By Greg Price
Taber Shooting Foundation’s Youth Group is making further inroads into interest in the sport, and having an Olympian come visit on Thursday certainly will not hurt the exposure.
Lynda Kiejko will be a guest speaker at both Taber Christian School and St. Mary School in the early afternoon, before driving out to the Taber Shooting Foundation’s outdoor shooting range to take a look at the facilities.
In the evening, there will be a meet-and-greet for the public at the Taber Cadet/Youth Hall at 7211 50th Street at 6 p.m., where an open house and air gun demonstration will be done shortly afterwards. The open house is for anyone to come and ask about airguns and have the option of shooting an airgun.
The Taber Shooting Foundation’s youth group was started last year in March. Wanting to get some youth programming, a call out was made for volunteers, where Shane Bonner, youth chairman of the Taber Shooting foundation and two other individuals stepped up.
“We piecemealed together our first couple of events where we used our own equipment. We didn’t really have anything at the time and we were seeing five to 10 kids come out to monthly events,” said Bonner. “Once it got nice enough out, we went out to the outdoor range and did bi-weekly events. Starting around June, our events exploded with interest in popularity…we were getting 20 to 30 kids out.”
Hosting a bunch of events which were mainly introduction shoots aimed at teaching shooting basics in a controlled environment, the youth group also held fundraisers like a ‘Ladies Night’ to help with some seed money.
“Most of the events were aimed at kids who had never held a gun before. We made sure we had volunteer range safety so that we could do one-on-one training to make sure the kids were safe. We made it a fun introduction,” said Bonner. “A lot of the costs were covered by myself and the Taber Shooting Foundation.”
With the seed money, the youth group approached Savage Arms Canada for some rim-fire guns which feature .22 calibre cartridges.
“For hunting purposes, you couldn’t shoot something bigger than a squirrel or a rabbit. They are great for youth, there is almost no recoil. An adult could hold it in their (non-dominant) hand with no problem,” said Bonner, adding Savage Arms offered the club a very deep discount on their rifles.
With fund-raising dollars and funding from the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, the club was able to pick up six rifles for the youth events.
“I hold them under my firearms licence, but they are owned by the Taber Shooting Foundation and only used at youth events. Up until then, we were depending on volunteers’ equipment. When we were getting up to 30 kids and only had four rifles, it was turning into an issue really quick,” said Bonner. “We wanted to get kids engaged right away, and it’s not like a range is the safest place to be running around and doing whatever.”
Seven different organizations/businesses have stepped up in the past year to help sponsor the youth group in the past year as the group has grown in prominence.
“We have some pretty ambitious plans of expanding. We are planning on doing a lot of intro-style events like skeet/trap shooting, intro to air pistols which is what the event on (Thursday) is for. At the cadet hall, we will do an intro action shooting, and there are Olympic pistol and rifle events,” said Bonner. “There are tons of shooting events in the Olympics. The Olympics actually have 16 shooting events. A lot of people don’t know that because they are events that aren’t on TV. Everyone talks about Michael Phelps (in swimming), if you are a really good shooter, you can rack up the medals.”
The opportunity is there for people who take up shooting to take their interest to the next level and different events. There are also plenty of competitions across Alberta to keep the interest up locally. The Alberta Handgun Association will be making a donation of six pistols at Thursday’s event to the Taber Shooting Foundation to help with organizing an airgun group in Taber.
“We are going to use this event (with Olympian Lynda Kiejko) to judge interest and even though it’s a youth group event, we are opening it up to everybody,” said Bonner. “We are hoping to incorporate a wing under the youth group. Just like we are going to have a skeet/trap wing, we are going to get an air pistol wing.”
In trying to get more youth involved, Bonner dispels the notion it is a sport that is not safe for kids, especially compared to things like hockey and football.
“Shooting sports is safer than even recreational walking according to sports organizations in the U.S. (Industry Intelligence Report for rate of injury.) Firearms are inherently dangerous, so there are a ton of safety precautions taken. There is no physical contact, so you don’t get concussions like football or hockey,” said Bonner. “Because there are lots of safety procedures, it’s a very safe sport. It’s safer than rowing, it’s safer than bowling, it’s safer than soccer (according to the study).”
Bonner also added the sport is relatively cheap for youth, being partially sponsored by the Taber Shooting Foundation.
“Last year, we were absolutely free. We provided the rifles, we provided the ammunition and we don’t charge anything. We are hoping to do the same thing this year, but if we keep growing in popularity, we are going to have to find money somehow,” said Bonner. “We are trying our best to fundraise and keep events free or cost as little as possible.”
Taber Shooting Foundation is looking to hold youth events tentatively on Feb. 22, March 22 and April 26 at the indoor range.
“In the middle of May we are going to hold our outdoor season opener, and after that, it will be every two weeks,” said Bonner. “There is more to shooting than just hunting. There is a lot of rural hunting around here, but they can also use their shooting skills for other things. There is a whole other side to shooting with the shooting sports.”