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A line of more girls than boys stood waiting Saturday morning to get the chance to use a bow and arrow.

When they got to the front, a volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation guided them in how to place their feet, hold the bow, load the arrow and then let the arrow fly. Some popped their targeted balloons and other times the arrow missed, but all appeared to have a good time.

“Great job, nice shooting,” the volunteers said to one girl who hit her target.

Archery was just one of several stations where kids got to shoot rifles, shotguns, pistols and pellet guns; climb a rock tower; try out a bow; and learn about conservation at the fifth annual Big Sky Youth Event, held at the Blue Creek Sport Shooting Complex & Preserve.

“It’s a blast — no pun intended,” organizer Marshall Johnson said. “We do it for the smiles.”

Johnson, regional director of the Mule Deer Foundation, got the idea to bring several hunting and outdoor groups together to put on a day for youth. They include Ducks Unlimited, the Wild Sheep Foundation, Pheasants Forever, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Friends of the National Rifle Association.

“We saw the need because we’re not seeing many kids out in the field anymore,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of gray hair.”

Buying the equipment for hunting can be expensive, he said. And some parents may not have the resources to offer their child the experience.

“A mother said she’s so glad we’re doing this because the father isn’t in her child’s life,” Johnson said. “She said ‘my family has a hunting tradition and I want to make sure my kids have the opportunity to do this.’ ”

And even for kids who aren’t interested in hunting, there are other ways to use these skills. Johnson talked about one young woman who got a full-ride college scholarship for being on a shooting team.

Safety is No. 1 for a day like this, he said. When children arrived Saturday morning, they were handed a laminated passport that listed every station.

Their first stop was visiting Johnson, who discussed wearing eye protection, ear protection and practicing gun safety.

“We warn all the kids that they get one warning and then they’re out,” he said. “But we’ve never had that happen.”

Every child also got a backpack filled with goodies. And they had the chance to win more than a dozen prizes.

Twelve-year-old Lyndsay Coch of Laurel, camouflage paint dabbed on her face, said after trying out the archery station, “It’s fun.”

She said she’d like to try hunting both with a bow and a gun. Kaitlin Coch, 11, especially enjoyed shooting a pistol.

Both will take hunter safety classes this fall, their mother, Becky Coch, said.

“Because they want to, and it’s about gun safety,” she said.

Coch, her daughters and her husband, Dan Coch, a former member of the Laurel Police Reserve, have gone out to the Laurel Rod and Gun Club for the past two years for fun and to learn to shoot different types of guns. Saturday was a chance to try some different activities, she said.

Brenda George, a volunteer with the Beartooth Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, was on hand to help at the archery range.

“They all seem to be having a great time,” she said. “It’s great to see the young women hunters coming up, too.”

Getting to handle a bow, pull on the string and let an arrow fly gives girls and boys a chance to see what it feels like, she said.

“You don’t really know what it’s about until you actually get to hold one and pull it and see,” George said.

Over at the trap and skeet shooting station, Ducks Unlimited volunteers in bright-orange vests helped youngsters aim different gauge shotguns at stationary targets or clay pigeons. Volunteer Donovan Sauter enjoyed working with all of the youth, but got a kick out of helping 8-year-old Aleksandr Kostinko, his grandson.

"What more could a grandpa ask for than to have his little grandson out here shooting and doing so well?" Sauter said.

Aleksandr, who tried shooting the shotgun, rock climbing and other activities, agreed the trap and skeet stop was his favorite. Last year when he tried, he couldn’t quite get the hang of it, he said.

“This time I did, and it was fun,” the boy said.

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.