The Column, No. 24:

A Plea to the Boy Scouts

By Schuyler Barnum

I'm a Boy Scout, and I love being one. I'm currently a Life Scout and plan to get my Eagle within a reasonable time frame. I also love that the Boy Scouts have a shooting program; it's what introduced me to the world of firearms. It also teaches Scouts the importance of gun safety.

However, there is a major problem: the Boy Scout shooting programs don't prepare Scouts for shooting in the real world. The strict regulations for the rifle shooting merit badge guarantee that only .22 rimfire, bolt-action, single-shot guns get used from the bench rest position at a range of 50 feet. In reality, this only prepares you for exactly that. There is a black powder option, but I have yet to see it in action for the merit badge itself. The shotgun merit badge is not quite as far in disrepair, but it still needs work.

The rifle shooting merit badge used to be a lot harder. It used to require different positions and a true show of skill. Nowadays, most everyone passes the course with ease. The problem is that it doesn't prepare Scouts to shoot in the real world.

I have a number of requests for the BSA shooting program. For the rifle program:

  • Make a variety of calibers available in order to prepare Scouts for longer-range shooting and hunting, such as the .243 Winchester and .30-30 Winchester.
  • Make a variety of actions available, such as lever, pump, falling block, and semi-automatic. In the real world there are many actions with distinct advantages and disadvantages (as well as the benefit of learning how to service each type of action).
  • Make repeating guns available, as it will teach Scouts how to conserve ammunition even when it is available.
  • Shooting requirements should include the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand (standing) positions in order to teach Scouts the benefits and drawbacks of each, as well as how to shoot in the real world, where you rarely have the luxury of a bench rest.
  • Increase the range from 50 feet to at least 25 yards, as 50 feet is far too close to promote good shooting techniques.
  • Add wilderness ranges where Scouts will go on simulated hunts.

For the shotgun program:

  • Make the shotgun course available at more summer camps.
  • Increase the types of actions available for the same reasons as above.
  • Add a slug course in states where they are required for deer hunting so that Scouts can learn how to use them effectively.
  • Add wilderness ranges where Scouts will go on simulated hunts.

For the black powder program:

  • Make black powder shooting a separate merit badge in order to encourage Scouts to explore different firearm horizons.
  • Remove the powder and caliber restrictions, as in the field you will rarely ever use a 45 grain load for a 50 grain ball.
  • Remove the "percussion only" restriction as flintlocks also have their place.
  • Add wilderness ranges where Scouts will go on simulated hunts.

I do not think that these requests are unreasonable. In fact, they would vastly improve the Scout shooting program.

So please, Boy Scouts of America, make your shooting program worthwhile and teach Scouts how to use a firearm in real life, not just on a 50 foot range!

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Copyright 2006 by Schuyler Barnum and/or All rights reserved.