In their sights
In the 4-H Shooting Sports program, competitors are a bit more controlled in their shooting, and not as easily impressed.
“One cool thing is,” said Jacob Knutz, who competes in pistol and shotgun for Yamhill County’s 4-H shooting sports program, “when you’re watching an action movie and they are at the shooting range and the target comes up, you’re like, ‘I can do that.’”
It’s not just hyperbole. Knutz, Zachary Drew and Sasha Perez are part of a handful of 4-H members from Yamhill County that have the skills to shred any number of bull’s-eyes. In June, at the 4-H Oregon State Shooting Sports competition in Albany, 10 Yamhill County members won championships and three — Knutz, Drew and Danny Stahlnecker — qualified for the national invitational in 2014 in Nebraska.
Perez, 16, will be a junior at Newberg High School this fall and won her second state championship in the air rifle division, but because she competed in the 2013 national invitational, she wasn’t eligible to qualify for next year’s.
Since 2008 when the shooting sports program was reinstated in Oregon, the club has seen its numbers swell. Yamhill-County 4-H Agent Mike Knutz said he believes the county has one of the biggest shooting programs in the entire state and probably the biggest on the west side of the Cascade Range, with 173 youths involved. In a recent press release, Knutz said Yamhill County’s 28 certified volunteers are the most in the state, with many being certified in more than one area.
“It has been a fairly rapidly growing sport,” said Knutz, who runs 4-H from the Oregon State University Extension office on Lafayette Avenue.
A lot of disciplines
At its core, 4-H has always been a youth development organization that is multi-faceted in its approach in teaching kids. There are classroom elements to most projects, then applicable get-your-hands-dirty parts that get kids physically doing something. The most well-known projects are 4-H’s animal ones, but members can choose from a variety of offerings, including photography, cooking, painting and yes, even, shooting guns.
In the shooting sports program, there is a wide mix of areas someone can choose. At the most basic, there is archery and that includes a host of varieties, from the simple barebow all the way up to the high-tech bows that professional hunters use. Competitors can also shoot pistols and choose between air (pellets) or small bore (.22 gauge bullets).
Getting to the larger pieces, there is the rifle category with air and small bore. The other category is shotgun, with most shooters using .12 gauge ammo to shoot small orange clay targets thrown up into the air in a multitude of directions.
Knutz said before competing, each member of the club is required to go through a 16-hour weekend training course detailing all aspects of gun safety and set up. They even have a specific acronym to teach proper gun control: M.A.T., standing for Muzzle, Action, and Trigger.
“MAT is something that is drilled into kids,” Knutz said. “It’s basic gun safety that if you’re following all three, no one is going to get hurt.
Qualifying for nationals
There aren’t many competitions each year for members of the shooting sports program. Starting in November for archery and February for pistol, shotgun and air rifle, competitors compete in a series of three mail-in tournaments. They’re given specific directions for placement of targets and how you shoot at it. Based on their results, a percentage is chosen to compete at the state tournament.
This year, the competition was at Albany Pistol & Rifle Club from June 19-21. Drew, 17, earned the state senior championship in both shotgun and small bore pistol and had high enough accuracy in the pistol (87 percent) to qualify for 4-H nationals. Jacob Knutz was the reserve champion in the pistol, and his accuracy of 85 percent also qualified him.
Knutz, Drew and Stahlnecker are three of six Oregon shooters who qualified for nationals next year in Grand Island, Neb.
Stahlnecker, 17, won the small bore rifle competition and is also going to nationals.
McKenzie Halleman was the champion in standing air rifle, and Kayla Cox was the intermediate champion in the air rifle. Samuel Tenbrook won the intermediate championship in air pistol, and Spencer Darula was the junior reserve champion in air pistol.
In archery, Skylar Atkinson of Newberg was the champion in barebow. Emory Billings of Dayton was the intermediate champion in shotgun.
Perez at nationals
Perez was hands down the best shooter in her air rifle division at the state competition this year, but because of 4-H’s rule stating a competitor can only compete at nationals once in a certain discipline, she will not be going back to Grand Island.
Three days after state, Perez and her family flew to Nebraska, where she took part in the 2013 nationals in the air rifle because of her state championship win last year.
“Middle of nowhere, surrounded by cornfields and a small town,” Perez said, describing the locale.
What she saw there, though, surprised her.
“I didn’t know so many people were involved in 4-H shooting,” she said. “It was really cool.”
Over three days, Perez completed competitions in three-position (prone, kneeling, standing), standing and also silhouettes. She won the standing part with an accuracy of 100 percent and finished high enough in the other two take home third place.
“Very rewarding,” she said.
Perez’s mother, Liz, agreed. She said it felt like her daughter came full circle since starting shooting in 2008. Since Sasha started air rifle and small bore, she has quickly risen to a national level. She shoots precision air rifle and small bore for a club in Sherwood and has twice qualified for the Junior Olympics. Currently, Perez is ranked 13th in the nation in the air rifle by USA shooting and has earned enough attention that she could potentially earn a college scholarship.
“It was a couple of years ago when I won something where I was like, ‘Oh, wait, I’m actually kind of good at this,’” Perez said.
Perez, Knutz and Drew all have similar reasons for why they compete in 4-H shooting sports.
Knutz, who graduated from a correspondence school and lives in McMinnville, said he likes the mindset of trying to the best he can.
“You see yourself progressing,” he said, “and you’re kind of proud of that.”
Drew said he likes the visual affirmation of his success, whether it is the final target or seeing a clay pigeon explode in a cloud of dust.
“It feels cool,” he said. “Your instincts kicking in, you pull your gun around and destroy this little target. It’s something unexplainable.”
Perez’s laser-like focus has served her well so far, and she said when she’s shooting her expensive precision rifle in all of her gear, she enjoys the attention to detail of aiming.
“I really like the discipline of it and how much mental focus it takes,” she said.
Mike Knutz is proud of them all, he said. As the leader of 4-H in the county, he enjoys seeing members flourish no matter what they’re doing.
“We use projects, whether they’re shooting sports, livestock, cooking or sewing and the like,” he said, “as a vehicle to deliver positive youth development programs.”