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Valencia County 4-H archery program receives NRA Foundation grant for equipment

LOS LUNAS, N.M. - Elijah Pena places his feet by the shooting line and pulls the bowstring back on a compound bow as he aims at the target 20 feet down range. The 10-year-old 4-H member releases the string and the arrow flies toward the target, ending with a thud as it penetrates the second ring.

Valencia County 4-H member Elijah Pena takes aim at the archery target while Extension agent Kyle Tator watches. The county's 4-H archery program received money from the NRA Foundation to purchase equipment to support the program. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

Like the parents of many first-year participants, Kevin and Mary Helen Pena were not sure if archery was going to be a good match for their son Elijah. They didn't really want to invest in the equipment if this was to be a short-term interest of his, so they borrowed equipment from another 4-H family.

Until recently, any Valencia County 4-H members wanting to try archery but not wanting to invest in the equipment would have to borrow equipment from families whose children had either outgrown their bows or were no longer participating.

Thanks to a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation, new club equipment is now available, allowing 4-H youth to participate with borrowed equipment before making the financial commitment of buying a bow.

"Each year, several beginning or new 4-H youth enroll in archery shooting sports and can't afford or are unsure if they want to invest in proper equipment until they have participated in the program," said Kyle Tator, New Mexico State University's Valencia County Extension agent. "We felt that the participation in the program had declined because of a lack of safe and reliable equipment that the youth could borrow to properly learn the sport of archery."

The grant from the NRA Foundation facilitated the purchase of basic equipment, which Tator hopes will eliminate this problem and encourage recruitment and retention of youth in archery shooting sports for years to come.

"We have more than 200 youth enroll in Valencia County 4-H every year," Tator said. "We want the kids to be able to explore archery shooting sports. Archery teaches kids self-worth, confidence, independence and integrity. These are all life skills that make productive citizens."

Archery, like any hobby, can be expensive as a person gets seriously involved with it, according to Jason Gonzales, owner of S&J Sporting Goods and the indoor archery range in Los Lunas where the 4-H archers practice and compete.

"A recurve bow that could be used while the youth is deciding if they like the sport can cost $100," Gonzales said. "A good quality compound bow runs around $300."

Unlike the recurve fiberglass bows, which a youth can outgrow, Gonzales says the compound bow is adjustable and can be used many years. "Girls can use the same bow into adulthood, while a boy will probably need to get an adult bow when he is 16 or 17 years old."

With one year under his belt, Elijah Pena is dreaming of having his own bow.

"He really has fallen in love with this sport," Mary Helen Pena said. "Elijah was born with a heart defect, so he can't play the strenuous sports that include running. Archery is giving him the arena to compete. We've set up a target in the backyard where he's constantly shooting. We've told him as long as he is interested and serious about shooting in competitions, we will take him to them."

Archery is truly a lifetime sport. It attracts youth who may not have the physical traits to compete in team sports.

"You don't have to be the tallest, strongest or fastest to compete," Gonzales said. "It's a perfect sport for a kid to get involved in and continue in throughout their life. They can use their skills in range competitions, either target or 3-D, or during hunting. We had one boy come up through the 4-H program and go on to take third in a national pro competition."

Archery is among the shooting sports offered by the 4-H programs in every county in New Mexico. Shooting sports includes air rifle, cartridge rifle, pistol, shotgun and muzzle-loading categories. Through the years, nearly every county program has received funding from the Friends of NRA, which conducts fundraising banquets to finance the grant program.

Peter Ide, New Mexico NRA field representative, said 95 percent of the nearly $200,000 in grants awarded this year went to community organizations that provide youth-oriented firearms training, education and safety awareness programs.

"Our two biggest groups receiving grants are 4-H and ROTC," Ide said. "There's some great programs provided by 4-H to the youth of our state. We are glad to be able to help and wish we had more money to distribute."

The NRA Foundation gave the New Mexico 4-H state shooting sports program and county programs in Bernalillo, Grant, Otero, Quay, Sierra and Valencia counties $45,000 this funding year.

"Receiving the money from NRA has really helped," said Tator. "The funding we received has provided opportunities that some of our county's youth might not have been able to enjoy."