Nothing good seems to happen when you mix minors and guns. Just look at last month’s headlines: A Salem toddler accidentally shoots and kills his father with a handgun; a 17-year-old Anderson teen is convicted in the fatal shootings of a couple.
Although crimes and accidents make the news, other teens in Indiana use guns legally, generally for sport but sometimes for protection.
Legal access to guns in Indiana is restricted for those under 18. Minors are allowed to possess firearms if they are at an adult-supervised range or at their own home. They are not allowed to transport guns outside the home for any purpose, except to travel to a shooting range or go hunting.
And for many youth, hunting is a part of growing up. In Indiana, an estimated 50,000 hunters are under age 15.
Dillon Paul, 16, Greenwood, has hunted since he was 8. He completed the hunter education course required by Indiana and has his hunting license. Dillon said he and his dad both have busy schedules, but deer hunting on the family property in Brown County gives them some time together.
“You know, I’m really active in theater, my dad’s at work and we see each other in the evenings. But when we go hunting, it’s a lot of quality time for my dad and I, sitting up in the tree, having a little conversation.”
Bekie Stergar, 17, Lebanon, learned to shoot at a 4H club at age 10. She found she loved target shooting, especially with paper targets and clay disks. She ended up getting her hunting license.
“Mostly I used guns to shoot at targets. That’s what I like to do. It wasn’t until my sister married my brother-in-law, and he’s a big avid hunter, that I started getting into hunting,” she said.
Bekie went on her first hunting trip last fall. She said it was as she expected – a lot of sitting and waiting. But after five hours, she had a chance to shoot a squirrel and did, fatally wounding it. She was surprised at her reaction.
“It was weird,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to really hit you that you killed something.”
However, the reality of it hit when she ate the meat.
“It made me feel like I can be self-reliant, you know, I can go out there and I can survive,” she said.
However, she doesn’t think she’ll hunt squirrel again because she doesn’t like the taste of it. But that doesn’t mean she won’t hunt at all.
“I had a taste of venison and it was really good,” she said.
Dillon likes venison, too. He remembered the first time he shot a deer.
“We had been sitting in the tree stand for three hours and didn’t see anything. We were getting down off the tree and starting to drive back to our cabin, and all of a sudden we see this deer, dead-stopped right in front of us. We stopped and I asked my dad, ‘Can I get it? Can I get it?”
It was a large doe, and Dillon shot her. But afterward, he had to wrestle with his emotions for a while.
“I felt a little guilty because it was my first time ever shooting something, and I thought I just killed a life, you know, I just killed a deer. But then, I thought about it more and more, and I felt like I was kind of benefitting myself too. I was also happy that I got my first deer.”
Neither Dillon nor Bekie treats guns frivolously. They adhere to safety procedures and always keep their weapons locked up and out of sight when not in use.
That was something that Kate Bixler learned after she became involved in Project Appleseed, a national marksmanship organization that holds dozens of training events in Indiana every year.
Kate, 15, New Palestine, is an instructor with Appleseed. When she was younger, she used to go to firing ranges with her family.
“You know, looking back, I’m just like ‘oh my goodness.’ Before Appleseed, I wasn’t that safe. We’d just carry rifles on our shoulders all the time, and you know, have them loaded and everything else.”
Kate doesn’t hunt, but she has been shooting at targets since age 9. The first day she showed up at a Project Appleseed shoot, the instructors recognized her talent and recommended she become a trainer.
She says riflery teaches personal responsibility. “It’s a sport, but unlike team sports, you’re not relying on everyone else. It’s solely yourself and your accomplishments,” she said.
David Goodrich is state coordinator of Project Appleseed, which was established in Indiana in 2006. He says enrollment has doubled each year since.
“Our biggest problem is getting enough instructors and enough ranges. We have the demand for what we do,” he said..
The nonprofit organization takes its name from the legendary Johnny Appleseed. Students are encouraged to “plant seeds” by recruiting others to the program. Those under age 21 can attend clinics for $5.
“Whether you’re a 70-pound girl or a 200-pound bodybuilder guy, you both have an equal chance to do well, because really while there is some physical involvement in the sport, it’s really a mental sport,” he said.
To Kate, shooting at a target is like taking a mini-vacation.
“It’s stress relief. It’s a bit of a self-confidence booster, and it’s just fun,” she said.
Copyright 2012 Y-Press