Shooting to skill: Teaching 4-H students firearm safety and responsibility

Shooting to skill: Teaching 4-H students firearm safety and responsibility

WHILE FFA CHAPTERS are high school-affiliated and operated programs whose primary focus is on the breeding, raising, and showing of livestock, 4-H clubs are more independent, as they do not operate out of schools. The community-based 4-H clubs often focus on livestock as well, but some groups branch into various other applications of agriculture. For example, one 4-H club in particular out of Hillsborough County focuses on teaching students how to safely and responsibly care for and shoot a firearm.

Mr. Ray Truitt leads the On Target Shooting Sports 4-H Club in Hillsborough County. It is the only group in Hillsborough that offers a variety of shooting disciplines and instruction. This group is a shooting club; members participate to gain skills with the shotgun, rifle, and archery methods. Students as young as eight years old may participate, but are limited to archery and air rifles, until they are at least 10 years old and gain more experience. In air and .22-caliber rifle programs, students learn the prone standing and kneeling positions. More experienced students can choose to participate in shotgun and .22-caliber rifle programs where they shoot rifles with and without scope at 3D and silhouette targets. Students can practice for competitions against other 4-H shooting clubs.

Firearm safety is a crucial part of the On Target Shooting Sports Club. “There are three cardinal rules we teach students: M.A.T., which stands for Muzzle, Action, Trigger. Students must always keep their gun pointed in a safe direction, keep action open, and always keep their fingers OFF the trigger,” Truitt explains. “There are also 10 rules students learn once they are out in the field.”

Truitt has been an instructor of On Target Shooting Sports for the last three years. Ray grew up mostly in New Mexico, but his family relocated often because his father was in the military. He explains that while his father was in the military, guns were not kept in his house. He attended Hillsborough Community College after moving to Florida and now works as the production coordinator for Sun Publications. His daughter showed an interest in shooting, which motivated him to be involved as a group leader. Ray volunteers his time to lead the 4-H Club. “In order to volunteer, you must pass a background check on several levels and get certified in a discipline,” he points out. Rifle certification courses are offered through the University of Florida Extension offices.

“Shooting guns can be a touchy subject, especially in the world we live in today,” Truitt observes. But he goes on to point out that the skills his students develop and strict rules they must follow to participate in this club and shoot firearms are essential to not only being safe and efficient gun operators, but also teaches students “great responsibility and discipline that carries over into all areas of life.” Truitt says the best part about being a member of the On Target Shooting Sports Club is “the camaraderie, being around like-minded people, and using teamwork to learn, compete, and develop strong character.”

The 4-H On Target Shooting Sports Club meets on the first and third Sunday of each month at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, 215 Sydney Washer Road in Dover. For more information, email


article by by JULIE GMITTER

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