Just mention the term “4-H” In any farming community and you will surely conjure up images of young men and women raising livestock or poultry that then is judged at the county fair. But in Clarke County, Virginia 4-H extends to other activities beyond traditional animal husbandry; namely archery and gun shooting.
“Our shooting club started about eight years ago to give the children of Clarke County some additional activities and program areas within 4-H,” said founder Chad Morris, one of the adults who sponsors the weekly bow and gun meetings. “Our goal is to allow the participants and their families the opportunity to participate with little or no expense to the family.”
Morris, who is a special education teacher at Grafton School, describes the 4-H sanctioned group as a shooting education and outdoor adventurer program.
“Not only do we provide shooting education, but we also have leaders trained to allow our members to do things like camping and whitewater rafting – all of which we have done,” Morris said.
Morris’s shooting club is open to participants from eight years to nineteen years of age and eight to ten club members regularly turn out for practice sessions at the Clarke County fairgrounds.
Morris started the group in 2004 when his daughter, who was a member of one of Clarke County’s other twelve 4-H clubs, decided that she wanted a different type of 4-H experience.
“This is a little bit like co-ed Boy Scouts,” Morris said.
Morris said that over the years his outdoor adventure club has obtained several grants from the National Rifle Association to start its rifle program, archery program, pistol program, and most recently a shotgun program.
“We rely heavily on donations and fundraising to provide all the practice locations, materials, and equipment the youth need to participate,” Morris said. “Our goal is to provide everything so that there isn’t any out-of-pocket expense for families.”
On a recent windy and sunny afternoon, several young Clarke County residents, boys and girls alike, lined up in front of a half-dozen large, pillow-shaped targets placed about 30 feet away. Each young archer is equipped with a bow, quiver of arrows and wrist protection to guard against bow sting abrasions.
An ever-vigilant firing line supervisor soon gives the order to begin shooting. The young archers begin notching their arrows on the bowstring while focusing their concentration on the down-range bulls-eyes. Each shooter strikes the classic bent-elbow pose before releasing the bowstring and sending the arrow sliding silently toward the target.
The goat-shed cum archery range is silent except for the thwack, thwack, thwack of arrows striking the target.
Only after the last arrow has been launched and quivers are emptied is the command “stand-down” from the firing line given. Once released to retrieved their arrows the young archers can hardly wait to assess their latest round of shooting skills.
“You had two bullseyes!” one archer says with awe, and perhaps a hint of envy, to another.
It’s hard not to be reminded of Robin Hood and Maid Marion while watching ten-year-old Kaycee Davis’s long golden braid sway in the wind as she fires arrow after arrow down range. Kaycee, who attends Cooley Elementary, said that archery is a way for her to connect with her father who also enjoys the sport.
“Archery was something that I became interested in after I saw my dad doing it,” Kaycee said. “It looked fun when he was doing it so I wanted to try it.”
Both of Kaycee’s parents stood nearby as she practiced.
“Kaycee has always enjoyed doing things with her dad and likes to hunt with him,” said Kimberely Davis, Kaycee’s mother. “She wanted to be better at archery so this seemed like a good option for her.”
“Any outdoor activity is better than sitting inside watching television of playing video games,” said father Greg Davis.
Chad Morris says that the shooting team usually practices on Tuesdays at the Clarke County fairgrounds at 6:00 pm and alternates each week between air rifles/BB guns in one building and archery in another, usually the sheep barn. Business meetings are held the first Thursday of each month at the Berryville Moose lodge at 7pm.
With regular practice Morris said that club members become proficient marksmen very quickly and have performed well at state-wide competitions.
“We currently participate in two state level shoots a year, the one in March that we just competed in
was only air rifles, air pistols and BB guns,” Morris explained. “The event in September offers more choices. In addition to air rifles and BB guns, they can shoot archery, shotguns, .22 rifles, pistols, and muzzleloaders.”
Autumn Stevenson, a Boyce Elementary fourth grader, is only eight years old but her shooting style and skill resembled that of someone many years older. Stevenson casually and consistently fired arrow after arrow into the distant target, closing her right eye in order to sight with her left before releasing the arrow.
“I really like the movie ‘The Hunger Games’ and my favorite character, Catness, is really good at archery,” Autumn said. “I also shoot at home and like using my brother’s long bow.”
While grants from groups like the NRA pay for much of the clubs equipment, travel expenses for state competitions – $700 – $800 for the entire team – still need to be raised locally. Club finance coordinator Chastity Wiley, whose sons Coby and Jarrett also shoot with the team, said that the extra money for local club expenses is usually raised through raffles.
The club is currently raffling two guns, a Weatherbee rifle and a Bushmaster AR-15.
“We started this club when my kids were still pretty young,” Wiley said. “The idea that we’re trying to teach is that it is OK for kids can be guns and archery. The point is to emphasize safety.”
Wiley said that anyone who would like to participate in the gun raffle can contact her at 540.533.7248
Chad Morris said that while the team is excited about soon receiving five new shotguns thanks to an NRA grant, they need a little more assistance before the guns can be used.
“We’re still looking for a place to shoot,” Morris said. “We also need a skeet thrower.”
Watch Clarke County’s young archers here: