MANSFIELD - The National Rifle Association's Youth Hunter Education Challenge was held last week at Mill Cove Recreation Area near here.
It was the ninth time the event has been held at Mill Cove since its debut in the area in 1998, according to Bob Davis, manager of the organization's hunter services department. Each year the "YHEC Village" has added more amenities and attractions for participants.
More vendors sell souvenirs of the event, a concession and food stand is open and a tent for seating is operated by the Lamb's Creek Sportsmen's Club.
Some buildings and portable toilets are brought in by the NRA, but several portable pavilions recently were added. They were built by local contractor Ralph Wilston, with materials purchased by the NRA, said Mill Cove Association treasurer Bruce Dart.
The eight 16- by 20-foot pavilions are designed to be movable to get them to higher ground once the event is over, Dart said. Wilston also will be involved in helping to build a privy on the site.
Other community members and businesses have offered help in sight improvements at Mill Cove, which always has been known as a "wilderness" area used by hunters.
The main pavilion completed last year was built with assistance from Tri-County Rural Electric Co., Dart said. Most recently, Deb Calkins and her Junior Girl Scout Troop 41508 created a butterfly garden in the shape of a butterfly and plan to construct another one.
"That is a great example of the type of community involvement we have had," Dart said.
The International YHEC is open to all young hunters who have successfully completed a North American hunter education course and participated in a local or state YHEC program, regardless of their finish at the local level.
They come from all over the nation, Davis said, and some years from other countries - but not this year.
"We have 313 participants here this year, about 1,000 people per day on-site," Davis said.
That includes the participants, their coaches, NRA officials and scorekeepers as well as spectators and family members.
YHEC is comprised of eight events that test each participant's marksmanship abilities, woodsmanship and safety knowledge, Davis said.
Four of the events are shooting related, with participants competing in shotgun, muzzleloader, rifle and archery challenges.
All of the shooting events simulate actual hunting conditions as closely as possible. Only conventional sporting arms are used, and the participants shoot at life-size game decoys or NRA-approved action targets.
According to Charlie Fox, a local event organizer and the director of the muzzleloader competition, the weapon is the oldest type of firearm used in the competition.
"I am very pleased with my event and impressed with the numbers of girls we have competing this year and with their level of skills," he added.
Fox noted that muzzle-loading is the most time consuming event of all. It takes time to load the weapon between each shot.
"Sometimes the kids will dry ball it and then that takes even longer," he said.
Dry balling means they forget to put the gun powder inside, he added.
"Powder, patch and ball, or it won't fire at all," is what we tell them," Fox said.
The remaining four events, known as responsibility challenges, include map and compass orienteering, a written test called the Hunter Responsibility Exam, a wildlife identification course, and the Hunter Safety Trail, where the young hunters must use their judgment during simulated hunting scenarios.
Participants earn points in each event and compete for both individual and team awards in two age categories: senior (ages 15-18) and junior (ages 14 and under).
For each event, a maximum score of 300 points is possible for an individual and 1,500 points for a five-person team. When the scores for all eight events are combined, an individual can score a maximum of 2,400 points overall and a team can score 12,000 points.
Additional side events are held for fun, including the Flu-Flu Arrow Shoot, Cherokee Run and the annual tug-of-war.
An awards ceremony at Straughan Auditorium at Mansfield University capped off the event.
The first-place individuals in the senior and junior categories each win a whitetail deer hunt at Gsell's Whitetail Refuge in Fayetteville.
Other prizes for top-finishing individuals and teams include muzzleloaders, bows, arrows, ammunition and firearm accessories.
In 2011, NRA conducted 80 YHEC events in 32 states, numbers that have been bolstered by MidwayUSA's support of the NRA YHEC Mid-America Expansion Project, which is striving to increase YHEC participation in the Midwest states.
For more information on the YHEC program, call NRA's Hunter Services Department at 703-267-1524 or visit www.nrayhec.org.