encouraged him to get into competitive shooting.

“It has just helped me with my attitude and being willing to learn and my shooting experience,” he said. “It provides gun safety for all of the kids, and if you just want to learn how to shoot, they have guns provided, and anyone can learn.”

Wynn said he couldn’t hit the target at first, but the instructors helped him do that.

“Now that I’ve matured, it has helped,” he said.

Skylen Schulz of Brownstown and Josiah Carmichael of Freetown are new club members.

Schulz said he has always loved shooting and hearing the sound of guns. Once he started working with the instructors, he saw big improvement.

“You learn stuff about shooting that you didn’t know,” he said. “It’s really fun, and you can learn more stuff.”

Carmichael lives near South Central Gun Club and also has had a longtime interest in guns and has liked learning more.

“They’ve taught me a lot about shooting positions. They’ve taught me about sight alignment. They’ve taught me all of the rules and stuff, how to be safe,” he said. “I think it’s a really good thing to be able to teach kids at a younger age how to be safe just because I don’t think that’s something that a lot of people know how to do.”

At the end of the last meeting, Redicker asked Carmichael if he has had fun, and he immediately responded, “I’ve had a blast.”

She was happy to hear that.

“They’ve showed up. They’ve been very attentive. They’ve been extremely safe,” Redicker said. “The kids have just put a great effort forth this year, and I’m very proud of them for that.”

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The Jackson County 4-H Shooting Sports Club is open to boys and girls in grades 3 through 12.

Rifle and shotgun clubs are offered, and an archery club is just getting started.

Kids looking to become a member or adults interested in being an instructor may call 812-358-6101.