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While TTAG’s Luis Valdez spent Saturday at the Big Gun Rights Rally in Florida, I spent the weekend in Illinois teaching kids how to shoot pistols. We made memories for the kids on that pistol line.  Not only that, but we made sure these young men and women stayed safe while having fun and learning life skills.

Darnall’s GunWorks and Ranges hosts the kids each year for a four-day, three night gun camp on their property just west of Bloomington. This year marks the 24th year for the event.  Both young people and adults arrived Thursday evening setting up camp and taking in a safety briefing.

Friday morning marked the beginning of trigger time. We covered it earlier.

Not only is this the longest-running National Rifle Association summer camp, but it also holds the likely distinction as the only such camp sponsored in part by the City of Chicago’s gun buyback program.

That’s right.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel, known to the locals as “Tiny Dancer” for his short stature and ballet school studies, funds a tiny segment of this camp. How so? By intrepid members of Guns Save Life trading broken down junk for perfectly good Chicago taxpayer cash.

Somehow, I don’t think Rahm funds that buyback to buy big smiles like these.

Or these…

Or this one…

On Saturday and Sunday, camp participants toured five shooting stations. Archery, rifles, air rifles, Cowboy Action and our station, pistols.

On the pistol line, my fellow GSL Defense Training instructors and I introduced the kids to isosceles shooting stance.   Why? Because we prefer to teach life skills to these kids. And knowing how to hold and operate a handgun might someday save the life of one of these young adults.

Given how 83% of young Americans will have a brush with violent crime at least once in their lives, it seems a skill worth teaching. After all, while God made man and woman, Sam Colt made them equal. Or so the saying goes.

Over the years, we have settled on each of the campers firing about fifty to sixty rounds from the .22s. Instructors work to ensure safety and correct major mistakes. Our goal is to shrink their group size to defensive accuracy or better. All did far better than minute-of-bad guy. Most shot fist-sized groups at 5 yards.  Even many of the 8- and 9-year-olds did almost as well.

For the last ten rounds, campers shoot for score.

Then we let the group leaders keep busy scoring targets.

The best five shooters in each relay earned their chance to fire some neat center-fire handguns. And aside from the pop music on the PA system and fun instructors, the kids LOVE any chance to shoot neat guns that make big booms and bigger fireballs. At the same time, we show even the smaller kids how they can safely and effectively handle defensive 9mm and .38 Special handguns.

Decisions, decisions.  And while a couple asked to shoot it, the Shockwave (lower right) came along only for our instructor crew to play with.

Meanwhile, the Keltec PLR-15 and its well-deserved nickname “The Giggler” has earned legendary status among both the kids and the adult staff members. Why do they call it “The Giggler”?  Because it makes grown men giggle when they see it fire.

Yes, when the Keltec pistol fires, the fireball gives bystanders a suntan, the concussion washes over everyone and the noise makes some people hold their earmuffs just a little tighter. Simultaneously, it burns that exciting experience into the minds of everyone present.

Yes, even young women love shooting The Giggler. Don’t tell Joe Biden though.

Obviously, the Sig AR-15 “pistol” proved every bit as popular as The Giggler.  Again, don’t tell Uncle Joe Biden.

Yes, women seem to prefer the AR-platform to a 12-gauge. And even young women can manage to use them quite effectively and have a great time doing so.

The campers took the shooting very seriously, as evidenced by this photo below of Zori.  They all wanted a chance to shoot the big guns.

After she missed the target with a few of her first ten rounds, she looked at me with a sad face. “I don’t think I’m going to make the top five,” she said dejectedly.

“We’re not done yet, young lady,” I told her.

I worked with young Zori on the fundamentals. By teaching her not to flinch or slap the trigger, Zori started pounding her shots into the black bullseye. Pretty soon, she earned her way to a chance to shoot with the big dogs. And sure enough…

Then she shot a quarter-sized group with the AR that looked almost as big as her. Yeah, Zori will remember that experience for years to come. You don’t find those fond memories at gun control rallies.

Or those big, warm smiles.

For those intimidated a little by the muzzle blast of the AR, the CZ Scorpion pistol proved popular.

Yes, shooting it in real life proved a whole lot more exciting than shooting one in a video game.  Even if this young guy needed a little assistance holding it. No doubt Shannon Watts would have the vapors if she saw this photo.

And then more traditional handguns also served up some big smiles and hoots and hollers from bystanders.

This 14-year-old named Garrett shoots a Colt 1911 Government Model. If you noticed his good form, you get a prize. This young man, at 13, won last fall’s DeWitt County Sportsman’s Club Zombie Shoot outside Clinton, IL. Not only did he have the best Juniors time on the rifle side, but he also beat the adult times as well. How did he do it? He executed the fundamentals well and didn’t make stupid mistakes.

Richard Wright from Armscor and Rock Island Arms introduced himself and brought some prototype pistols with him, along with some .22 TCM ammunition. He graciously offered them to our top shooters as part of the center-fire pool of guns. The guns included both 1911-style pistols and a Glock conversion kit that fires a slightly modified .22 TCM cartridge (the 9R?).

The lack of recoil, coupled with a fearsome muzzle blast and fireball made it very popular with some.

Her expression tells you everything you need to know about this young woman’s experience shooting the .22 TCM.

The kids love the NRA Youth Shooting Camp a whole lot. My travels have taken me to Scout Camps, camps for kids with disabilities and medical conditions and even church camps. I have to say, I don’t think any of those make memories like these four days at gun camp.

What’s more, these long-term memories will stay with these kids into adulthood. And someday, most of these kids will become gun owners too.

In any event, it’s a pretty safe bet none of them will become champions of gun control or followers of @ShannonWatts.

And a few more random photos…

We left the most recent issues of Guns Save Life’s GunNews Magazine for the young folks to read while they waited to shoot.  They proved popular among the participants.


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    • Do you just sit around waiting for NRA articles to comment? (Not that what the Donald said isn’t concerning, I agree, it is.)

    • Gosh, Nanashi. You must be so much fun at parties!

      This is the most uplifting post on TTAG all month, and all you can do is whine like a Hillary voter.

      How many kids did you teach to shoot this week? How much time and ammo did you contribute to educate the next generation of shooters?

      The people, companies and organizations that give their time and money to make events like this happen deserve your gratitude, not your indignance.

      • “This is the most uplifting post on TTAG all month”

        Thank you, sir.

        We certainly had a good time and I caught some great pics, especially on Sunday under heavy cloud cover.


  1. This is the NRA I love and support. The NRA-ILA however is useless except as a media scapegoat for more principled gun rights organizations.

    • NRA-ILA does remarkable things. At least here in Illinois, I know this first-hand. Are they perfect? Nope. But then again, neither are we.

      This camp, I’m told, was the prototype for the NRA’s Youth Shooting Camp program nationwide. And for good reason.

      Next year will be the 25th year. I invite folks from anywhere and everywhere to come see it in person. It’s pretty impressive.


  2. Great write up John, only thing wrong is am not with Armscor/Rock Island Armory I am just a huge fan of theirs and they let me come help out at shows for that I am allowed to buy cool guns Like the Custom 22TCM by Arnel Bernardo that I brought, The 22TCM9R Glock Conversion done by Shawn Fairbarn and Ernie Fortin and the 22 TCM9R officers model prototype the one in pic with the huge fireball built by Shawn Fairbarn.. I thank you and your staff for allowing me to show them off and most of all letting the Kids enjoy them.

    • My bad. I seem to recall that Ron Darnall said you were from Armscor and the license plate, plus the jersey, plus your high praise for their product all equaled a much more formal affiliation.

      They should hire you.


  3. Fantastic post!!!! I enjoyed it a lot, and it has been a VERY long time since I’ve seen that many smiles. GOOD on you and all who made this event possible. GOOD on you all! Reminded me of a Saturday I spent some years ago coaching kids on safely shooting .22 rifles during Monroe County Youth Field Day, in PA. There was about a dozen of us and we must have had a couple of hundred kids go thru our program in groups of 9-10 at a time. I remember being there about 9 hours, including a lunch break cooked by the Boy Scouts. But we sure didn’t have access to the firearms you had, and our range wasn’t as nice as yours. From your photos, it sure looks like everyone had a great time. GOOD on you all!

  4. I have completed the submission of your sainthood.
    St. John of Boch.
    Has a nice ring to it.
    Many blessings upon you and the flock of instructors, fantastic men and women all !!

  5. As one of the instructors, it took a bit of persuasion from Mr Boch to attend my first youth camp in 2012.
    I had a ball.
    Now this is my vacation.
    I come back every year. See old and new friends, and restore my faith in future generations. I watch the kids grow from year to year, they get taller and more skillful. One young lady took up air rifle competition after this camp in 2014, and told me how the focused concentration needed there is a tool she brings to her studies, and it has helped her grades in school, she can focus in any situation. I learned as much from her as she did from me.
    As much as we are having a great time and teaching firearm safety, we are providing these kids with skills and experiences that carry over to other parts of their lives.
    Shannon Watts can’t say that.

  6. As if there wasn’t already enough good things said about this article…Bravo!

    Who’s going to send this to some of the mainstream media outlets? I’d love to see what they would do with this article, both positive and negative. Even if they were negative in their approach/writing, any photos of the smiles on the participants would have to override that with most readers.


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