The 2013 spring trout stocking season came to a close on June 4, and the spring gobbler season ended last month with a good harvest. Now, does this mean that sportsmen and women need to put all their hunting and fishing gear away and wait for fall? No, indeed.
Since I started writing this weekly column in 2007, I have emphasized several times the state youth hunts are important for the future of sport hunting. It is clearly obvious youth who are not exposed to firearms and shooting sports grow up to be adults who do not hunt. Most people agree that firearm education has reduced gun accidents, and at the same time, has helped pass on a West Virginia time-honored tradition. Under state law, all persons, born on or after Jan. 1, 1975, must successfully complete a certified hunter education or safety course before purchasing a hunting license (Chapter 20-2-30a WV Code).
Summer will be upon us in less than two weeks. Naturally, this is the time to be thinking about family picnics, swimming and maybe introducing youth to firearm safety. In this rural area of our great state, we are highly fortunate to have plenty of open space to promote this activity.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources built a new public shooting range at Kumbrabow State Forest in 2010. Right now, I don't have a clue as to how much use this facility has been getting, but I do know this is a great recreational area for having a family picnic with fishing, swimming, and possibly teaching youth and maybe adults the proper way to shoot and handle firearms.
In this generalized area of West Virginia, there are three other public shooting ranges that are within an hour's drive or less from Elkins. The shooting range at the Pleasants Creek Wildlife Management Area is about six miles north of Philippi off U.S. Routes 119/250. The White Horse Center is approximately 10 miles north of Buckhannon on U.S. Route 20 near Peeltree. The shooting range at Stonewall Jackson Lake is located off U.S. Route 19, three miles east of Interstate 79 from exit 19. Any of the four public shooting ranges mentioned above would be good for anyone to spend time honing their marksmanship skills and training people of all ages on gun safety.
In trying to develop a new person's interest in target shooting, start out with targets that are easy to hit. Don't start shooting at 50 yards at a paper target made for 25 yards. Do the opposite (shoot at targets made for 50 yards at a distance of 25 yards.) This will help the individual gain confidence.
Start a new shooter with a firearm that fits reasonably well to their height and weight. Using a gun that does not fit well or has a heavy recoil can turn anyone, unfamiliar with firearms, against this activity at the very start.
From my own experience, I have found that a .22 rimfire bolt-action rifle is best for training a new shooter. If the rifle uses a clip or box-type magazine, the instructor can remove this device, and the rifle can only be fired single shot. After the person becomes familiar with this gun, try another type of firearm, like a .22 semi-automatic rifle.
Take the time to explain how and why this rifle functions differently from the bolt-action rifle they had been firing. As time goes by, introduce the new shooter to a shotgun. If the shooter is a small child (less than 100 pounds), use a 20-gauge or smaller. I don't recommend using a 12-gauge with maximum loads for a youth. Once again, take the time to explain how a shotgun functions.
After the new shooter has become familiar with a scatter-gun, then it is time to try the centerfire rifles. Like the shotgun and .22 rimfire, explain how the gun works. Emphasize that it is important to insert the proper-sized cartridge into the chamber. Failing to do so can result in injury to the shooter.
Last, put heavy emphasis on shooting range safety. Since centerfire rifles and shotguns make more noise than rimfire rifles, be sure to use some form of ear protection. Make sure everyone is behind the firing line when someone is shooting. Be strict when it comes to the shooter keeping the muzzles pointing downrange at all time, but especially when loading, unloading, and shooting the firearm. Having a firearm accident because of carelessness can turn a happy family gathering into a bloody tragedy. Having an accident like this at Kumbrabow State Forest could result in someone bleeding to death. This shooting range is several miles from an emergency room. This would be the last thing anyone would want to happen.