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TAKING AIM: Children, guided by their parents, fire BBs at targets with air rifles during the youth safety and marksmanship program. Sessions are conducted at La Grande's National Guard Armory. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
TAKING AIM: Children, guided by their parents, fire BBs at targets with air rifles during the youth safety and marksmanship program. Sessions are conducted at La Grande's National Guard Armory. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

On Tuesday nights boys and girls from throughout Union County meet at the National Guard Armory to practice firing their BB air rifles.

The youths hone their marksmanship skills by firing BBs at circular paper targets.

Their ultimate aim is not the targets. The program, put on by the La Grande Rifle and Pistol Club, teaches youngsters how to use firearms safely.

That is our goal, said Dick Hohstadt, the clubs president.

At each session, boys and girls ages 8-14 fire at targets 15 feet away. All shoot under the guidance of a parent or guardian.

Parents who participate regularly include La Grandes Gary Stein, who is joined by his sons Kyle, 12, and Kole, 10.

This gives them more confidence in their shooting ability. Hopefully this will make them better hunters and make us all safer, Stein said. ... Each time they (the children) come, they learn more.

All sessions are overseen by Hohstadt and other members of the rifle and pistol club.

Between 30 and 36 boys and girls attend the sessions. The seventh of 10 safety shoots was conducted Tuesday. The program is co-sponsored by the National Guard.

Safety rules that are stressed include:

The golden rule: Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to shoot.

Never touch a gun while anyone is in front of the firing range.

Never put the finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

All participants at the air rifle sessions are required to wear safety glasses.

We want to imprint in their minds, Dont forget safety, said Darrel Plank, a club member.

Jim Dalton of La Grande, who participates with his son, Kyle, and stepdaughter, Kaely Cox, has seen the safety messages make an impact on children. Dalton said it was harder at first for some youngsters to follow the rules.

Now it is second-nature, Dalton said.

He added that the sessions show boys and girls how they can handle themselves when they are on a range.

This teaches them how to shoot when they are around a group of people, Dalton said.

Rick Severson of La Grande, who attends each week with his sons Eric, 8, and Jake, 6, has a similar sentiment. Severson said the program exposes children to the environment they will encounter on a shooting range and teaches them how to handle guns safely in such situations.

Severson likes to participate in shooting competitions. He said he will feel more comfortable taking his sons to the events because of what they have learned from the air rifle program.

Each week participants shoot as members of relays in which 12 youths fire five rounds at a time. All participants shoot together from prone, sitting or kneeling positions. These are the positions they will take while hunting or participating in shooting competitions, Hohstadt said.

He said the Tuesday night program has been more successful than he expected.

The parents are enthused and so are the kids, Hohstadt said.

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