Passing on the Heritage: Youth Shooting Camp Part 2
As 2012 rolled around, my sons, as well several previous students and prospective students, asked about shooting camp. They wanted to know if and when I was holding camp again. The “if” part was a no brainer, but working out the “when” became a bit more of a challenge with my work schedule. I ended up settling on the last week of June despite the slightly warmer weather and conflicts with summer sports and activities.
As with last year, my intention was to have the boys show up with the rifle they intended to hunt with the following fall and to focus on youth hunters ages 10-17. I attempted to get more than twenty kids this year, and even tried to get some young ladies in the course with no luck. Just prior to starting, two brothers informed me that they were unable to attend due to a family emergency, so I ended up with a total of eighteen kids this year.
I began by reflecting on last year, deciding what to keep and what to change. As I learned last year, kids, no matter what the subject, hate class time! So I streamlined the classroom portions as best I could, deferring to an all hands on approach as much as possible. We shot a lot of paper last year. I felt this wasted too much time chasing back and forth checking targets as well as provided less feedback shot to shot. So I rounded up a huge amount of steel targets. This was the biggest improvement I could have made!
The range itself last year was just not quite as I had really wanted, but just as last year Oak Tree Lodge stepped up to the task and gave us the use of a half mile wide by two mile long patch of CRP to use! It was absolutely perfect. Lastly, I just wanted more gun time for the kids without adding additional costs. So I just added to the time and round count for 22 rim fires.
Since we live in pheasant country it was decided to dedicate half a day to shooting shotguns. This was another great decision. So I went and bought 50 plus rounds a kid and clay targets to match. 1200 rounds is a lot of shooting so we rounded up several electric clay throwers. It was also decided that the staff at Oak Tree would handle the instructional duties for this.
I still had a great deal of resources from last year, so other than the steel targets is was pretty simple to get everything we needed. I went chasing sponsors for everything from the land to shoot on, ammo, bipods and wind meters, to lumber, steel targets, spray glue, spray paint, ear pro and a classroom. I again made it very clear I did not want money, nor was I making a single dime. I just wanted the supplies needed to run camp for the kids, and still make it affordable enough that kids could attend. Most sponsors were local businesses and a few were larger companies nationwide. All of our sponsors from last year pitched in again to include a few new ones. I could ramble on for days about how gracious all of the sponsors have been and I would have some honorable mentions as well. It is just easiest to say it like this: For a very minimal tuition fee and dealer’s cost on 200 rounds of the student’s caliber, each student shot 700 rounds between 22 rim fire, shotgun and hunting rifle, received a t-shirt, hat, bipod, shooting glasses, a free lunch and had a heck of a good time! That’s the kind of sponsors we have.
Just like last year Bill and Michael Makens and Brian Anderson of Oak Tree Lodge came through like true heroes by providing an even better location for the range. The week prior to camp starting was comprised of 6 – 8 hour days filling sand bags, printing out drop charts, cutting out field targets, setting up and test firing the range (this was the best part). Setting up and verifying the range out of a large pasture with knee high grass was pretty easy this year due to having good ground, and Oak Tree took care of all the mowing. I even had one cost conscious shooter who showed up at my house to learn reloading, and who loaded his 7mm brass from last year.
Day 1: Began by meeting at the local American Legion Hall, then driving out to the lodge for classes on safety, range conduct, weapons familiarization and sight adjustments. We did practical exercises in the prone shooting position; dry firing with bipod and buttsock. We began by shooting scoped .22 rifles at four inch steel plates at 50 and 75 yards. After several coats of white spray paint and about 200 rounds per kid, most of the boys where shooting inch sized groups and talking smack. We then moved on to the 100 yard rough zero about 2 inches high with their hunting rifles which went very smooth.
Day 2: Began with external ballistics and wind doping classes. I teach numerous methods for developing drop charts using aids the kids have available such as LRH.com’s or G-Seven’s ballistic calculator and similar tools. The wind doping class was trimmed down but I harped on it constantly on the range attempting to show them every tool I could from reading mirage to wind flags to wind meters.
Once at the range we continued with data development from 200-800 yards. They all got solid zeros at 200 yards and slipped scales as needed. All shooting at 300 yards and beyond was done on steel. Shooting the eighteen inch steel discs made this much easier allowing for immediate corrections to obtain center mass hits. Winds were 12 mph gusting to 18 mph that were at 6 o’clock – 3:30 so the kids got a light taste of in shooting in the wind but was great for data development. All shooters to include my 10 year olds were shooting 400 yards by early afternoon with 4 shooters achieving the 800 yard mark, 1 at 600 and a couple at 500.
Day 3: We started by reconfirming data at 300 yards doing grouping drills and moving out towards 1000 yards as best as their abilities would allow. A couple of my top shooters attempted what became the elusive 1000 yard shot. Ultimately almost everyone could consistently (4 out of 5 shots) hit at 600. Though I spotted for them to get their dope right, I had a 10 and 12 year old each hit 800 yards shooting ARs with 16 inch barrels!
The heat, wind and hunger getting the best us, we packed up the rifles and headed up for chow where Oak Tree Lodge’s chef Sandy put on a huge spread for lunch, which was a great break from the heat. Oak Tree Lodge also has world class hunting dogs, so no tour would have been complete without a “dog show” culminating in Brad having all the boys working with the animals.
After the dog show I turned the helm over to Bill and Michael Makens and Brian Anderson who gave a short block of instruction on shooting birds with a shotgun. We then fired up the three electric clay throwers and started shooting. I have received world class training in many shooting disciplines, and let me tell you these three guys were definitely top shelf! They worked with each shooter and produced some amazing results. One shooter who had struggled to shoot a simple 3 for 3 eventually shot 29 of 30 birds rapid-fire! After the slower pace of long range data development the kids had an absolute blast with the rocking and rolling shotgun fest. Like I said before, it was the second smartest decision we made, right behind steel targets.
Day 4: This morning began with range estimation class using various tools from LRFs, range cards, Google Earth and the use of various landmarks. I then demonstrated the various field positions we would be shooting from. Some paid closer attention than others but it became obvious who didn’t once we started shooting. Range work started with 200 rounds each from field shooting positions with 22s at 50 – 100 yards, and then progressed to big guns at known distances 75 - 600 yards.
The field targets are plywood cut-outs of coyotes, deer and antelope with AR-500 steel "vital zones"of 6, 8 and 10 inches. Field positions consisted of standing off hand, kneeling and sitting all with and without shooting sticks, back packs, tripods and fence posts. This was a little humbling for many of the kids who didn’t work hard to build their positions. I did let them squeak in some of the long shots from their Sun Optics USA bipods. A couple of the older kids did make hits at 1000 yards using my custom 300 RUM. This included me spotting for Oak Tree’s Michael Makens who connected with his second shot. I called the winds just a little light on the first shot.
Nick 400 yard target 1st shot!
Day 5: I set this range up in a different location, facing a different direction with no mowed grass. We had light but multiple winds, no range markers, no wind flags….. Just the shooter, spotter and Mother Nature at her finest. I spread out my dozen field targets at random from 75 to 300 yards and a few eighteen inch steel discs out to 600 yards. This had the kids shooting under much truer field conditions. This forced the pair to communicate, determine the target’s range, set range correction, determine the wind and correct for it, obtain the best position possible and send one down range. Once again, the boys figured out that shooting from a bipod and rear bag is not always possible so you had better be prepared for it as well as understand your own limitations. This was just a half day of field shooting about 40 rounds per gun but I think was a true lesson in reality.
Rifles and ammo used: For my five younger shooters .223 was the caliber used. Three kids shot 16” barreled ARs scoped with MIL-Dot reticles and target turrets. The most popular was the seven .243s of various makes and scopes that were used. We had one Thompson Center Icon .308 with a Nikon Buck Master 3 x9 with BDC reticle, one Ruger Model 77 in .270 wearing a Nikon Buck Master 4.5 x 14 x 40 SF with MIL-Dot reticle, two 7mm Rem Mags, and two Savage 25-06s completed the lineup.
The diversity in equipment made things fun from an instructional point of view, thus allowing me to teach holding in Mils, dialing in MOA or Kentucky windage in inches. The .243s shot Federal Power Shok in 80 or 100 grain, the 25-06s shot PPU 90 grain HPBT that just happened to be the cheapest I could find, but still performed well. My 7mm, 308 and 270 shooters shot hand loads of Berger hunting VLDs. Finding enough quality .223 at a reasonable price was somewhat difficult, but a call to Black Hills Ammunition scored us all of the 55 grain FMJs we needed.
I spent probably 120 hours preparing for and running this camp. Everything went much smoother this year largely in part to all my second year shooters and older boys who made things happen. The kids themselves were awesome! They listened and then applied whatever was told to them. I was able to get a little more technical than last year and still had a fantastic time with the boys. With five kids reaching 500 yards, five kids reaching 600 yards, eight kids reaching 800 yards and three boys obtaining a few hits at 1000 yards I could not be more pleased with the boys. To say I am proud of them all is a drastic understatement. Did a few boys worry more about how far they could shoot instead of shooting more accurate under field conditions? Yes. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, they will learn.
Sponsors: We couldn’t have done without you folks… THANKS!
Oak Tree Lodge: A world class pheasant and waterfowl outfitter and lodge. Oak Tree donated the use of the land used as the range, the classroom and the food, as well as providing assistance in teaching. Heck, they even gave me a place to store all this stuff! These folks are just great friends and neighbors to have.
P-4 Manufacturing: Donated the safety glasses, ear plugs, steel plates and constructed many of the steel target frames, as well as giving me a place to work on everything.
Dekker’s Hardware: Donated spray paint and materials used in target construction.
Sun Optics USA: Donated bipods for all shooters for 2 years running.
Black Hills Ammunition: Supplied the 223 ammo, which performed flawlessly.
Cowboys Bait & Ammo: Located on HWY 81 in Watertown, SD. Provided all 22, shotgun and .243 ammo at a greatly discounted price.
Technicolor Screen Printing: Provided our t-shirts at a large discount.
Caldwell: Once again donated two Wind Wizards used on the firing line to help the kids with wind calls.
LongRangeHunting.com: Once again Len allowed me to modify his logo and use it as ours and allowed me to tell the story of the kids I’m extremely proud of.
Midway USA: Discounted prices on cleaning supplies.
Westside Implement: Donated steel discs for targets.
T & L Transport: Donated the 5 gallons of Gatorade we went through daily.
Forest Excavation: Donated 100 pounds of ice.
Pro-Build: Donated lumber used to construct the target frames.