Straight shooters

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Using a steady hand and a steady eye, five local children lay on the floor of the indoor shooting range, aiming .22 rifles and air rifles at a small target 50 feet down the range.

Each wears protective eye glasses and headphones to protect their ears from the constant "whapping" sound the rifle makes in the enclosed room.

Rules for safely handling a rifle 1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Common sense should dictate what direction is the safest, but make sure to never find the muzzle of the gun aimed at yourself or others. 2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. There is a natural tendency to rest the finger on the trigger. Keep it around the grip of the gun or on the trigger guard. 3. Always keep the gun unloaded until it is ready to be used. Whenever a gun is picked up, it should be checked to see if it is loaded even if the user knows for sure if it isn't. If it is loaded and it is not going to be used immediately, unload it. Source: "Rifle Shooting" published by the National Rifle Association.

The children, belonging to the 4-H shooting club, are shooting for the first time this year in Steamboat Springs. The ones that are new this year aim at just a square piece of paper to start with. The returners are aiming at real targets.

"We start them with just shooting at blank pieces of paper," coach Lou Gabos says.

Later, after the shooting session, two of the returning shooters, sisters Heather and Crissy Wilhelm, exit the shooting area and walk into a classroom. There, the next group of kids wait to take their turn while going through the safety reminders with Gabos.

The girls proudly hold their targets with holes centered in the middle

"That's pretty good," Gabos says, interrupting the safety instruction.

The girls file outside and allow Gabos to continue drilling his students on the three basic parts of a gun and the three different types of sites.

"We shot when we were younger, with our dad," Heather says. "So we wanted to give this a try."

"I think it's cool," Crissy adds.

Eighteen students in Steamboat have signed up for the shooting sports this year. In south Routt, 16 are signed up for the program. Hayden also has a club.

In the summer, the 4-Hers can do black powder, shot gun and archery in addition to air rifle and .22 rifle.

Bernerd Knott coaches the south Routt team, along with his wife, Debbie. Those shooters have been practicing with air rifles since January and have geared up for a tournament in Grand Junction today.

"This prepares them for when they go hunting, teaching proper gun safety," he says.

"That's the best thing about it, gun safety," Gabos says.

Beside learning a steady hand when shooting, Gabos explains that the shooting club lets young people get familiar with handling guns safely.

"The important thing is when they see a bad situation, they recognize it," he says.

Like someone handing them a load rifle ready to shoot.

After today's competition in Grand Junction, the big show for the shooters is the Colorado State Fair.

"I think they do pretty well there," Gabos said.

Last year, competing in groups as large as 80 shooters from all around the state, shooters from Routt County placed 11 times in the top 10, with south Routt shooters Zane Younglund getting champion in three event and Tyler Knott getting reserve champion in one event. Tyler also was the only shooter to score a perfect score at state.

On July 22, all the 4-H shooters in the county compete to see who goes to the state fair.

"It's a fun and good experience for the kids," Bernerd Knott said.

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