It's an enviable record. The Manitoba Junior Rifle program has remained accident-free through its 57-year history in the province. That's because when it comes to this program, that old phrase "safety first," gets top billing.
"We have a motto here," says Bev Richardson, secretary of the Manitoba Junior Rifle program. "Safety, sportsmanship and shooting. It's not that shooting isn't important, but we certainly stress the first two when it comes to our program."
In 1948, a group of gentlemen in Neepawa formed the Manitoba Junior Rifle club. By 1954, the first provincial competition was underway. For the last 57 consecutive years, young shooters have gathered for an annual day of competition. This year's event was held May 28 in Winkler.
There are 15 clubs throughout the province, involving about 350 members in the Manitoba Junior Rifle program. Members typically range in age from 10 to 21, although some clubs accept younger member, Richardson said. In the late '70s, when hunting was on a high, Manitoba boasted 77 clubs. But over the last five years, despite the drop in the number of hunters nationwide, membership in the Manitoba Junior Rifle program has remained consistent.
The clubs are offshoots of local game and fish associations, and usually run from late fall into spring. Clubs supply the firearms, .22 or .177 calibre rifles (although some use air rifles), ammunition, earmuffs and safety glasses. Each week, there's classroom instruction followed by time on the range. At the end of the year, students who are at least 12 years old write their Manitoba Hunter Education Safety Course. Membership fees run in the very reasonable range of $150 to $175 for the year.
Most of the students are interested in improving their skills to become better hunters. "The parents of most of our students are hunters, and the kids want to get better at it," Richardson said, and added that a few students are solely interested in shooting as a competitive sport and move into the Manitoba Provincial Rifle Association program.
Members learn about calibre and gauge, proper holding and breathing techniques and how to sight in a rifle, among other things. "Like with everything else, some are naturals and some need a little more instruction," Richardson said.
While safety is stressed in the program, sportsmanship plays a close second. "When it comes to sportsmanship, we try and teach the members how to act in competition," said Richardson. "For example, they often go over and congratulate another club if they win a trophy."
Richardson started off as a student in the Manitoba Junior Rifle program through the Spruce Woods Wildlife Association based in Carberry. She then became an instructor and now serves as secretary of the provincial group.
"I'll probably be involved until the days that I physically can't be involved any more!" laughed Richardson. "Whether they win a trophy or not, it's all about the kids having fun. Seeing a smile on their faces when they first break 80 or shoot 100, it's really priceless."
For more information, see http://mwf.mb.ca/programs-3/manitoba-junior-rifle/
Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, traveling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org