As a young teenager, I spent many wonderful days with my father, hunting for small game and birds.

We did a great deal of dove hunting during the fall, heading to various cornfields across the county. Just a kid, I tagged along with my dad and his older friends, such as Don Redding, Dr. Carl Banks and others. Incidentally, Banks was my principal at Wilkes Central High School. Redding, now a retired principal, was a teacher at WCHS.

Banks and Redding were fantastic wing-shooters, a pair of absolute deadeyes. A dove in flight is a tough target to hit, but those two seemed to always get their limit of birds.

My father and I weren’t anywhere in their class when it came to shooting, but we sure did have a great time on those warm, early fall afternoons. The opening day of dove season—traditionally on the Saturday before Labor Day—was something I always looked forward to.

When I was 12 or 13, my father hunted with a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun and I used the very first gun he ever gave me: an Ithaca single-shot, .410-gauge shotgun.

We also did a fair amount of small game hunting, mostly squirrels and rabbits. The rule was we had to eat what we killed or find someone who wanted the critters. Killing game animals and wasting them wasn’t acceptable.

The .410 wasn’t so great when it came to shooting doves, elusive creatures that they are, but it was a fantastic squirrel gun.

In high school, I graduated to 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns.

In all of this--and before I hunted anywhere--my father taught me gun safety. He pretty much drilled respect for firearms into me.

A lack of respect for firearms or any sort of carelessness means someone is liable to get badly hurt or killed. Accordingly, I learned to always keep my safety on until I was ready to fire and to be aware of my surroundings and the people and property around me.

Back then, there weren’t any gun safety classes or such in this area that I knew about. Such information was passed along more casually from adults to young people.

And there weren’t any competitive groups, such as the West Wilkes Shooting Team and its hunter education program. The team is coached by Travis Bray and T.R. Nichols, who is a deputy with the Wilkes Sheriff’s Department.

The team is looking for new members, with several having graduated from high school in May, Nichols said.

The shooting team is holding a summer skills camp for young people Aug. 1-3.

The camp will feature skeet shooting, marksmanship with a .22 rifle, archery and orienteering (compass reading). Firearms safety will be taught and always observed.

Camp tuition will be $50 or less, depending on the number of people participating. An informational meeting will be held July 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Arbor Grove United Methodist Church, located at 1984 Arbor Grove Church Road in Purlear.

Bray and Nichols are providing a genuine service to the community through the West Wilkes team, and they are giving youngsters the opportunity to compete in regional and statewide events.

Those who are members of the team for four years will receive a $300 college scholarship, Nichols said.

The mission of the Hunter Education Program, according to the group’s Facebook page, “is to provide accessibility to wildlife related, skills-based activities and shooting sports; develop partnerships; coordinate volunteers; provide public information and education; and grow and support the hunting traditions of North Carolina.”

Those interested can quite literally give it a shot. For more information, contact T.R. Nichols at 336-927-1688.

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