What to Expect and How to Prepare for 4-H Shooting Sports Matches
The finest shooting sports complexes all across the globe have paved walkways winding through beautifully scenic, verdant, landscaped gardens with flat-packed gravel pathways leading spectators to Corinthian leather padded stadium seating. Yeah, well, we won’t be going to any of those. Best to think of a 4-H Shooting Sports match as something like a hybrid between a family picnic and a primitive camping expedition. You probably already have a pretty good sense that your 4-H club is relatively experienced at adapting and “making do.” It’s really one of our charms. 4-H shooting sports matches are definitely not held at the end of the earth, but you can generally see it from there. The good news is you will most likely see parts of Kentucky you may never have explored previously. So, like that other famous kid’s organization says, “Be prepared.”
The ranges we will be going to will range from recently harvested, plowed corn fields on a dairy farm (i.e., archery @ Washington County), to freshly mowed and raked pastures (Spencer County, Mercer County) to actual developed, private club shooting ranges (Adair County, state) – some which may actually have paved roads. Parking is usually more than ample – however seemingly never tremendously close to where the actual shooting takes place. So, be prepared to walk a bit.
In the broadest terms, on average, be prepared to walk/hike/trek over hilly terrain where the grass will be maybe twice and then some as tall as your lawn, with significant lumps, bumps, holes, depressions, rocks, and sticks. Flat never seems to quite be an option and it always seems to be uphill. Oh, and if it’s recently rained or just damp with dew in the morning, shoes & socks are probably going to get wet and occasionally a little muddy. Rubber boots can be particularly nice if you know it’s going to rain or it just did.
The Beginning Strategy…
All 4-H programs are about youth development. Shooting Sports advances that goal mightily through the discipline, self-control, mental focus, practice, patience, planning, problem solving, personal responsibility, sportsmanship and safety requirements inherent in precision shooting sports… and even with all that going on, it’s still fun, too. You are all parents, so you already know that it’s all about the kids. The kids are going to have fun at the match. Yes, it is technically a competitive event, but you will hear the coaches incessantly repeating our match mantra, “It’s really just practice at another place” and asking, “Did you have fun?” Yes, the match officials will calculate scores, and that is important. But our focus should remain on helping everyone understand that on some days everyone shoots a little better and on other days everyone shoots a little less well. Yes, everyone prefers more of the former and less of the latter but if everyone shot the exact same score every time, it would get really boring really quickly. Bottom line – it’s all about the kids. Just keep repeating that…
So how does this actually work?
Car caravanning to shooting sports matches works really well. From an organizational perspective, it means most everyone arrives at the event mostly on time, knows where their equipment is, and has sort of a “home base” from which to operate in basically unfamiliar territory and everyone retains the flexibility to determine when they wish to head back home.
Families heading to a match will assemble a designated gas station around Mt. Eden Road and Interstate 64 very, very early in the morning. There will be a specific and rather inflexible departure time communicated to everyone. It is best to arrive at the gas station location early to allow time to pick up any last minute items like gas, ice, drinks, breakfast sandwiches, coffee (for adults), etc., before departing. I hesitate to say this, but that location is close enough to our range so that if a sufficiently acute major planning malfunction makes it absolutely essential to run over and pick up something forgotten, it can be done. We vehemently resist doing this preferring appropriate advance planning.
While at the gas station, drivers/navigators will receive written hardcopy directions to the range which will include latitude and longitude coordinates. Most GPS systems using only the physical address will mis-locate the actual range by at least a mile, sometime several. If you are unfamiliar with how to use coordinates with your GPS, you still have time to practice (Spencer County is an easy one to start with: 38.033057, ‑85.311904) or make sure you follow someone who’s been there before. Also, if you look at Google maps satellite view; you will recognize what shooting ranges look like from overhead. With event notifications provided through this website, the exact location is always provided, complete with a map view and coordinates.
The predetermined departure time is not negotiable. It’s actually determined by our prior experience caravanning to arrive at the host range ½ hour to 45 minutes before registration opens (depending on the match). This gives us ample opportunity to park relatively close together at a point more or less equidistant to all of the different ranges the 4-H’ers will be using (archery, .22 rifle, pistol, air rifle, black powder, etc.) and still have sufficient time to set up our central camp/base of supply & operations. This will serve as the staging area so all of the kids know exactly where they have to go to pick up and drop off equipment for different shooting matches throughout the day. The centralized camp also provides a focal point for everyone to come and get a bite to eat, a bottle of water, to sit down and chat and decompress for a while, or strategize about the next relay or just convivially pass the time.
Arriving and registering early in the morning also affords our shooters the opportunity to sign up for some of the earliest relays at their respective ranges. This means it will usually be cooler, less windy, with less heat mirage, and less glare from the sun – all good things for precision shooting. Also, this usually means, with luck, everyone on our team will be done shooting all of their different events by lunchtime.
What Should You Bring…
Everybody worries a lot about this, but please don’t. I still don’t have an absolute finalized list of stuff that has to go every time. Also, please keep in mind this is a collaborative, team effort. If you forget something, chances are someone else probably remembered it.
So, let’s start… What are the essentials beyond a smile and an expectation of fun?
Child / children
Kind of obvious but I don’t want to omit anything important… This would also include any of their personal equipment (shooter’s box, arrows, ear plugs, etc.). It is critically important that each child have their ID BADGE. Early matches are a bit less stringent requiring ID badges; however, matches later in the summer can be somewhat fastidious in requiring them and no one may participate at the state match without one. If you do not have an ID badge for 2017 (2016 badges will not work), please see Coach Jessica or Coach Laura ASAP.
Ice chest w/ bottles of water – CRITICALLY IMPORTANT.
Keeping everyone hydrated is incredibly important. Shooting is very much harder and more physically (and mentally) demanding that most folks realize. Hydration is critical to being able to participate in an all-day outdoor event, especially in warmer weather. Water is best; sports drinks are good, but less so; unsweetened juice or milk is fine; sugared or caffeinated drinks – please no; “energy” drinks, absolutely not. You will notice that at practices, the coaches will begin setting Wednesdays before a match as the deadline for participants to cease consumption of lattes, sodas, iced tea and other caffeinated beverages so they will have time to decaffeinate before the match. It really does make a difference in their scores.
Make sure they’re comfortable folding chairs. You also will want to evaluate your chairs’ comfort relative to their portability – i.e., carrying them to and from different ranges. Bring one for each person in your tribe. Your young person(s) will not need seating accommodations while actually at the ranges where they will shoot, so theirs can stay mostly at base camp.
Bug Repellant & Sun Block
Whatever type or kind you prefer is fine. Some venues are buggier than others; a lot depends on the weather, but the sun shines bright on all of them. Also, some years ticks have been a bit of a problem; just be aware or stay close to Coach Steve – he’s our designated tick magnet.
All of the venues will have moderately priced concessions available. This is how the host clubs raise money. The quality of the burgers, hot dogs and other culinary faire varies immensely, and all venues will have chips and candy items for sale. Qualitatively, the food offerings run the gamut between barely okay to school-lunch institutional… although, Fleming County’s grill master is a pure genius and Washington County’s 3-D Archery match features three flavors of real, made on-site, home-made ice cream (MARVELOUS ! ! !).
I realize it sounds really coach-esque, but we try to make the kids cognizant of the fact that what they eat does affect their performance. The coaches will gently & politely ‘request’ the kids steer clear of the chips, candy and soft drinks until they’ve completed shooting for the day, but ultimately, it’s their choice.
Families are encouraged pack some snacks for munching in between shooting events. It is important to keep adding calories to the young ones throughout the morning’s events – but generally nothing carb-heavy. Shelled nuts and/or fresh fruit are just about perfect. Any & all berries, apple, orange, kiwi, mango, pineapple, banana, etc. will go most quickly if pre-cut into slices/chunks and put in plastic bags or tubs – don’t’ forget to bring plastic spoons/forks/sporks. A little extra is sometimes appreciated as kids will usually share their favorites. Homemade sandwiches, etc., for lunch, prepared exactly as your family likes them are hard to beat after a tough day shooting. And again, best to save the chips, Fritos, Cheetos, cookies, cake, cobbler, and cheese & beef sticks until after completing all events.
Pop-up tent shelter (optional)
We have never really coordinated these but there are usually between two and four Shelby County pop-ups at most matches. If you would like to bring one, please do. Extra shade is always appreciated. We generally squish them all together to make as large a shady spot as possible.
Dress for the weather and keep in mind it’s not always predictable; so, layers, lot of layers, especially easy-on, easy-off layers. It’s usually a bit chilly in the morning when we arrive and it steadily warms up all day – unless it rains, which is always a possibility, so at least one of your layers should be water repellant. Just remember we’re going to be outside all day and wearable rain gear works best for all… it’s just too hard to hold an umbrella while shooting archery. The general rule is: “It’s better to have it in the car and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
You will notice that most of the kids (and a lot of parents, too) from each county will wear their team T-shirts. Clearly, Shelby County’s shirts are the best by far. Coach Laura still has some in most sizes, so if you need one, please let her know. Having lots of folks with the same team shirts allows the kids to locate their coaches, their teammates on the firing line, and each other over fairly long distances.
Conduct & Dress Code
Very Important: the Kentucky state 4-H Shooting Sports Rules committee many years ago adopted a clothing rule. Below is a verbatim transcript of Kentucky 4-H Shooting Sports 2017 General Rule Number 11 for your perusal:
For participants in a 4-H Shooting Sports Education event, the following dress code applies:
- All shirts must have sleeves no more than three inches above the elbow. Shirts must cover midriffs.
- No clothing with vulgar or suggestive language, tobacco or alcohol, racist or sexist comments allowed.
- No short-shorts. Shorts must be at least mid-thigh length. Skirts must be ankle length.
- In accordance with National Shooting Sports guidelines, any participant while on the shooting line or shooting in any outdoor shooting event is required to wear shoes that completely cover the feet. Examples of footwear that are not acceptable include, but not limited to: sandals, clogs, crocks, flip-flops and bare feet
- Participants and any other attending 4-H-er’s are continually required to promote a positive image of the 4-H program by adhering to this dress code while in attendance at any shooting sports education event. Multiple or egregious offenses by a county could have them disqualified from the State 4-H Shooting Sports Education contest.
- All attendees/spectators will dress conservatively reminded that this is a family activity, and that modesty and decency are required. No vulgar or promiscuous clothing will be tolerated.
- Alcoholic beverages are prohibited at ALL events and on the grounds.
- Profanity, racists and sexist remarks will not be tolerated.
- Attendees/spectators will be asked to leave the event or change clothing if they are not compliant with these requirements.
Really important, for both adults and kids. My preference is hiking shoes or boots with stiff soles pretty much all day, but I also bring a pair of comfy slip-ons for the drive home, and I have a pair of rubber boots ‘just in case’. The only really odd shoe rule is for target rifle shooters, both .22 and air, which stipulates that shoes may not extend above the ankle – but I’ve never really seen it enforced at a 4-H event.
Most shooters don’t think they need one usually because they consider hats antithetical fashion statements. The reality is there is no shade on the firing line at most outdoor matches. So, note that individuals over the age of 18 typically find a nice, cool hat both practicable and efficacious.
Exercise-type elastic sweatbands (head and/or wrist) or a bandana
Again, a not really a trés chic, high fashion item for the young ones but after a couple of hot summer days matches and enough perspiration dripping their eyes, most un-hatted rifleers and archers will grudgingly find these useful when they have both hands full and are concentrating on shooting well. Shotgunners and pistoleros will find them useful, but less essential.
Binoculars or Spotting scope & stand
In order to see rifle/pistol targets as they are being shot. A small pair of binoculars stowed in their shooter’s boxes can be handy for rifle/pistol shooters. A larger, higher magnification pair can be interesting for parents, but nerve wracking as well. If you do watch targets being shot, please remember that coaching, signaling or communicating with participants during the match is strictly against the rules.
We desperately need photographic documentation of our match activities. Please take lots of pictures of everything. Then, if they meet with your approval, and you would grant us permission, we would love the opportunity to post them on our website.
We don’t call them Baby Wipes anymore… they’re “BW’s”.
… but on especially hot days, a quick face & neck wipe is magnificently refreshing… especially if the container is kept in your ice chest. Admittedly, this is a pure luxury comfort item. After exhaustive testing, Wet Ones and Wet Naps are nowhere near as wonderful as BW’s.
Okay. So, we all arrived on time; everybody made it to their matches and are finished shooting for the day; we’ve all had lunch; now what? Not much. These are the mid-match doldrums and are typically the time when most folks pack up and head for home.
Some matches post individuals’ scores as soon as they’re tabulated, usually at or near the clubhouse or food center. Coaches or veterans will usually be able to tell you if scores are typically posted at a particular match. If so, your shooters will probably want to go check their scores and compare them to everyone else to see if they can figure out final placement and awards to see if they “need” to stay.
If scores are not posted, then it’s a waiting game for all the competitors to complete their events. Match officials generally want to start the awards ceremony as soon as possible. Nonetheless, it is most common for many individuals and sometimes whole county contingents to pull up stakes and hit the road for home before awards. Shelby County uses this time to count and make sure we have all the club equipment we brought and stow it properly for the trip home. We’ll usually leave the tents up until it becomes clear the awards ceremony is about to begin. Once we receive the signal, we will strike and stow the tents and relocate with chairs to the area for awards.
Awards at most matches usually start around 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. – some earlier, but not much, and sometimes much later (the state match awards ceremony usually never starts until after 7:00 p.m. and sometimes much later). Awards most frequently take an hour or so at medium sized matches.
Do you have to stay for awards? No, certainly not. Our club will always have at least a small contingent that will stay through the awards ceremony to make sure we pick up any awards our competitors earned. These will be distributed at the next practices.