Updated: May 4, 2021
So, you have an 8-18 year old, looking for something constructive to do outdoors? Want to get them away from "Screens"...Try Shooting Sports.
Depending on where you live, there is probably some kind of Shooting Sports Program nearby. The first place I would look (but I am Partial) would be with your local 4-H Agent. 4-H is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture and will be Associated with one or more State Universities. Here in NC, it is a part of NC State University and NC A&T University. I can’t say with certainty that every County has a 4-H Program, but most do. Unfortunately many do not have Shooting Sports, but they can direct you to the nearest County that does. In NC 40 of 100 Counties have 4-H Shooting Sports and some Counties have more than one shooting sports club. The cost to become involved with 4-H Shooting Sports is minimal. In our case, it is 100% Free. We can provide anything and everything needed.
In some States, 4-H Shooting Sports may be divided by Discipline, many have ”Archery Clubs”, “Shotgun Clubs” etc. Every 4-H Club I am aware of is always very inviting and welcoming of new members. 4-H offers Regional, State and specialized Tournaments as well as a 4-H National Championship in Grand Island, Nebraska each June. Different states have different requirements to qualify for their Nationals Teams. In NC you have to Compete at the Regional and State levels and then "Try Out" the Top 4 competitors from the Try-out form the Team and many also have Alternates that have an "Automatic" Place the following year if they meet the teams requirements to do so. At the National level, 4-H offers the following competitions...Recurve Archery, Compound Archery, Air Rifle, Air Pistol, Smallbore Rifle, Smallbore Pistol, Shotgun, Muzzleloader and Hunting Skills. Each Discipline has up to a 4-Member team in each discipline. Kids compete as both Individuals and as a team. A complete State Team will have 36 Kids.
Another Avenue to become involved may be through your Child’s School. This has become more and more rare in Public Schools, although in NC quite a few Middle and High Schools offer Wildlife Hunter Education Teams. They use the Schools as a Name source and eligibility platform, but are technically not a School Program and are directed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and their Youth Shooting Sports Program. The HE teams tend to lean directly towards the Competitive side. They compete in a District Tournament and the top teams and Individuals compete in a State Tournament. There is also a National Tournament offered by YHEC, which is part of the NRA. Many of our 4-H Kids also participate on HE Teams.
Many Private Schools Have Shooting Sports Programs. In our area alone, I am aware of several Rifle Teams and Shotgun Teams. Also Homeschool Associations may have their own Shooting Sports Programs. A large percentage of kids in our 4-H Program are Homeschool Kids.
Yet another Avenue is via Local Gun Clubs and Private Ranges. Many offer various Youth Programs and are affiliated with various Governing bodies, such as A.I.M. for Trap, SCTP for all Shotgun Sports, USAA and JOAD (Archery) CMP (Rifle and Pistol) SASP (Rifle and Pistol). Google “Youth Shooting Sports” and many of these programs in your area will pop up. Both SASP and SCTP are under the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF) Umbrella...So many Acronyms! There are many others, these are just the ones I am most familiar with at the moment. Our own TCYSS (another acronym) also supports an SCTP Team as well as the 4-H Club and we have kids that also shoot A.I.M. and CMP. There are also many Private Shooting Sports Teams out there. Some are associated with Shooting Venues. Some were just started by an individual or some like-minded adults; often times by a parent who had a kid who was interested, but couldn't find a Team or Club to join. In our area we have several of these. In one case, I know of a Shotgun Team that shoots SCTP and other Shotgun Competitions that started several years ago when a Father was trying to find a Youth Team that shot Sporting Clays. There were none to be found in the area. So...he started one, got a few kids and parents interested and voila, 6-8 years later, his kid has grown up, but the Team goes on. Many of the Private Teams I am familiar with require a membership either to the Venue that supports them or a Membership and Annual Fees or Dues to take part. Some are pretty reasonable and some I have seen are quite pricey. All depends upon what you want. Some also require a major time commitment, which again, is all about what you and your kids want.
Boy Scouts also offer Shooting Sports, but in our part of the world at least, only during their Summer and Weekend Camps, with no ongoing programs or teams. We also have a number of Boy Scouts involved in our programs.
One thing that I personally have observed, is that Youth Shooting Sports Programs generally fall into two categories. Competitive Teams and Clubs. Our 4-H Club offers many opportunities to compete, but doesn't focus on just competition. We have a group of kids whose primary interests are competing and we are quite successful. However we have an even larger number of members that have no interest in competing, but love to shoot and are more interested in Shooting Sports from a personal recreational standpoint. We support both. We also have some kids who are highly involved in other sports and activities, including scouting and athletic teams. Many competitive teams have "Mandatory" Practices that cannot be missed if the kid wants to stay on the team. We try not to interfere with those programs. I don't want one of our kids to have to choose between "Us and Them". (We have unfortunately seen a lot of that...from the "them" side) In our case, I tell our 4-H Parents that we are kind of like the Community Pool. You join and you go to the extent that you want or need. Some come every time we open the range and some come a few times per year. If the kid wants to compete, we will support them to the degree that we can support them...even beyond 4-H. If they do compete for us, we expect them to attend practices regularly, but we understand other obligations. When we form our Tournament Teams in the Summer, we place kids by their commitment first and ability second. Everyone that meets the minimum requirements can compete, but some or our Teams will be more "competitive" than others. We want all kids that want to compete to do so and we also want to win.
There are lots of programs out there that offer Youth Shooting Sports. Finding one that is convenient and meets the needs of your child is the key. The single most important factor from my perspective is SAFETY and Being POSITIVE...Kids need to HAVE FUN and be SAFE doing it! The best place to start is just how you found this...via the internet. We try to get our message out on Social Media as well. A couple of winters ago, I saw on Facebook a parent that was looking for a Shooting Sports program for her daughter. (I don't post a lot on Facebook, except on our TCYSS Page, and I stay out of most conversations, and all that involve Politics, Religion and Opinions). Her daughter had tried several sports and loved to be outdoors, but so far nothing had clicked for her. Anyway, I was getting ready to respond to them, I did not know them personally, but saw it on a friend's feed. Before I could respond, one of our 4-H Parents was already directing them to Us...I was so proud! Within minutes I got a Message and we had a new member! Love it!!