Backroad Sharp Shooters

Members of the Backroad Sharp Shooters of Orange County 4-H Club after the Central Regional tournament in Ellerbe.

The Orange County 4-H group known as the Backroad Sharp Shooters once again performed well at the Central Regional 4-H Shooting Sports Tournament held in late August, in Ellerbe. North Carolina has three 4-H regions, and Orange County is in the central division. Top performers — individuals and teams — will in October, have the opportunity to compete against the best in the state at the 4-H Shooting Sports State Tournament.

Shooting competitions for 4-H clubs have several different disciplines, including shotgun, .22-caliber rifle, .22-caliber pistol, compound and recurve archery, and air pistol. North Carolina’s top four shooters for each discipline qualifies for the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championship that is held in June, in Grand Island, Nebraska.

“Last year, we had four kids that went out and shot,” said Mark Rogers, who serves as the club volunteer leader for the Backroad Sharp Shooters 4-H Club. “The year before that we had, I think, two or three.”

Rogers has been the club leader for the shooting team since 2019. The Backroad Sharp Shooters was formed in January 2014, by four families — the Merritts, the Jacksons, the Millers, and the Rogers families (not Mark Rogers’ family). In the eight years since the group was formed, Rogers said he believes Orange County has been represented in the national’s at least five of those years.

“It’s definitely a competitive group,” he added.

First and foremost, though, it’s a community service-based group that carries out its duties and volunteer responsibilities.

“We’re not a shooting team that does 4-H, we’re a 4-H club that does shooting,” Rogers said. “Four-H comes first. We can go have fun and shoot, but we need to be helping out the community and giving the kids their sense of civic duty to be helping out.”

Youths interested in being on the Backroad Sharp Shooters first have to become members of the 4-H Club. They then would be invited to practice to show the group’s leaders what they can do. The Orange County 4-H shooting club typically has 20 to 25 participants. The group holds practices throughout the year, although less so during the winter. Once spring rolls around, the shooting team gathers more frequently, especially as the regional competitions near. Groups in the club are divided into juniors and seniors, depending on the age of the participant on Jan. 1. Juniors are 9-years-old to 13. Seniors are 14-years-old to 18. There is no dividing into girl teams and boy teams. All participants are grouped together.

If service to the community is the top priority to being in 4-H, safety gets top billing on the shooting team. From the first moments of being involved with the Backroad Sharp Shooters, the importance of safety training is evident to everyone involved.

“The first thing that we go through with them is called First Shots,” Rogers said. “It’s basically safety training that tells all about the gun, the range rules, what you’re supposed to do when you come to the range, like showing up with your firearm in the case, no shells or anything in the case, no shells or anything in the gun.That’s the first thing we tackle. We get them through First Shots and then we’re obviously watching them from there.” 

The youths aren’t the only ones expected to know how to safely work with firearms and on the firing range. All the coaches spend a weekend receiving training through 4-H, learning how to guide the youths through the First Shots program. 

“That’s the utmost important thing before anything else happens,” Rogers said. “We have to be safe; we want to be fun; and then we want to start hitting the targets. In that order. If they come out and they’re safe and they’re having fun, I don’t care if they hit one target. But safety has to be the number one, most-important thing. That’s why all the coaches are trained to work with the kids and get them to a safe place where we feel comfortable with them and can back off a little bit and let them shoot. But until we reach that point, we are like hawks, making sure you’re going through everything. Making sure they understand all the rules and making sure they’re complying. If they’re not complying, then we stop and break it back down to where it needs to be.”

Once the shooters learn the safety rules and expectations, they become advocates for keeping each other safe. Rogers said the members watch out for each other during practices and competitions. The proof of the strong efforts to promote safety is that there has never been an incident at a 4-H shooters competition.

“We want them to have fun,” Rogers said. “We don’t want to make it where this is their job. We want to go out there and have fun with it, because if they’re not having fun, they’re not gonna want to do it. This is a recreational sport that you can start as a kid and carry on until you’re up in age and can’t do anything else. These are things you can do for the rest of your life. Learning those skills is a valuable asset.”

To learn more about the Orange County 4-H Club, go to: https://sites.google.com/ncsu.edu/orangecounty4h