By Kerrin Brinkman | March 1 2011 08:34

We often feature success stories from the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program, but here is the incredible story of the California Musketeers, a group of young shooters who used the program to develop and foster their love of shooting, and the coaches who helped guide them on their journey to Distinguished Experts. Thanks to Musketeers coach Michael Pass for the article and photos.

One day about nine years ago I was helping coach a Boy Scout troop that was firing for their shooting badge. As we finished up, a man I’d never seen before, Jack Weir, asked the coaches for our attention. He announced that he was starting a youth shooting club for kids and grandkids, ages eight to eighteen, of Diablo Rod and Gun Club members, (and later all of United Sportsmen, Inc.’s clubs), and asked for volunteer coaches. A few of us raised our hands, and California Musketeers was born.

For the first year or so it was going great. All the shooting was done prone at the 10-bull A-17 targets; but some of the kids were getting bored. At about that time one Saturday afternoon, I helped with a Basic Pistol class; one of the handouts was the booklet for the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program—and as I looked through it, the proverbial light bulb flickered…

I brought it up at the next officers meeting and was given a unanimous go-ahead. Some of the older teenage boys had been asking to shoot .22 handguns, and after I received the D1 Bianchi targets, we began. And we noticed an immediate improvement in their “interest rate!”

In 2003 one of the boys, 17-year-old Drew Weir, and I became our club’s first Distinguished Experts, in Handgun. In 2004 another teen boy and two of the coaches also completed DE in Handgun. Meanwhile, I got the other kids off their bellies and onto the tables. 6-bull A-32 targets were purchased, (special thanks to The National Target Co. for their ‘club’ discount!), and scoring for Light Rifle (Benchrest) began. I started having the kids, depending on age and experience, alternate firing off the bench for a few dates then on the rug for 4-Position Rifle.

In 2005, 10-year-old Katherine Damiano became not only our youngest DE, but the first in Light Rifle. By year’s end four more of us had reached that discipline’s pinnacle, including me becoming our first Double DE. In 2010 Katherine became our sixth Double Dist. Expert, and her dad, John, became the first (and so far, only) Cal. Musketeers Distinguished Expert in the very difficult 4-Position Rifle.

A few years ago, one of the dads, Rod Guyette, started up a second Musketeers group, for Shotgun, which has been a huge success! In 2010 three of our youths completed Distinguished Expert by successfully busting at least 676 clays out of a possible 950 of those fast-moving discs!

As of January, 2011, I’ve had the pleasure of presenting 28 Distinguished Expert awards, of which seven were second ones. Also in January, three more of our youths achieved this level; two of them, Kendall and Quincy Winship, did so in Handgun. (They are high school-age sisters; no sibling rivalry there, well, except that this makes younger sister Quincy a Double Dist. Expert.) Their dad, Bruce, just completed Distinguished Expert in Handgun in December, and their mom just fired for score for the first time, turning in the first two scores for Pro-Marksman in Light Rifle.

To-date, we have six sets of parent/child Distinguished Experts, with six of those thirteen people being Double Dist. Experts. The Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program has been instrumental in keeping the interest level up for the kids—and their parents!

We may be there for the kids, but there’s no doubt that the parents enjoy shooting side-by-side with their child(ren); the shooting sports truly are family-friendly. And when the shooters can measure their improvement by meeting increasingly more difficult minimums at higher and higher levels, from Pro-Marksman on up, well, so much the better!

We stress “SAFETY FIRST! Fun second, and Accuracy third.” As Instructors, my buddy, Byron Montague, (also a Double Distinguished Expert) and I tell the kids that just because they get to touch a gun here at the range, that does not give them the right to touch a gun at home—or anyone else’s home—without their parents’ permission, regardless of how experienced the kids are or what level he or she has achieved. Firearms safety applies both on and off the shooting range!

Most of the families stick with us for about three to five years. Lives get busy, interests change, and they’ll start showing up less and less frequently. But, because of the MQP, I had ‘em for a few years, and I can practically guarantee that none of these kids will ever deliberately mishandle a firearm. And they grow up to be voters, too!

Thank you NRA and Winchester for helping make our program the success that it is!

Congratulations to the Musketeers and their coaches for providing an incredible example of how the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program is beneficial to shooters of all ages and skill levels. Learn more about the Winchester/Marksmanship Program online or send an email to marksmanship@nrahq.org.

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