Story originally appeared on KERA News.
The Fort Worth Stock Show isn’t only for cows and grownups. On Sunday, there was a special one-day exhibit just for kids, called “Kids Gone Wild,” presented by the Texas Wildlife Association. And for the past five years, it’s taught youngsters about the great outdoors, conservation, hunting and how to shoot.
Nine-year-old Jaymason Ray Dunagan stood patiently, though full of jitters, in a long line outside a red, inflatable fortress-like structure. Despite his young age, he has had plenty of experience shooting air rifles, but he said each time makes him feel ticklish inside.
Then there was Kaden Roland Moore, 8, who’s also no gun rookie. He said shooting makes him feel “manly,” while his friend Aaron Raulston, 10, summed up best what each kid in line was probably thinking.
“It’s just really fun,” said Aaron, who was decked out in child-size cowboy boots and a swanky Stetson. “I feel excited.”
The kids were shooting air rifles at paper targets inside the red, inflatable structure, which sort of looked like a bounce house. In fact, that’s what many kids thought it was at first.
They walked into a stall and shot their air rifles through a small window – like at a gun range. Of course, they were supervised by volunteers with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with the Texas State Rifle Association. The two organizations set up this eye-catching booth to give kids new experiences, but ultimately teach them about gun safety.
“The more opportunities we get the guns in their hands, the more educated they are, and they better off they are,” said Sheri Tull, who teaches hunting education as part of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
She said she understands the concerns many parents have, though, who believe guns are dangerous and that there’s no need for a child to handle one – real or fake. Tull said it’s a matter of personal choice, but in her experience, exposing kids to guns early could strip away some of the mystery and danger.
“Movies and video games give them a misdirection of what a gun really does and is. And this helps them get an idea of what a gun actually feels like, looks like,” Tull said.”My personal opinion is the more that they know about it, because they’re going to see it in their video games and their movies, the less likely they are to actually mishandle it.”
Inside the stalls, everyone was required to wear protective glasses. Volunteers then ran through the safety guidelines and answered all the kids’ questions before they could even touch the rifle. While many of the kids have had experience with guns, many were still first-timers. That’s why Justin Williamson, the director of communications for the Texas State Rifle Association, said it’s critical they know the basics.
“Always keep your barrel, or muzzle, downrange and away from other people. And always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire,” he said.
Those lessons weren’t lost on 3-year-old Hank Youngblood and his father Travis. Dad gave his son some last-minute instructions in line.
“Remember, we’re going to follow all the rules and listen carefully, and we have to be very safe and only when Mom and Dad are with you,” he said to an attentive toddler. “It’s going to be fun, but we have to be careful.”
Hank nodded and responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes, sir!”
“We always had guns growing up, and I was probably his age when I shot a gun,” said Youngblood. “I think a better approach to it is being knowledgeable and safe, rather than making them forbidden, and then he finds one and doesn’t know what to do with it. I’d rather him be comfortable with it.”
Organizers said this booth isn’t just about learning to shoot air rifles. They hope to encourage children at the stock show to become responsible hunters with love and appreciation for the great outdoors.