BERLIN — Gunfire mixed with words of encouragement at the 4-H Shooting Sports Leadership Training held one recent weekend at Barry Conservation Camp in Berlin.
The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension program partnered with state Fish and Game to draw 4-H leaders for a three-day course in teaching youth firearm fundamentals and life skills.
The program offered instructor certification in one of five 4-H shooting disciplines: rifle, pistol, shotgun, black powder and archery.
Larry Barker, state coordinator for the New Hampshire 4-H youth shooting sports program, said a record 44 new instructors were trained over the weekend.
“They're from every corner of the state – we have 13 women, which is also a record,” Barker said.
Approximately 5,000 youths in New Hampshire are involved in 4-H programs, with some 1,100 participating in shooting sports, Barker estimated.
The program's core concepts include ethical development, personal responsibility, and lifetime recreational skills, along with the belief that education reduces firearm accidents.
“You talk about teen risk factors like substance abuse, teen pregnancy, alcohol, even driver safety and what's the first thing we think about — education,” Barker said.
“We feel the same way in terms of firearm safety — education is key.”
In keeping with that principle, camp participants spent a day and a half learning to teach a specific shooting discipline.
On Sunday, they practiced their new skills with members of another discipline.
Newly trained teen instructor Kathleen Williams said she got involved in shooting sports because it was fun.
“I've been doing this for six or seven years now,” she said. “My dad started teaching me and it went uphill from there.”
Mike King from Cheshire County joined the shooting sports program in 2001. He was proud of his group of 12 new archery instructors, especially the younger ones.
“It's kids like Kathleen who have really stepped up and taken a leadership role who allow our program to function as well as it does,” he said.
The 4-H program teaches youth ages 8 to 18. Chris Kelliher, pistol instructor from Stratford County, said kids take to shooting sports better than adults.
“The kids we have in the program, safety-wise, respect-wise, I'd match them up against any group of adults out there,” he said.
The National 4-H Shooting Sports Committee position statement says discipline and self-control required for responsible firearm use carries over into other aspects of life.
It also states hunting and shooting are rich American traditions and offer societal, economic, ecological and historical value.
Parents who may not like the idea of their kids handling guns often change their opinion after seeing the 4-H program firsthand, said camp participant Dave Baker of Weare.
“The whole perception changes and they realize it's actually kind of fun,” he said.