4-H Shooting Sports Club in Gila County has tripled enrollment in program that includes archery equipment, pneumatic arms and firearms
A year ago, there was no 4-H Shooting Sports Club in Gila County. Today the club boasts a roster of 35 kids and a waiting list. Nine of the kids are state medalists and three will compete at the 2023 Nationals, the last week in June.
“It was amazing how fast we could get it going,” says AJ Schaible, 17, “and amazing how fast we were able to get to this competitive level.”The 17 year-old Miami High junior qualified for the AZ national team in three events. He’s also a youth leader for the 4 H shooting club and its co-founder.
“Without AJ we would not have shooting sports,” says Carol Ptak, a 4-H leader inspired by his interest and initiative.
Teaching Kids About Guns
“It’s important to teach people what a gun is and what it can do and what happens when you do something wrong with it,” says AJ
Kids are willing to listen because they want to use the gun.
“As a young kid it gets your attention,” he says. “The danger.”
AJ went through hunter safety courses at age 9. He already knew a lot about guns from his father and grandfather; he began shooting at age 3. The course did teach him a lot about hunting, he says, a sport he enjoys with his mother. Deer and elk. Been shooting bows for nearly half his life. He also participates in team roping, takes HVAC courses and works at Cal Ranch.
At some point his 4-H group lost their leader to other priorities and for two years he was without shooting sports. AJ went to talk to Renee Carstens, the 4 H Cooperative Extension agent at Gils Pueblo Community College. The Arizona 4-H Shooting Sports Program is funded through the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension program and its purpose is to promote positive youth development through the safe and responsible use of archery equipment, pneumatic arms and firearms.
“You can be a junior leader at age 16,” AJ explains. “I’m a responsible young adult that is ready to teach and ready to bring this club to a whole new level.”
Leadership – Getting Things Started
“Hey, we’re partners now,” says Carol Ptak in a call to AJ “Let’s get this started.”
Carol Ptak is a rancher, small business owner and championship dog trainer with a desire to share her knowledge with youth. She became a 4-H leader in 2020 because it is the requirement for working with 4-H kids in Gila County. Background check. Fingerprints. 18 hours for a Level 1 training in a skill area. A competitive shot gunner in her twenties, Carol is now qualified to instruct youth in rifle shooting and archery. She is also the Gila County Representative for the State Shooting Sports Committee.
“Gila County has issues with drugs, teen pregnancy, suicide,” notes Carol. “When you can get kids involved with something positive, what a difference it makes. It will stay with them the rest of their lives.”
Shooting sports, Carol notes, take a good deal of discipline and both physical and mental strength.
“Kids learn self-control,” she says. “Safety. Safety first. It’s better that they learn in a controlled environment.”
You can’t start a 4-H club midyear, but you can start an interest group, according to Carol, and that’s what she and AJ did. They both got certified to lead, acquired ½ dozen air rifles and started shooting last June. On October 1, 2022 they formed a club. They are allowed only seven kids per leader. The club filled within 36 hours.
Then AJ persuaded his mother, Mindy Teague, into getting qualified (rifle and archery), and Carol convinced her husband, Jim Ptak (shotgun). Duke Vance joined the leadership team (shotgun and pistol) to support his sons’ interest.
AJ is now a qualified 4-H leader in pistol, shotgun, rifle and archery. The kids under his leadership range from 10 to 17. The experience is developing his communication skills and teaching him a lot.
“It’s showing me how to be a leader,” he says.“It brings a level of responsibility to every action I take.”
Carol Ptak takes her dog-training kids to the dog show in Tucson so they can see what excellence looks like and how competitions are run. It’s been an exciting and effective part of the program, so when she heard that the Arizona 4 H Shooting Sports State Championship was happening in February, she encouraged some kids to go – the ones that showed up for practice over the summer, always followed all the safety protocols, can “kind of hit something down range” and have a really good attitude.
“That was a key thing,” Carol says, “we had to have kids that had a really good attitude.”
She was fully aware the kids were unprepared, but for AJ Schaible, it was game on.
“I knew that it was a step we would take in the future,” he says. “I didn’t know it would be our starting point.”
With a few hours of coaching, borrowed equipment and $80 air rifles, nine kids went off to the state championships. Carol served as a range safety officer to “suck up as much knowledge” as she could. She found herself handing out medals and half of them went to Gila County kids.
“Nine medals came home to Gila County,” says Carol, proudly, “and a couple of championship buckles.”
Four kids from Gila County qualified for the Nationals and 3 plan to compete – Chantel Jordan (air rifle), Sierra Orosco (air pistol) and AJ Schaible (air rifle). The club moved quickly to outfit the kids with top quality rifles. Now these Gila County kids are training with national level coaches at the Coolidge VFW and bringing that training back to the club.
“It’d be cool to bring a medal home for Gila County,” says AJ, pondering the Nationals. “We have the heart to push through, and if not go in and win, we’re going to go in there and learn.”
The Gila County 4-H Shooting Sports club needs $14,000 to cover the costs of equipment and travel to Nebraska. The kids made presentations to the Rotary, The American Legion, VFW, Lions Club, and the Gila County Supervisors. A portable air range garnered $200 at First Friday and baked goods and beverages brought in another $331. The Elks donated space for a pulled pork dinner with raffle and auction. Chantel’s family donated the pig. By early May, the team had raised over $8,000.
“This was the smallest leap of faith I’ve ever had to make,” says Carol. “I 100% trusted this community to get behind these kids.”
Lee at Dominion Firearms is providing free coaching and access to his pistol simulation. The Globe-Miami Gun Club has allowed the kids to shoot there for free. To help raise funds, they raffled off a rifle and the tickets sold out so fast that they are going to do another raffle with 5 prizes. They’ve asked the 4-H shooters to do an exhibition after the Nationals.
“They have been so dedicated to those kids,” says Carol. “We’re the envy of the state because of the facilities we have.”
In return, the 4 H kids are helping at the range and earning service hours. Last month, they cleaned an overgrown section that had not been used in 7-10 years. A lot of weed whacking and raking and painting old silhouette stands. With the 25 kids that showed up, the work was completed in two hours.
“It’s more fun than people think because you’re with people you want to be with,” says AJ “You’re there because you want to be there.”
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.