One of the most exciting youth shooting sports program in America today is the NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge, which was started in 1985.  The YHEC program which operates in many of our United States today is a  unique shooting/hunting competition format that is different from most other  youth shooting programs.   As the name implies  it has a hunting base competitive format, yet its main purpose is educating young hunter.   After a youth competes at their State YHEC Competition, they normally advance to the NRA’s National Level YHEC Competition.  However, this year NRA decided  to host two Regional Championships instead of one National Level event in hopes of attracting even more young competitors.    The West Region YHEC Championship was held July 23-27 in  Bentonville, Arkansas and was attend by over 160 competitors  from seven different states.

The West Region YHEC is composed of states forming a North to South Boundary from Michigan to Kentucky to Tennessee to Alabama and  all states west.   Competitors and volunteers came from Arkansas to States as far away as Washington State, Utah, and Michigan.   All in all, over 700 competitors, coaches, volunteers,  family and friends attended  the five  days  event.  Youth are broken down into 2 age categories( Junior Division up to 14 years of age and Senior Division ages 15 to 18) and compete in eight separate categories.

The eight YHEC categories include  4 shooting events:  Light Rifle (.22), Shot Gun, Muzzle Loader, and  Archery.  There are also 4 non shooting events:  Compass and Orienteering, Wild Life Identification, Safety Trail, and Hunter Responsibility Exam.  Youth compete as individuals and on 5 person teams.  First, Second and Third Place Plaques are awarded in each of these eight events and for “Overall Score”  (total of all events).  These “Best in the West” YHEC youth  were recognized at the Awards Ceremony on Saturday.

In individual competition, “Overall Winners’ in the Senior Division were 1st Place Nick Meyers, Arkansas with an overall score of 1,911 points( out of a maximum of 2,400 possible points).   2nd  Place went to Jeffrey Phillips also of Arkansas with a score of 1876.  3rd Place went to Austin Daily of Louisiana with a score of 1801.  Overall winners in the Junior Division were 1st Place Cole Adams with a score of 1592, 2nd Place went to Colby Laiche with a score of 1558, and 3rd Place went  to Holden Haydell with a score of 1499.  All three “Overall” junior winners were on the Louisiana Bayou Bandits Junior Gold Team.  Each youth was presented a firearm donated by Henry Repeating Arms, Academy Outdoors, and  TR Imports.

Overall Team Competition winners in the Senior Division were 1st Place Louisiana Bayou Bandits Sr. Gold Team.  Team members included Seth Montgomery, Adrienne Talbot, Jacob Guillory, Blake Johnson and Elijah Bourg.  The “Gold Team” Bandits had a total score of 8,339( out of a maximum score of 12,000 points).  In 2nd Place was the  New Mexico 10X Shed Neck team.  Team members are Billy Grooms, Breanna Simpson, Cody Hughes, Trent Mims, and Callie Hauser.  They had a team score of 8,240.    3rd Place winners were the Louisiana Bayou Bandits Silver Team.  Team members were Austin Daily, Cameron Bertrand, Brandon Bergeron, Emily Johnson and Evan Bergeron.   They had a combined score of 7,715 points.

Junior Team winners were the Louisiana Bayou Bandits Jr Gold Team.  They won first place with a score of 7,430 points. Team members were Holden Haydell, Carter Neil, Cole Adams, Dominic LeBoeuf and Colby Laiche.    2nd Place honors went to the Louisiana Bayou Bandits Silver Team with a score of 6,570.

Team members were Benson Toups, Casey Mallach, Nathan Rider, Matthew Kearns, and Coben Trosclair.  In 3rd Place with a score of 5,741 was the Arkansas Team “Young Guns”.  Team members included Sarah Brock, Anna Brock, Logan Tucker, Jude Harrell, and Paul Wolfe.

In the Coach Division, Lawrence Myers of Arkansas won 1st place with a score of 1791.  Benson Toups of Louisiana won 2nd Place with a score of  1625.   David Baker also from Arkansas won 3rd Place with a score of 1573.  Coaches received a GO Pro Camera, Digital Bow Range Finder or a Game Cam provided by Explore Scientific of Springdale Arkansas.

Bill and Mary Zirkle of Arkansas was recognized as “Volunteers of the Year”.  Bill and Mary have been involved with the YHEC program for over 20 years.  Whether YHEC is held in Arkansas, New Mexico or Pennsylvania Bill and Mary attend and volunteer on the Shot Gun Challenge event.  They are also very involved with Friends of NRA events, and many other youth shooting programs.

A special “Sportsmanship Award” was presented to James Cox of the Wyoming Upton Young guns Team. This award is presented to a team or individual that displays the highest level of “Sportsmanship” at YHEC.  James went over and beyond assisting the volunteers at the Flu Flu Arrow Fun Shoot.   He not only help set up the event, he also assisted in getting the shooters ready, and encouraging  them to hit the flying targets.  In addition to the plaque, he was awarded a Ruger 10-22 for his outstanding efforts.

Opening  Ceremonies were held Tuesday night and all teams were introduced as they entered the building under the colors of their State Flag.  State Senator, District 1 Bart Hester welcomed the nearly 700 attendees to his home state of Arkansas.    Representative Hester is know as a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment.    Also attending the Opening Ceremonies were Mike and Kat Henderson from Washington State.   They represented the estate of their late cousin Mr. William Henderson,  who in his will left a substantial  contribution to NRA.  Mike and Kat requested that the money go to a youth program such as YHEC  as a lasting recognition of their cousin.  Mr. and Mrs. Henderson were recognized for their kind generosity.

On Friday night after 3 days of competition, a special “Cajun Dinner”  was provided by the Louisiana Bayou Bandits. The “Bandits” cooked up and served Jambalaya, Shrimp  Etouffee, Fried Catfish, Boudin Balls, and several other Louisiana  treats.  The night was concluded with a  dance and music provided by DJ Brian Parish with Century Sounds.  Special fun events that were scheduled thru out the week included “Trade Night”, the Gary Purtilo Flu-Flu Archery Shoot, and the Daisy Air Rifle Trailer.

The West Region Youth Hunter Education Challenge was supported and sponsored by several organizations such as   Arkansas Friends of NRA, Arkansas Safari Club International, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Arkansas Rifle and Pistol Association, Arkansas Gun and Cartridge Collectors Club and Benton County Quail.   Corporate sponsors included Henry Repeating Arms, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Vista Outdoors/Federal Ammunition, TR Imports,  Black Powder Inc/Connecticut Valley Arms, Explore Scientific/Bresser Optics, Challenge Targets, Easton Archery and FeraDyne Outdoors.  A special thanks to Eunice Alberson for photography and video development.

A list of all competitors and scores can be found on the NRA YHEC website.   Pictures and a special Video of the West Region YHEC can be accessed at https://vimeo.com/35082294 and https://2019westregionnrayhec.shutterfly.com/pictures .  Plans are already underway for the 2020 West Region Youth Hunter Education Challenge.  The 2020 West Regional YHEC is scheduled the week of  July 19-25 at the Benton County Quail Facility.   For more information regarding the Youth Hunter Education Challenge go to the NRA YHEC Website and for West Region YHEC go to the Arkansas Rifle and Pistol Association website.  You may also contact Monty Embrey  NRA/YHEC Manager at membrey@nrahg.org or Gary Jobe at aryhec@hotmail.com

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