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Vandergrift-area youth rifle team seeking members

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 11:22 p.m.
Nick Bono, 13, of Hungry Hollows, takes aim into his .22 rifle during the Fort Hand Rifle Club meeting in Apollo on Thursday November 1, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Christopher Hamm likes to play with cards.

Not blackjack, Texas hold 'em or rummy, though. He likes to cut them, edge-wise, with a bullet.

It's a skill those on the youth rifle team at Fort Hand Rifle Club near Vandergrift work to master en route to becoming better marksmen.

“It took me about eight tries to do it, but when I did, it was amazing,” said Hamm, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Allegheny-Hyde Park Elementary. “I was stunned. It took a lot of concentration. You just have to look for white on a black background.”

Teammates also have accomplished the feat, shooting .22 rifles from a bench using peep sights, firing at a distance of 50 feet indoors.

“The cards are eleven thousandths of an inch thick, so it takes trigger control, practice, discipline, all of those things,” said Chris Hamm, Christopher's father and the team's coach.

Youth shooting teams are not uncommon. Other area clubs — Frazier-Simplex Rifle Club in Washington, Murrysville Rifle Club, Irwin Sportsmen's Association — have teams.

The team at Fort Hand is the newest. It's open to kids ages 8 to 17. Shooters fire from three positions — prone, kneeling and offhand — like in Olympic competition.

Participation has varied, with as few as three kids on the team to start and as many as 24 at one time. Always, the emphasis is on safety, then fun, said Don Summerhill of Apollo, another coach.

“We're not just out there potting around and burning up ammo,” he said. “They're learning a good bit about shooting and having a good time. It's a really good hobby.

“But safety is the biggest thing. We really stress that.”

The club is looking to recruit new members, secure grants for additional equipment and start shooting competitively, Hamm said.

But just having fun is a lot of what the team is about, too, Hamm said. They spend time shooting offhand at balloons, for example, just because kids like to pop them, he said.

“We start big, then each time the kids progress we go smaller, until we get down to silver dollar-sized targets. We want them to have a good time,” he said.

Christopher Hamm believes he and his teammates do.

“It's good practice,” he said, “but you also make a lot of good friends.”

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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