Taking Northern Virginia Youth Air Gun Shooting to the Next Level
Growth and sustainment of the shooting sports is highly dependent on introducing shooting to young people. Recognizing this fact, in 1994 the Arlington-Fairfax Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America established a public youth shooting outreach program. This evolved into a focus on air rifle shooting by converting an existing tractor shed into a 7-lane air rifle facility with paper targets. From the 1994 to 2015, this modest range served an ever-increasing number of youth athletes. From less than a dozen shooters to start, it grew to serve hundreds of youth shooters over the years on club and high school teams.
Reaping the Rewards
With this growth came individual and team awards, along with a dramatic increase in local shooters qualifying for USA Shooting Junior Olympics and getting college scholarships to shoot on NCAA rifle teams (to include the Air Force Academy, Alaska-Fairbanks, Kentucky, Mississippi, MIT, Nebraska, North Carolina State, Ohio State, West Point and West Virginia). With the foundation set in this range, several athletes have also made the USA Shooting National Team.
With increasing popularity of air rifle shooting, it became clear 7 lanes was not enough to handle the high demand for range time. It was not uncommon to have all lanes full with half-a-dozen youth waiting their turn to shoot. So in 2015 the range got an extensive physical addition that allowed expansion to 25 lanes, resulting in a modern facility with the capability to accommodate more athletes and to host large matches. With this increased ability to practice, shooting scores have increased across-the-board, along with the number of athletes participating in matches and the local high school league.
Moving to the World Class Level
While the Sills Air Range now has increased physical capacity, what has not changed is the use of paper targets. While traditional paper targets are common at the high school level, all college, national and international air rifle shooting has transitioned to modern electronic targets. For many of our shooters, experience with electronic targets is one key to success at Junior Olympics, in the NCAA, and at International Olympic-style shooting competitions. This is especially true with the new finals format, which requires electronic targets (to see an example of this exciting format, see https://youtu.be/sTuLGM5hJ7I). Installing electronic targets was the next step in the evolution of the Sills Air Range – with the aim to become one of the nation’s premier youth shooting facilities in order to train the next generations of USA shooting athletes.
Thanks to generous donations and many volunteer hours, Megalink electronic targets were installed on all lanes in the Spring of 2017, less than one year after starting the electronic target fundraising effort. As part of this effort, we signed a formal partnership agreement with the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries to promote the shooting and hunting sports through co-sponsored shooting and training activities.
Raising Future Champions!
With an expanded facility and electronic targets, the Sills Air Range will continue to promote the air gun shooting sports for junior athletes and adult athletes, all the way from brand new shooters to emerging college and national-class competitors. We’ve partnered with USA Shooting to become one of their Certified Training Centers by providing certified coaching for introduction to the Olympic shooting sports or for fine-tuning already well practiced techniques.
If you would like to volunteer to support the Sills Air Range, we always need coaches, range safety officers and general help around the facility. Contact the Volunteer Coordinator for more information. Training is available for all volunteers, so don’t worry if you’re not currently an expert.