Youth sports shooting program begins milestone year with bang

The Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program is the largest youth shooting program in the country—and with good reason. More than 6,000 youngsters per year participate by signing up and competing in trapshooting. It is open to youths in grades 6-12 and is administered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Started in 2006, AYSSP is now in its 10th year.

Each year, youngsters sign up in January to join teams in their county. The season officially opens Feb. 1, with no official practices before then. Of course, many youngsters shoot year-round either at home, while hunting or at a shooting range, but things change when one steps onto the field of competition.

Once February arrives, teams begin practicing in earnest in preparation for tournaments. They may attend some local events but their major focus is doing well in the regional event and qualifying for the state championship. This year, the Southern Regional will be held at the Jacksonville trapshooting range May 20-21. Other regions shoot on other dates.

Southern region youngsters in grades 6-8 will shoot Friday, May 20. Those in grades 9-12 will shoot on Saturday, May 21. The top 16 squads (five shooters each) in each age division will advance to the State Championship, which will be June 3-4 in Jacksonville. Juniors will shoot on Friday, June 3, and the senior division will shoot Saturday, June 4.

The mechanics of shooting at flying clay targets isn’t that difficult. But increase the distance and speed a bit and it gets complicated. Even worse is the pressure one feels during competition. Coping with this pressure is a major part of any competitive sport. Youths who have grown up shooting must also learn the self-control and focus needed to excel in competition.

As the program continues to grow, community support and excitement is also blooming. New ranges are popping up around the state, including the new range in Bradley County that opened last summer. Hunters, former hunters, seniors, youngsters and families are all discovering the fun of shooting trap and skeet on a regulation range.

More than 60 youngsters are involved in the program in Bradley County this year, with around 40 of them on the Bradley County Skeet Busters team, and about 20 on the Hermitage team. Drew County 4-H has a strong team under the direction of head coach Terry Koone. Hamburg and Crossett are strong competitors, and Magnolia, El Dorado and Texarkana are dominant forces in the region.

The good news is that youngsters can most likely join a team in their county, or at least nearby. The deadline to sign up and receive free supplies was Jan. 31 but it’s not too late to get on a team. Youngsters can join a team through February, but may have to help pay for their supplies. No one can join after Feb. 28.

To sign up, contact your local AGFC office or wildlife officer to find the teams in your county, complete the paperwork and you can get started at practice. It’s great fun, inexpensive and rewarding. Join up and you’ll discover why AYSSP leads the nation in youth shooting sports.

<strong>Think shooting for your next fundraiser</strong>

If you’re tired of washing cars and cooking spaghetti to raise funds for your organization, you might want to consider a shooting tournament for your next fundraiser. Ranges across the state are more than happy to assist you in such an event.

The normal procedure is for an organization to reserve the range or a portion of the range for a particular date. They can then advertise their fundraising event and can either open it to the public or restrict it to a particular group like a church, business, club or other organization like Scouts, a particular school or whatever they’d like.

Because it’s a fundraiser, people who participate expect to pay an entry fee that is more than just the cost of shooting a round at the range. Such events are sometimes held to raise money for cancer patients, organizations or even in support of the range itself.

If your group has some shooters in your organization, they will already know about scorekeeping, range safety, tabulating scores and how range equipment works. Generally, you’ll need to provide volunteers to handle these jobs.

Usually, the range will receive a portion of entry fees to pay for use of the range and the targets, and provide limited personnel. Your organization will receive the rest of the funds, but will also have to provide some manpower to handle routine tasks.

There’s a lot of variety in the shooting sports. Your competition could involve rifles, pistols, shotguns or even a combination. Trap and skeet are popular venues for fundraisers, since most folks usually have a shotgun, and less equipment is required for shotgun tournaments.

If you like cooking for big crowds, washing cars, having rummage sales or selling candy, you may not enjoy a shooting event. If you want something fun and exciting for all involved while you raise the funds you need, however, you might discover a shooting tournament is the perfect fundraiser for your group.

For information on shooting ranges in your area, contact your regional Arkansas Game and Fish Commission office.

<strong>Applications for summer internships available</strong>

LITTLE ROCK—The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is accepting applications for summer internships until Friday, Feb. 26. These internships are funded through the sales of the AGFC’s popular Conservation License Plates, and allow students to gain the hands-on training and experience needed to compete for a future career in conservation.

Betty Bryant, internship coordinator for the AGFC, says many students are interested in a wildlife management, fisheries or conservation education career, but often lack the hands-on experience to stand out from the crowd of applicants.

“Each year thousands of students graduate colleges, but very few have real-world experience,” Bryant said. “Internships not only give them that training, but they also help them decide if the career they’re studying for really does fit them.”

Internships are available across the state in conservation education, communications, wildlife management, fisheries management, wildlife law enforcement, and construction, engineering and real estate.

To qualify for an internship, an applicant:

• Must have a declared degree in an approved field of study.

• Must have 60 hours of college credit by the time the internship begins.

• Must be a full-time student at the time of application.

• Must have a 2.5 cumulative grade point average.

• Must demonstrate course-work or knowledge related to work area.

• Must either be a resident of Arkansas enrolled in any college or university or a nonresident enrolled in an Arkansas college or university. Selected interns will be responsible to coordinate with their college or university to obtain course credit for their work.

Visit www.agfc.com/education/pages/educationinternships.aspx for more information on the internship program and a list of openings for 2016. (AGFC Press Services)

<strong>Keep feeders clean for the birds</strong>

LITTLE ROCK –Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring require a few extra preparations are needed by people who enjoy feeding songbirds.

Many avian diseases can spread through a crowded feeder if it is not kept clean, especially in warm, wet weather. Karen Rowe, Nongame Migratory Bird Program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says the situation is similar to a cold spreading quickly at a school or office.

“Birds are flocking to feeders, and are in close contact with each other,” Rowe said. “This makes it easy for a virus or bacterial infection to be spread. Many highly contagious, naturally occurring diseases within bird populations also can remain on the feeder itself if it isn’t cleaned properly.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, feeders should be washed once to twice a month using a 10 percent bleach solution and room-temperature water. It’s also important to check the birdseed to make sure it is dry and doesn’t contain any mold or mildew. Placing multiple feeders with different types of seeds in the yard also can prevent crowding.

Even the cleanest and most well-maintained feeders can transmit infections from bird-to-bird. According to Rowe, finding a few dead or lethargic songbirds near a feeder within a week shouldn’t be a cause for panic, but it is time to take action. All feeders should be taken down and disinfected with a 10 percent bleach solution. Bird baths also should be emptied and disinfected. The seeds and hulls on the ground also should be raked up, bagged and thrown away.

After disinfection, new food or water shouldn’t be placed in the area for at least 10 to 14 days, so birds will disperse and those that have already been infected won’t continue to spread the disease so rapidly.

“Not feeding the birds for up to two weeks during winter can seem like a drastic step,” Rowe said. “But it is the only way you can be a responsible bird conservationist and prevent the disease from lingering and continuing to infect birds your feeders attract.”

Visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center’s web page at http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/fact_sheets/coping_with_diseases_a... to learn more about feeder-transmitted diseases and how you can prevent them. (AGFC Press Services)

<strong>Win a boat with a trout</strong>

PINE BLUFF—The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is offering two ways to win a new boat, motor and trailer. Individuals 18 and older must catch a specially tagged trout or visit one of the AGFC’s four nature centers during the months of February and March to enter a drawing for a 16-foot Alumacraft boat, a Diamond City trailer and a four-stroke, 15-horsepower Tohatsu outboard motor.

Maurice Jackson, Family and Community Fishing Program coordinator for the AGFC, says the promotion is all thanks to a partnership with Cycle and Marine Supercenter of Pine Bluff, Diamond City Trailers of Murfreesboro, Alumacraft Boats of Arkadelphia and Tohatsu Motors of Tokyo, Japan.

“This is the third year we’ve partnered with Cycle and Marine Supercenter for a boat giveaway,” Jackson said. “The first year was just for the Pine Bluff Nature Center, last year was for all nature centers, and this year we’ve included the Family and Community Fishing Program.”

Jackson says a number of trout have been stocked throughout the state with pink tags. Anglers who catch these fish can call the phone number on the tag and listen for instructions on where to mail the pink tag. Tags must be postmarked by March 24, 2016, to be eligible for the drawing.

“All tags will receive a prize, like a rod-and-reel or tackle package,” Jackson said. “And they will be entered into the grand prize drawing for the boat.”

If you don’t manage to land a prize-winning fish, you still have a good chance to win the boat package. Just visit any AGFC nature center during February and March and ask to enter the Fishing Package Giveaway at the information desk. Any person 18 or older may enter once per day. Those who purchase a license or attend a program at the nature center may enter an additional time that day as well.

“We want everyone in Arkansas to experience the outdoors by visiting an AGFC nature center or fishing an AGFC Family and Community Fishing pond,” Jackson said. “These are great low cost family-oriented activities that everyone can enjoy. The bonus is that you are spending quality time with a love one and learning something new about the outdoors.”

Visit www.agfc.com/familyfishing for a list of Family and Community Fishing Program locations. A list of AGFC nature centers is available at http://www.agfc.com/education/Pages/EducationNatureCenters.aspx. (AGFC Press Services)

<strong>Crow hunting featured on AGFC’s YouTube channel</strong>

LITTLE ROCK—Crow hunting provides one of the Natural State’s most liberal migratory bird hunting seasons, stretching from Sept. 1 through the end of February each year. There’s no daily limit, and hunters may use electronic calls. Many landowners consider the birds a nuisance because of the damage they inflict on agricultural crops. Crows are also known to prey on the nests of songbirds as well as game bird species. For the wingshooter looking for additional prospects in the field, crow hunting can provide plenty of action.

Check out this segment from Talkin’ Outdoors, the AGFC’s weekly television show to learn more about this misunderstood season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCXuhDoTvDc  (AGFC Press Services)

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