Youth behind the firing line at the NRA Whittington Center
Raton, New Mexico - The success of NRA matches relies on volunteers giving their time to be range safety officers, referees, stat officers and more. Their enthusiasm for the shooting sports allows competitors to have fun in a structured, professional environment.
Many volunteers are retirees, capable of being at matches for many days without worrying about how much vacation time they have left - but not all of them.
A couple young faces are among the newcomers at the NRA Whittington Center this year. Kellen Swartz and Scott Hull are volunteering as Range Safety Officers this year for the NRA Black Powder Target Rifle Championships and couldn't be having a better time.
"I've always been interested in firearms from a very young age," said Swartz, whose older brother Dustin is the Chief Range Safety Officer. "Dustin's been out here for a number of years and I jumped at the chance to come out when he said they needed help this year."
"I've known Leighton since 2005 when we worked just outside Washington D.C. at the same trap and skeet fields," Hull told me. I moved to Austin, Texas, about four years ago but we've kept in touch. When he asked if I could come out to Raton I made sure my schedule worked. It's great being out here."
Working a match has an added bonus of helping your own shooting game by observing all the seasoned competitors.
"There's all kinds of little things you can pick up when you're walking around a match," Swartz said. "How they hold their gun, their trigger pull, hearing them discuss wind readings, things you need to be good at in a match."
This definitely increased my interest in black powder," Hull said. "I'm looking forward to trying it in the future. I think it's really cool that just about everyone does their own loads - very self sufficient."
This is my first time to New Mexico," Swartz explained. "The landscape is breathtaking. The air is crisp and clean. The sun is... relentless."
Be sure to wear sunscreen, Kellen. And the rest of you too.