SSAA Mackay has pulled off another spectacular junior development day. This year, the Queensland Branch had 74 people make their way down to the club, made up of 45 non-licensed juniors (including 10 girls), three licensed juniors and 26 non-licensed adults. To put that another way, the club went through just short of 10,000 rounds of .22-calibre ammunition, as well as some shotgun ammunition over the duration of the day.
SSAA Mackay President Tony Watson said the key to a successful junior development day is to ensure there is no pressure on the kids. “We just want to make sure they can have fun,” he said. “So our two key things are safety first and foremost, followed by making sure they have a good time.”
Tony explained that at the start of the day, after all the paperwork was completed, the juniors were separated into groups for a safety course and discussion. “After we went through a firearms safety briefing, the day really started,” he said. “We had range officers giving direct supervision to the juniors on each range, providing direct advice for the various types of rifle, pistol and shotgun target shooting.”
The juniors tried their hand at each of the disciplines and were then able to choose their favourite to have as many turns as they wanted at it. Under the careful instructions of a range officer, Tony said just about all the categories had fans by the end of the day. “One thing we did to help make sure everyone was happy and safe was by having a .410-calibre shotgun for the kids who weren’t comfortable with the 12-gauge shotgun. Just little things like that can make a big difference,” he said.
All ammunition and costs were supplied by the club, thanks to the work of volunteers and generous sponsorship. Tony said the whole event only cost the club about $1500. “We have a great community and the local businesses have really gotten around us,” he said.
Through the generosity of two major sponsors, Mackay Shooters Supplies and one of the local IGA Supermarkets, the club was able to provide a sausage sizzle lunch, cold drinks and all ammunition at no cost to the participants. Club members also supplied some factory centrefire ammo, which was shot late in the day so some of the juniors could try out an array of centrefires including 9mm, .38, .357 Magnum, .223, .30-30 and .45-70. There was even a demonstration of black powder shooting given by a club member.
Graham Blines, from SSAA Mackay, said seeing the joy on the faces of the juniors and the fantastic feedback from parents make days like this worth the effort. “Not only did the kids enjoy it, but as soon as the event was over, our own club members were also talking among each other about how they can make the day even better for next year,” he said.
Graham explained that for other clubs to have their own successful junior development days, they should focus on three things: safety, fun and getting parents involved. “Initially, I contacted nine local high schools and introduced myself and the SSAA Mackay Branch. I told them what we planned to organise and asked whether they would be prepared to disseminate the information to their students. There was not one knock-back, so I sent them all the invitation and registration form and the response just happened from there,” he said.
At the end of the day, all the juniors left happy and with a new appreciation for firearms. Each of the juniors were given a showbag with magazines, firearm information and safety guidelines in it.
In an unexpected but very pleasing bonus, the club has had six new members join, who were parents attending the development day, which means their children will have a much higher likelihood of returning.
Planning for next year’s event has already begun and Tony has a surprise for two lucky juniors in 2018. “At next year’s event we will choose two juniors to sponsor based on their enthusiasm and potential. The winners of the sponsorship will receive free ammo and use of club firearms for 12 months, as well as be exempt from club fees,” he said. That is a prize many older shooters would like to win for themselves or for their kids.