Thirty-eight years ago, I pulled the trigger on my first gun—a bolt-action rimfire rifle. The loud crack of the bullet leaving the rifle and hitting a soda can lit a spark inside me—which has developed into a passion for the shooting sports.
Steel Challenge is a great place for new shooters and youth shooters to begin their shooting career. Some of us haven’t left. Why Steel Challenge? Well for starters, the low barrier for entry can help to get younger family members involved in competitive shooting.
Recently, I met an amazing young man named Tucker. Nine years old, his father Andy Browne was squadded with me at a Tier 1 match in Tennessee. Tucker was enthusiastic about shooting and had lots of questions. He did not shoot this event, but attended because his father wanted to gauge his interest and readiness to attend his first match.
Shortly after meeting Tucker, his father reached out to me and said he had successfully completed his first match. I sat down with Tucker and his father to answer some questions many parents have about getting their children or younger family members into competitive shooting.
Andy, you are a competitive shooter. Can you tell me where your home range is and what involvement you have in the sport?
Andy Browne: I am currently a member of the Steel Target Paint shooting team and compete in Steel Challenge competitions. I also serve as the match director for Dead Zero Steel Challenge, at the Dead Zero Shooting Park in Spencer, Tenn., where we host monthly matches along with hosting the Tennessee State Steel Challenge Championship this year.
With the lack of matches being held, I traveled to Tennessee to shoot a local match with you, and I met your son Tucker. How old is he, and what is his interest in shooting?
AB: Tucker is nine years old, and he is interested in all things shooting. He has started competing in some of our local Steel Challenge matches and shows a great deal of excitement about the shooting sports. Tucker came to watch me at some matches and really expressed an interest in competing. He saw my teammates Steve Foster and Chris Barrett at a match and he was completely hooked. After that match, he shot some of the guns used by the team, including Larry Joe Steeley’s JP GMR-15 PCC and Vanessa Foster’s CWA rimfire pistol. The level of excitement he showed me after that match let me know that we were on the right track to getting him involved in competition.
Why do you think he is so interested in shooting?
AB: I have been involved in shooting for over 40 years, so Tucker has been exposed to shooting his whole life. We have spent many days as a family at the range having fun.
Tucker, why are you interested in shooting?
Tucker Browne: I like shooting guns and being able to shoot with dad.
What is it you like most about the sport? What do you like the least?
TB: I like to get to shoot and try to get better every time I shoot. There isn't anything that I don't really like about shooting.
Andy, why are you supporting him in his pursuit of shooting?
AB: Part of my job as a dad is to support Tucker as he chases his dreams. His interest in the shooting sports is something that is easy to get behind, since it such a positive activity. This also allows me to spend time with Tucker as he grows up.
What are your goals for him in the sport?
AB: The number one goal I have for Tucker is for him to enjoy shooting. If he isn’t having fun, then he is free to walk away from it. I have been this way with him through other sports he has been involved with. I want him to feel excited for every match he attends. Now, on the competitive end, I would love to see him become one of the next rising stars in Steel Challenge. This particular sport has so many talented young shooters, and they will carry the sport for us as the next generation. Getting Tucker involved in Steel Challenge was an easy decision, since it offers very few barriers to entry. We also have a great group of local shooters that include entire families. The environment at Steel Challenge matches is like a family gathering. I also liked the fact that there is not much movement involved in Steel Challenge stages, something that allows young shooters to better focus on safety and shooting fundamentals.
Let’s talk about the different divisions in Steel Challenge. Which do you think is the best to start off with? What is your advice be for other parents?
AB: We started Tucker off in RFRO for a couple of reasons. Our Magnum Research Switchbolt rifles are lightweight, so even smaller folks can handle them well. The rimfire platform also has very little recoil, so it helps keep him from feeling like his rifle is beating him up. The use of an optical sight helps with the overall learning curve of picking up speed in the stages as a new shooter. A reliable rimfire rifle with either open sights or an optic is easy to shoot well and the cost of rimfire ammunition is reasonable.
For anyone who is looking to get a youngster involved in the shooting sports, I would tell them to not feel intimidated. Even if you do not have personal experience, there are very capable shooters at the matches that will gladly help a young shooter get started. Patience seems to be abundant at matches, particularly when young shooters are involved.
Are you concerned at all for his safety shooting at the age of nine?
AB: We exposed Tucker to firearms at a young age so that we could start to build healthy respect for them. With the many safety features built into Steel Challenge matches, we have been very comfortable with getting Tucker involved. Tucker had to show me that he could safely handle a firearm, clear malfunctions and shoot with reasonable accuracy before his first match.
For those who are considering getting a young person involved in shooting, what gear do you recommend for a new shooter and why?
AB: One of great things about Steel Challenge is the ease of getting started. As I mentioned, Tucker is using a Magnum Research Switchbolt rifle, and it has been great. We have six magazines that he uses for matches, one for each string and a spare. Something to consider with young shooters is their physical size and how a firearm or accessory will fit them. This has been something that was challenging with Tucker when we were working on hearing protection. In-ear hearing protection proved to be uncomfortable for him, so he has settled on traditional-style earmuffs. Since comfort is important, you will want to get feedback from the young shooter on their hearing protection. Pro Ears offers hearing protection that will work for both your budget and the shooter’s comfort. Comfortable eyewear is also an important consideration. Tucker received a nice pair of shooting glasses from his grandparents at Christmas, so he was ready with those. Comfortable footwear is another consideration, since the shooters will be on their feet quite a bit. Also, remember to bring snacks and drinks to the range. This helps keep your young shooter fueled up throughout the match.
Do you have any other recommendations you would like to share regarding younger people and the shooting sports?
AB: It is imperative that we pass the shooting sports on to our younger shooters. If you have a young person who is interested, give them all the help you can. If you are unsure about how to get them involved, reach out to your local club, and I am confident you will find them to be welcoming. All of the local clubs I shoot at go to great lengths to help youngsters or new shooters get going and feel comfortable.
Tucker, what message would you send to others who are not certain about shooting that are your age? What would you tell them to give them confidence?
TB: I would tell them to concentrate on being safe and get started. I would also tell them to start with the smaller caliber guns and next work on larger guns. It helps to built confidence by remembering that it is not about winning, it is about having fun and being safe.
Article from the September/October 2020 issue of USPSA’s FrontSight magazine.
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