HELENA — As you take a lap around the Bill Hamilton 4-H building, you'll notice a number of banners.
Two of those banners outline what the 4-H project has to offer. The first banner — titled "Great Tradition" — lists what many people immediately think of when 4-H comes to mind; animal sciences, clothing and textiles, food and nutrition, plant sciences, teen leadership and mechanical sciences. The next banner — titled "new beginnings" — demonstrates how 4-H has continued its progression and growth by adding a number of new projects over the years. Listed on this banner is: Lego robotics, outdoor adventures, wildlife, cloverbuds, paintball, cowboy poetry and shooting sports.
Thanks to support from community members and grants from the NRA, Helena's 4-H project has been able to provide youngsters with the means to hone their shooting skills. At the top of her class is one of the best air pistol and smallbore pistol competitors in the state, Mariah Olson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Helena Capital.
"My sister started doing 4-H before I joined and she was doing rifle and archery, and that was interesting to me," remembers Olson, who also enjoys horseback riding. "So, I decided I wanted to try it out, and I stuck with the air rifle a lot longer than Clancy (Olson) did.
"She’s very active in 4-H," said Mariah's mother, Lewis and Clark County Shooting Sports Coordinator Vanessa Olson. "That’s what got her into shooting."
Mariah has recently qualified for two national shooting competitions. In April she will travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to compete in the Junior Olympics for air pistol shooting.
"They have qualifier events all over the US and one of the ones here for Montana was in Bozeman," Vanessa explains. "And it’s through connections we made through 4-H shooting that they asked Mariah to come down and shoot. This was her first year going to the qualifiers and she qualified for the Junior Olympics — the national championships."
In order to qualify, Mariah placed in the top 30 — nationally — within her age group. Mariah competes in what is known as the J2 group, which includes birth dates in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005. During the event, a competitor must shoot one round at 60 individual targets, for a total of 60 rounds.
Last weekend at the 4-H State Shooting Sports Invitational in Bozeman, Mariah also qualified for the 4-H national championships which take place in June in Grand Island, Nebraska. In this competition she will be shooting a smallbore pistol.
“I probably would have qualified for air pistol because I got third, and it’s usually the top four," Mariah added. "But I went last year, and you can only go once for each category.”
The pellet guns that Mariah uses are a step above what you find at local sporting goods stores.
"It’s more powerful that a BB, but less powerful than a 22," says Mariah's father Joe Olson. "So about halfway in between."
"There’s competition pellet guns and then there’s ones you go buy at Wal Mart," Vanessa says."
In addition to shooting, during her six years with 4-H Mariah has been involved with the horse project. She has also shown steer, sheep, rabbits, dogs and competed in archery.
Mariah says she also enjoys coaching the younger kids who are eager to learn how to shoot. She teaches them fundamental techniques and the importance of safety.
Other shooting sports within 4-H are the precision project, shotgun, mussel loader, archery, western heritage and hunting projects.
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