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Shooting Sports Instructor observations

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I've spent two summers now volunteering as a Muzzleloading Instructor in a couple camps and this is how I see the state of affairs.

First off, certified Muzzleloading Instructors are a rare bunch. Of those I've seen, only those in my little corner of muzzleloading instructors were actual muzzleloading enthusiasts and/or competitors. How in the hockey sticks do you think a Scout will think this is fun if the instructor isn't into it? Kids aren't dumb. They can see right through you given some time. So did you get the cert just to get the job? How exactly is that going to benefit the Scout? I've seen some "instructors" for muzzleloading that well.... were just plain uneducated and didn't know it.

Second, muzzleloading is often given the short shrift. Many shooters look down their noses at it because they've never, ever been involved with anything past a few shots with a patch round ball at a frankly, boring range session. This mainly because of a severe lack of knowledge of the black powder shooting sports world. Muzzleloading opens up an entire section of history that Scouting is designed around, namely Native American activities and Mountain Man lifestyle. Many handcraft activities directly interface with muzzleloading.

Third, because of 1&2, it's a recipe for failure or stagnation of a program. Sad but all too true.

We're working on creating a program that can be replicated by any camp with a shooting sports program that is serious about having a black powder program that Scouts will be on a waiting list to enjoy. Thus far, at our sessions, we start off with a safety brief. We then move into a short history lesson of black powder arms and we bring examples for "show n tell". We let the Scouts handle these arms even though policy will not let them shoot them. In that case we often do firing demonstrations. Imagine a Scout at a "normal" black powder session, here's the camp gun, let's load and maybe shoot a bit. At ours, here's the camp gun, but here's it's family tree going back hundreds of years and yeah, we don't mind if you touch. They never seem to tire of handling an 1863 Sharps, 1863 Remington Contract, 1869 Rolling Block, 1700s Brown Bess, or 1840s Hawken. Then it's on to shooting. We start out with Patch Round Ball in the camp guns. We get them onto a paper plate at 25yd first. Most "instructors" think that's good, but we use that as a spring board to better things. Because our group hails from a Civil War competition group, we have muskets set up and dialed in for them to shoot. Relay follows relay follows relay. Targets get smaller and more challenging as we coach on marksmanship with musketry and minie balls. By the end of the day, each Scout may well have fired over 25-30 shots and you won't do that with patch round ball. We don't insist on what guns to shoot, they can choose from what's on the rack, but the muskets are always the hot ticket. Scouts love reactive targets. Watching an apple get vaporized by a 58cal musket hit is pretty cool. Learning to split a playing card is cool. In short, punching paper, while it has it's place, is boring. Being a Civil War competition group, we sometimes let the Scouts do volley fire just like a battle line. So far that's been wildly popular as a 2ft square piece of drywall gets massively perforated by musket fire.

As we see it, for a program to be successful, Scouts must be constantly, actively involved in a fun and safe activity. With that in mind, how could a camp replicate our pilot program (which is constantly being developed). To that end, we're designing a minie bullet that can be loaded and used in camp guns just like the minies in the muskets we bring. With this bullet, Scouts can load and fire on the line much more than with a round ball. Said bullet will hopefully be accurate enough for use in gallery type shooting like what camps offer. If this design pans out, then any camp with a dedicated group of enthusiastic, knowledgeable instructors can have a great program using the 50cal guns most camps have using this bullet and our method of instruction. The key to using a minie is knowing how it was designed to work. Our instructor training program covers that exact topic. You won't find it at any other instructional/educational setting because they AREN'T CONDUCTED BY competition shooters.

Bottom line, black powder shooting sports in Scouting suffer from a lack of enthusiastic, knowledgeable instructors. We're working to change that but it won't happen if adult leaders and Scouters don't step up and get their nails dirty shooting the "stinky" guns and Scouts will miss out on a really fun time on the range with historic rifles.

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