COSSA Range sponsors safari-style shoot
12-year-old Jarred DuPont, of Madras, Oregon, lay with his belly on the ground, legs at an angle, toes digging in. He thumbed a single .22 round into the chamber of the single-shot rifle and pulled the front of sight and the target into focus. The rifle cracked and he ejected the spent cartridge and loaded another to take a shot at the warthog and finally the cape buffalo. With open sights, he’d shot a perfect score on station one.
We met on a windswept sandy plain beneath sullen skies. 80 kids, aged 6 to 18, and their parents gathered to take themselves on an imaginary hunt. We called it the Youth Safari Challenge, a competition that consisted of four events: .22 rimfire antelope; centerfire Big Game; archery and a clay pigeon course, throwing the ‘birds’ straightaway like sand grouse on the Kalahari.
With the rest of the world a blur, front sight and target in sharp focus, the shooters could almost see themselves in the mopane scrub, gun in hand, stalking the wild beast.
Held at the COSSA Range, east of Bend, the free event was sponsored by the High Desert Chapter of Safari Club International, the Bend Oregon Hunters Association, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Wild Winds Ranch/Youth Outdoor Adventures, Gary Lewis Outdoors, Bill Fockler, Mark Fero, Bill Littlefield and Ed and Rhoda Hill and other individuals who donated time and money to make it work.
Awards were given in three age groups: 8 to 11; 12 to 15 and 16 to 18. To be competitive a shooter had to compete in all four stages.
The most difficult stage was at station number two. Here, the youngster learned the safe operation of a Savage bolt-action .223 rifle then put it into use with three rounds. One each at a charging lion (25 yards), a running impala (40 yards) and an eight-inch steel gong at 100 yards. For top score of 45 points on this stage, the shooter was required to hit a six-inch circle from a standing, off-hand position.
The running impala didn’t move quite as fast as an impala might move on the Dark Continent. The paper target was mounted on a sheet of plywood mounted to a rolling platform, motivated by a kindly volunteer yarding a nylon rope. It kind of trundled along, but the six-inch orange vital-area was still a challenging target.
Several kids from each age group shot a perfect score at station two and were in the running to win it all.
Many of the kids had never held a rifle or nocked an arrow. Some of these did very well. A few youngsters opted out of the 20-gauge ‘sand grouse’ shoot. My 11-year-old daughter Mikayla said she saw a few kids rock back on their heels with the recoil, but no one actually fell over.
10-year-old Cameron Kruger scored 74 points out of a potential score of 96 to win his division. 14-year-old Cole Craig, with a final score of 94, was one clay pigeon away from youth safari perfection. 17-year-old Tiffany Lewis shot stations one, two and four perfect, to win her division with 83 points.
Down on the ground with a rifle, faced off against a glowering cape buffalo, you could see the tension on their faces. Grit under the elbows and the dark clouds above made it almost real. Now was the time to focus, to pay attention to the fundamentals, to put the bullet where it would do the most good – in that orange spot low on the body.
Afterward, their eyes glinted with the glow of a job well done or the resolve to do better at the next station.
Some of the kids may never shoot again. A few came from families that don’t own guns and don’t hunt. Now they have a bit of an understanding of the safe use of a firearm.
For others, it was good practice in advance of hunter education class or for hunting season this fall. For all, it was an exercise in fine motor skills, concentration, and the single-minded focus that strips away distractions and leaves only elements: earth, sky, habitat, hunter and target.
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Gary Lewis organized the COSSA Youth Safari Challenge. To learn how your club/chapter can hold a similar event at your range, contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.
Tiffany Lewis prepares to move on to the next stage of the competition, while volunteer Greg Smith tabulates her score. The safari-style competition was held at the COSSA Range east of Bend. Photo by Gary Lewis.
Free food was a big component in drawing the public out to the COSSA Range. COSSA, with a generous donation from the Safari Club, fed close to 180 people. Photo by Merrilee Lewis.
Pictures by Mark Fero