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Program targets young marksmen
Lake Oconee shooting Clinic gets kids fired up about guns, archery

By Rebecca Quigley | Staff Writer | Story updated at 10:47 PM on Wednesday, July 18, 2007
EATONTON - Charlie Butts pressed his cheek into the butt of the double-barrel shotgun, called for the pull and aimed. With an ear-splitting crack - even through ear plugs - his shot made an orange skeet splinter like a firecracker into a dozen pieces.

"He crushed it!" shouted Dawson Stegall, as the two 8-year-olds celebrated Charlie's first hit of the afternoon.

Charlie - who likes the smell of burned gunpowder - took a sniff of the shell casing and tossed it to the floor. Dawson picked it up with a magnet mop and dumped it into a can of spent shells.

Dawson and Charlie took turns at the Lake Oconee Shooting Club's skeet-and-trap gallery, working toward their goal to be able to hunt side-by-side with their dads and granddads.

The pair took up their shotguns on Wednesday, the third day of a four-day archery and shooting clinic the club hosts twice a summer for 8- to 18-year-olds.

Shooting instructors designed the clinics to teach area children the basics of shooting different targets and to ensure that they know how safely to handle the bows and shotguns, whether at a shooting range or in the fields and woods, said instructor Jay Giusti.

"This is the ABC's - but keeping it fun and keeping them encouraged," Giusti said. "They learn the value of working hard. ... It's not about how many targets they hit."

Teaching kids how to shoot with guns and bows helps them learn life skills such as how to handle winning and losing, staying calm under pressure and supporting each other's efforts, he said.

"I always say good shooters are not born, they're made," Giusti said.

While the full-day clinics draw a handful of budding shooters and archers out of school for summer break, they don't put down their guns when it's time to pick up the school books again.

Some kids go on to participate in the 4-H and Scholastic Clay Target Program, a six-month training and statewide competition program that starts in February, Giusti said.

Dawson, showing off his 20-gauge youth automatic shotgun, said he has shot deer rifles but learned to handle shotguns for the first time at the clinic.

"The first thing is to be safe and the second is to have fun," he said.

Charlie demonstrated how to safely carry a youth side-by-side (double barrel) shotgun: hold the gun in front of you, pointed toward the ground at an angle and make sure the barrel is open because "if there's other people around, they can see it's not loaded," he said.

Charlie was excited about the progress he made in just a couple of days, with both the shotgun and the bow, which was less familiar to him.

"I've shot a couple bows. ... At the start of the week, I could barely hit the target, but at the end of the week, I could probably hit a bull's-eye," Charlie said.

Giusti spent a couple of days showing the young sportsmen how to handle a bow and arrow, but by Wednesday afternoon, they were in the outdoor skeet shooting gallery where they practiced taking aim at the cookie-sized disks of orange clay hurled from five different directions.

Dawson and Charlie have practiced their shooting skills with three kinds of skeet.

The largest skeet is called the rabbit "because it shoots out like a bunny and it rolls over and over," Dawson said.

The medium-sized skeet flies about 25-30 mph, he said.

The smallest speeds along at about 50 mph, "so it's even harder to catch it in the air," Charlie said.

The trick to getting the right shot is "just look down the barrel and where your eye goes, your barrel goes," Dawson said. "Sometimes you've got to lean into your shot. ... just look at the front of the clay target and bust it."

Charlie concentrates on keeping calm so the gun's recoil won't throw him back, "and I always lean my head on the gun," he said.

"Once you shoot it a couple of times, it hurts a little bit in the shoulder, but after a couple times, it doesn't hurt," Charlie said.

The boys hope to keep practicing so they will grow up to be better hunters and sportsmen.

But for now, "my next goal is putting three bullets in it and shoot three at the same time," Dawson said, explaining that it's illegal to hunt with more than three shots in a barrel.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 071907

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That range is a bit controversial. My folks live a few miles from there, but I have several cousins that own the land around it. The problems were mainly with the original owners of the place. I think it's on #3 now.

The real estate agent supposedly lied to the original owners of the range when they were in the process of obtaining the property, but the owners had already invested their money before that came to light. The county initially denied the zoning, but it all went to court and the zoning was approved.

If you build your house near a shooting range you should have to put up with the noise, but people shouldn't go build a range next to a place where a family has lived for several generations and expect them to be happy about it.

My very elderly cousin that had Alzheimer's kept thinking that they were under attack every time the shooting started. Her grandson is a bit of a hothead. He built a cannon and started firing it off whenever the range was in use. The range owners then tried to have him prosecuted and complained about the noise he was making. :roll:

Many of the other property owners around the place were upset and had problems with the original owners as well.

I can see both sides of the issue. They bought the property legitimately and were using it for a legal purpose, but there were other places they could have gone with that wouldn't have been an issue. Plus, they didn't handle some of the early issues as well as they should have. They were not locals, and there is some contention between the people that come for the lakes there and then try to run the county and look down their nose at the people that have lived there for years.

I think the current owners have smoothed things over somewhat. Most of the locals refused to shoot there at first because of the way they dealt with things.

On a positive note, one of the "youths" that came up through that program is a world champion and is now part of the Army Marksmanship Unit.
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