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New York Venturers STAY ACTIVE during the sometimes-slow winter months with a weekend

biathlon focusing on CHALLENGE BY CHOICE. by gretchen sparling photographs by w. garth dowling

Mary-Kate Collins looks down the scope of a .22-caliber rifle. Her right hand grasps the stock of the firearm, resting her index finger on the outside of the trigger guard. She exhales slowly, shifting her finger onto the trigger. In an instant the gun jumps back into her shoulder. The corners of her mouth rise into a small smile. Mary- Kate’s shot is near perfect, boring into

the target about an inch from the bull’s- eye. Instructor Mark Webster gives her a pat on the shoulder and helps her load the next round. “Are you sure you’ve never shot a rifle before? Or any kind of firearm?” he asks. Fourteen-year- old Mary-Kate shakes her head. Until today, she’s never had the chance to try her aim. But she absorbs Webster’s instructions and seems to effortlessly demonstrate her marksmanship. Sure, a couple shots are a little off-target. But she’s eager to try again. In Venturing, youth can shoot an

even wider range of firearms than in Boy Scouting, including semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and even pistols. But teens might yawn at the prospect of a

Eighteen-year-old Carolyn Noyes, Venturer in Crew 15 of Elmira, N.Y., prepares to take aim during practice sessions before the weekend’s biathlon competition. She soaks up the hands-on advice from Jim Griffin, NRA training counselor.

run-of-the-mill day at the range. The Venturing Officers Association in New York’s Five Rivers Council sets the bar high in January with its annual Venture Biathlon Challenge that draws coed crews from across the northeastern U.S. to snowy Camp Gorton. The weekend event does more than

just test their aim. Participants face off in a winter biathlon, a competition with century-old European roots requiring competitors to shoot small-caliber rifles on a timed cross-country ski course. But before the biathlon begins, the crews get hands-on training from NRA- certified instructors as well as an area cross-country skiing expert. On Saturday morning at the rifle

range, two Venturers sit next to Mary- Kate, sharpening their skills for the event that’s only hours away. An intermediate marksman — a male counterpart — offers a friendly challenge to beginner Mary-Kate. Webster, an NRA-certified instructor and Scout parent from Corning, N.Y., warns the boy with a laugh, “You might think twice about that.” Turning to Mary-Kate, he adds, “You’ve never shot a firearm, and he’s shot before and played a thousand video games. Girls listen and take direction much better. They make great shooters.” Mary-Kate’s eyebrows rise as she

glances over at her opposition. Let the competition begin.


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