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Program Teaches Youth About Outdoors Safety
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A Mississippi 4-H program is doing what it can to ensure that a gun in the hands of a young person does not mean trouble.
Youth ages 8 to 18 enrolled in the Mississippi Field and Stream Program not only learn hunting, and wildlife and fisheries management, they also learn respect for guns and how and when to use them.
Dean Stewart, Mississippi State University Extension wildlife specialist with MSU's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the program teaches essential life skills through shooting sports and managing resources for wildlife and fisheries.
"Most homes in Mississippi have firearms, and young people need to know how to safely handle the firearm and to have proper respect for it," Stewart said.
The 10-year-old program doesn't stop with just guns. The curriculum teaches young people about wildlife habitat evaluation, quail and small game management and archery, in addition to hunting, muzzle loading, pistol, shotgun and rifle. Stewart said shooting areas teach basic skills as well as safety, self-discipline, self-confidence, decision-making and courtesy.
"The goals of this program are standard 4-H goals to help young people develop and grow," Stewart said.
Through participants' interests in hunting and shooting, the program encourages an understanding of natural resource management. Socially responsible involvement in these activities builds self-esteem and character in the participants.
Raymond Radcliff, a 4-H volunteer and nationally certified shotgun instructor in Tallahatchie County, has worked with the field and stream program since its beginning.
"Safety is first and foremost. We teach the kids they don't want to point the muzzle at something unless they plan to shoot," Radcliff said. "We teach the kids to keep the guns in the cases and unloaded at all times until they're ready to go to the range firing line."
Youth learn about the guns and how to aim at and hit targets.
"We take some kids from having never shot a gun before to hitting clay targets with a shotgun the first time they pull the trigger," Radcliff said. "That doesn't happen every time, but when they shoot a skeet, they know instantly if they hit it or not, and they really enjoy it."
Extension and MSU's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries operate the program with support from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Clubs currently located in 54 counties are coordinated through local Extension agents and meet 10 or more times a year.
Before they can participate in matches, youth receive at least eight hours of training in each area in which they participate from specially-trained adult volunteers. Youth can progress to state events after having participated in two county or area matches.
"At the state level, a hunting trail is set up with silhouettes of game and non-game animals," Stewart said. "They have to decide if a situation is a safe shooting situation and if the animal is threatened, endangered or if the hunting season is open for game animals."
Annually, the field and stream program holds two area events for shooting sports and two area and one state event for the wildlife evaluation project. In the Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program, students learn how to manage animals and their habitat requirements. The Quail and Small Game Program gives youth grant money to carry out their wildlife habitat management activities throughout the year.
The most recent shooting sports events were held April 25 and May 2 in Liberty and Holly Springs respectively. The two events hosted 373 youth from 35 counties around the state.
For more information about the Mississippi Field and Stream Program, contact the local county extension office.