The Elkin High School Shooting Team will compete in the 34th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament on Saturday, April 28, at the Millstone 4-H Center near Ellerbe, N.C.
Hosted by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the state championship for pre-collegiate shooting sports annually draws participants and spectators from across the state. About 3,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event.
The Shooting Team is coached by physical education teacher Jackie Thornburg and AV Cockerham, along with several adult volunteers.
To join the team, a student first has to be certified in the Hunter Safety Course offered through Elkin High School. Throughout the class, students are taught firearm safety, and responsible and ethical behavior is modeled for hunting. While skill and accuracy are built during the certification process, Thornburg said that the “greatest emphasis is always on safety.”
Team member Lee Cudd said, “The shooting team is a good way for us to learn about gun safety while spending time with friends.”
Knowing how to hunt safely can minimize injuries and accidents throughout a hunter’s life. It is a valuable skill, but it does take a great deal of practice in order to be proficient.
Each state has its own requirements for the course, and the state of North Carolina requires at least 10 hours of instruction in firearm safety before a student can be certified. Coach Thornburg commented that the course at Elkin High usually exceeds 15 hours of firearm safety instruction, and that has been the standard since he began teaching the course about 12 years ago.
The course is also offered at no cost to students, due to the Pittman-Robertson Act which provides funding for hunter education programs and for the maintenance of wildlife habitats and management.
During the course, students learn how to safely use a 20 or 12 gauge shotgun, a .22 long rifle, and a bow for archery. Shooting team members compete in orienteering and a Hunter Skill’s Test in scrimmages at the local, district, and state levels. Scores are determined by the number of targets hit for points earned. Elkin’s Shooting Team begins to compete in January each year, and the season concludes in April with the state tournament held in Ellerbe.
Senior Casey Long has been on the team for four years.
“There are a lot of hunters in our community, and I think it [the shooting team] is a good way for students to practice hunter safety and build skills,” Long commented. “It is also a lot of fun.”