Elk NetworkIndiana’s First SAFE Challenge Hits the Mark

Volunteer News | August 20, 2012

Indiana's First SAFE Challenge Hits the Mark

By Jana Smith, Indiana Chapter

On September 17, 2011, about 200 individuals, including 72 youths and their families and 45 volunteers, gathered for Indiana’s first SAFE Challenge event. SAFE, or Shooting Access For Everyone, is the RMEF program underwritten by Larry and Brenda Potterfield of MidwayUSA. Together we have made it possible for any young person or novice shooter in America to learn firearm safety, the hunter’s role in conservation, shooting ethics and how to shoot a variety of firearms.

The event took place at the Craig Family Camp a few miles south of Bloomington. Owner Jack Craig, his brother Jim and about 25 volunteers from RMEF’s Indiana Chapter planned and worked tirelessly to pull off the event. Upon arrival, all participants received a folder of classroom support materials, a t-shirt and a red rubber wrist band. All youths had to be wearing the wrist band to be permitted on the firing range. Then the kids were divided into eight groups according to age. The first four groups attended the firearm safety class taught by Mark Dillon and Martin Moomaw, Indiana certified firearm instructors. The second four groups attended the wildlife conservation and management class taught by Angie Goldman, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.

While morning classes were in session, volunteers set up for lunch, grilling hamburgers and hotdogs. After lunch, the first four groups headed to the firing range for 30 minute sessions of hands-on firearm instruction. Each youngster started by shooting several rounds with a pellet rifle at targets and balloons to become familiar with the feel of a firearm. Then they moved to .22 rifles, shooting five rounds at a practice target before moving on to five scoring targets. Youths with the best three-shot group and best average of all five scoring targets received an award. Instructors gave one award for each category in three age groups, 12 and under, 13-15, and 16 and over. Ten-year-old Logan Sweeney received the “Top Shot” award for the overall best average.

While this was going on, the second four groups attended the firearm safety class. Then, the first four groups switched to the wildlife class and second four groups completed their time on the range. When groups weren’t in class and waiting for their time on the range, they played games such as Frisbee golf, toured the cabins and teepee on the grounds, or visited the lodge where they could ogle full-body mounts of bighorn sheep and grizzly bear, shoulder mounts of caribou, elk and deer, and pelts from wolves, wolverines and Canadian lynx—all the result of many successful hunts by the Craig family. The kids were in awe of the full-body mount of the grizzly bear and the massive size of the elk’s antlers.

At 5:30 p.m., everyone assembled in the camp’s dining hall for dinner. The menu included elk stew cooked all day over an open fire and grilled elk steak (both clearly the crowd’s favorites). RMEF volunteers donated the elk meat and provided all the delicious desserts.

After dinner everyone gathered at the front of the lodge for an awards ceremony and wrap-up.  Dave Brucken, RMEF regional director, spoke about the day’s events and presented each participant with a SAFE Challenge certificate of completion. Participants also received a CFC drawstring sports bag, a SAFE Challenge water bottle, and a free raffle ticket to win RMEF items such as hats. This was an added bonus for the kids, who stood front and center waiting for their number to be called next.

The success of the event was measured not only by the number of youth in attendance, but by the impressions it left on these young minds. When asked about their favorite part of the event, kids responded with “the shooting was the best part and my second favorite thing was the food,” “touching the furs in the wildlife class,” and “learning when to shoot and when not to shoot.” One 8-year-old was overheard telling his grandfather that “today was the best day of my life. It was like paradise.”

At the end of the day, when all the kids had gone home and the last dish was washed and put away, the feeling among RMEF volunteers was, “Wow, what a day! When can we do this again?” We often don’t realize the impact we can have on young people by giving them a little of our time and knowledge. What a difference this one day made for all those involved.

Take 5 minutes, watch this video of Indiana's first SAFE Challenge, and warm your heart.