Every big NRA get-together is liable to involve some actual target shooting, and that’s certainly been the case over the past week at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa. The show’s NRA Air Gun Range, located in the Outdoor Living Hall, has been busy, said lead range officer Michael Johns, whose “day job” is managing the NRA Headquarters Range in Fairfax, Va. He added, “There’s been even more kids this time than in previous years here, especially younger ones; a real spike in 5- to 7-years-olds.”
Johns noted that all comers are welcome. “We say our only age limit is 90 and below—and we’ll make exceptions to that if necessary,” he joked.
With 10 shooting points in heavy use, the staccato plinks of pellets slapping metal and plastic targets provided a lively beat for the rock music playing in the background. There are about 250 targets, according to Johns, “… most of them reactive, things that ding and swing.” The youngsters smiled big when they hit one, were laughing and could be heard calling out to parents as they came off the firing line.
Helping Johns ensure that safety and instruction go hand-in-hand with the obvious enjoyment, was a crew of adult range safety officers, most of them pros employed at the NRA Range. “We’ve had a change this year,” explained Johns. “With no corporate sponsor, we’ve brought in a variety of guns, including some that even those with little or no experience can quickly learn to shoot. Of course we also have more advanced models for the more experienced shooters. Our RSOs are really engaged with these young shooters, with all the shooters. They’re here to help, to keep things safe, to provide basic instruction.”
Compared to the busy public range he normally manages, the Air Gun Range at GAOS is “pretty quiet,” said Johns, “and there’s an added challenge when hosting so many children. But you know, I think we’re bringing some new shooters into the fold. Teaching them gun safety and how to shoot. That’s what it’s all about.”
At the entrance, a mom dropped off her pre-teen son. “He loves it. This is the third time we’ve been here to shoot today.”
Behind them was a dad escorting his bubbly young daughter. “Do you think she’s old enough?” asked the man as the girl pulled him across 3-foot-tall bright pink letters that said: FREE. “She’s been watching the other kids. She wants to shoot! Okay?”