LEWISTOWN - In the modern world, the firearm has evolved in many ways, from an essential tool used to hunt for daily meals to a means of recreation. Long gone are the days when the average family had to enter the woods to secure their nightly meal, but many folks still have a curiosity about firing instruments that have fallen from essential to archaic.
Dan Firth leads and teaches a weekly muzzleloaders class at the Mifflin County Sportsmen's Club to a group of students ranging from 12 to 18 years old. The group is part of the 4-H program.
Students of the program are introduced to a series of muzzleloader styles: flintlock, which is the style that hunters are allowed to use late in the Pennsylvania hunting season, percussion and in-line rifles.
Sentinel photos by MATT STRICKER
Smoke and sparks fly as Ben Snyder, 14, of Strodes Mills, fires a flintlock muzzleloader while participating in the Mifflin County 4H Shooting Sports Muzzleloader Competition Monday at the Mifflin County Sportsman’s Club in Ferguson Valley.
"I've been teaching for 20 years. We currently have 27 kids involved with the program. That's actually a pretty high number for the muzzleloader group," said Firth.
A muzzleloader conjures up images of an era long past: courageous battles we learn about in school and read about in our history books to primitive hunters, but young and old have found interest in preserving the art of shooting these instruments of antiquity.
"The NRA and the game commission promote a program called the Youth Hunter Education Challenge, or more commonly, YHEC. In order for kids to compete in the challenge, they have to shoot in several disciplines: .22 rimfire, muzzleloader, shotgun and archery. If kids qualify, they can then move on to nationals. We've already had kids from Mifflin County go on to and win at nationals," said Firth.
Before students are allowed to going the muzzleloader group, Firth says that they should have completed a .22 or air rifle program in preparation.