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Youth hunter challenge aims to increase safety

June 13, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

WILLIAMSPORT -- Her earlobes sparkle with small pearl studs, a gold chain hangs around her neck and her hair is pulled into a ponytail beneath a baseball cap.

But there is one unexpected accessory in this teenager's right hand -- a muzzleloading firearm.

Shelby Stevens, 16, of Westminster, Md., was one of 77 young people from across Maryland who gathered Saturday at the Potomac Fish and Game Club near Williamsport to test their hunting skills during the annual Maryland Youth Hunter Education Challenge.

According to event coordinator Terry Barth, anyone 18 years of age or younger who has passed the state's hunter education course can participate in the competition.

"It's a unique way to see what these course graduates have learned," Barth said. "It also provides them with an opportunity to test their skills in a variety of simulated hunting situations."

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Young people representing their respective parts of Maryland spent Saturday, either individually or as a team of five, competing in eight categories -- rifle, archery, shotgun, muzzleloading, orienteering, wildlife identification, hunter safety trail and hunter responsibility.

Participants at senior or junior levels earned points for each event. Winners will be announced today at an awards ceremony.

Barth said the challenge is a great opportunity for young hunters and is something they always will remember.

"We have many people who have competed as small children who come back as leaders and coaches," he said. "It's a great experience."

Bob Davis of the Maryland Hunter Services Department of the National Rifle Association, said the Youth Hunter Education Challenge began in 1984 as a pilot program and was launched the following year.

Nationally, more than 50,000 young people participate in the program.

"We want to produce the next generation of hunters who are safe in the field," he said.

Safety is the main goal of the program, Barth said, followed by education, responsibility and ethics.

Shelby, who is part of an all-girls team, said she has been a member of the Carroll County 4-H Hotshots since she was 10 years old.

"I decided to give it a try, and now it's my life, my passion," she said.

Shelby said she enjoys being part of the Youth Hunter Education Challenge because it gives her an opportunity to "hang out with other young people who have the same interests. It also challenges you on your weaknesses and improves your strengths."

Shelby likes being part of an all-girls team, she said, because it shows girls can do anything boys can do -- "and we're good at it."

Shelby said it was hard to pick her favorite categories of competition, but if she had to choose, it would be wildlife identification and shotgun.

"I'm just going to do the best I can," she said. "Hopefully, it will be good enough to help my team win."

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