By Lars Dalseide | June 7 2013 09:03

Hundreds of Junior and Senior competitors show off outdoor skills in Little Rock

Members of the Benton County 4-H YHEC team in Arkansas Little Rock, Arkansas - All across the country, tens of thousands of kids are putting their hunting and shooting skills to the test by way of NRA's Youth Education Challenge. A grueling three-day event where teams and individuals compete in eight areas of outdoor expertise; shotgun, rifle, muzzleloader, archer, firearm safety, wildlife identification, orienteering and hunter responsibility. Yesterday, for example, kicked off the Arkansas State Championships at the C. A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center in Little Rock … and we have someone on the inside.

Mr. Stuart Sage arrived early with approximately 40 competitors in tow from the Benton County 4-H. Started five years ago by Michael Gower, the team began with less than ten members. Oh how they've grown.

"I act as an assistant coach for my son's team," Sage wrote. "Three seasons ago, when he first joined, there were only three Juniors on his team. Now we have sixteen Juniors and five Seniors. We have been busy."

Joining Sage's teams are approximately 368 other youngsters from all around Arkansas. Hailing from 27 different counties throughout the state, those boys and girls represent more than a third Arkansas' cantons. Almost 400 challengers from 27 counties competing in eight events in three days. The fact that they're able to pull it off is a testament to the facility, the parents and the volunteers.

Arkansas YHEC Competitors making their way to the Orienteering event in Little Rock.

"We have one of the nicest 4H facilities in the country. The officials are impressive too."

Sage's Junior team began with orienteering. Basically, using a compass and a map. Sauntering through the open grass fields to woods just beyond the cabin break, they stood on numbered markers to work five sets of bearings.

"They have to use what they learned and walk "x" yards on a given bearing. Operational diameter for the first course is 100 yards. From there, stage two calls for teams to work bearings in the woods before emerging into a long straight away where they're expected to reach a certain point. Stage three is working with topographical maps."

Next is muzzleloading.

With their Clear Barrel Indicators (CBI) in place, half the teams hitched a ride on the facility's tractor while the others ambled down a dusty dirt road to the range. Only six of the Sage's sixteen Juniors are veterans to the event. Nerves and excitement were high.

Three shots from five different stations in the standing, kneeling and prone position. Animal shaped metal knockdown targets stood as far away as 75 yards and as near as 25. Talk about a challenge.

They're day wrapped up with the Hunter Responsibility Exam. Known as a game changer here around headquarters, the Hunter Responsibility Exam is just what it sounds like … a test. Think SATs, ACTs, SRAs or whatever those horrible tests you had to take every year in elementary school to gauge your progress. No fun at all. But it's not meant to be fun.

"These kids are learning what it takes to be a safe, ethical, effective hunter," said Sage. "Besides, a little studying never hurt anyone."

Guess we'll have to ask the kids about that tomorrow.

Members of the Benton County 4H  team at the Arkansas State YHEC Championships

We'll be back with Stuart and an update on the Benton County 4H teams tomorrow. If you'd like to share you're NRA experience, just send us an email at GOblog@nrahq.org.

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