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Photo Courtesy of Jarrod Spilger

Two young men try out an AR rifle while a range safety officer keeps a watchful eye during Heartland’s First Shots program last year.

Last August, Heartland Public Shooting Park west of Grand Island hosted its inaugural First Shots event designed to introduce new shooters to the shooting sports. The timing was fitting, since August is National Shooting Sports month.

The event was free to the public. After reporting to the check-in station and signing a liability form, visitors were given a swag bag filled with numerous free items, including a nice pair of safety glasses, ear plugs, ball-point pen, key chain, firearm safety brochures, and a Hornady ball cap.

Stations were set up where participants could try out rimfire rifles and pistols, .380 or 9mm pistols, AR-15s, and shotguns. Ammo was provided free of charge. Range officers at each station provided instruction on how to safely handle and operate the firearms.

Even though I wasn’t a new shooter, I decided to go through the course and experience the event first-hand. I fired five shots through a .17-caliber rimfire rifle, ten shots through a .22-caliber Ruger pistol and 10/22 rifle with a red dot scope, five shots through a Smith and Wesson AR with a Trijicon red dot, five shots through a 12-gauge CZ semi-auto shotgun (which had no kick), and five shots through a Browning 1911 .380 pistol (9mm pistols were also available).

The event attracted a large crowd of eager participants. Joining me on the course were community members from a diverse range of backgrounds, many of whom were shooting a firearm for the first time. All were safely and greatly enjoying themselves.

Heartland will again host the First Shots program on Saturday, August 10. Like last year, the event will be free to the public. Simply show up at the range anytime between 10 am and 1 p.m.

Participants will again have the opportunity to fire a variety of handguns, rifles, and shotguns while under the direct supervision of certified range safety officers. All ages are welcome, but children must be big enough to safely handle long guns. Handguns will be restricted to those 14 and older.

Each guest will also receive a goody bag, although the contents may vary from last year. The park will provide hearing and eye protection to those who don’t have their own.

“We’re thrilled to have Heartland Public Shooting Park join us in continuing the celebration of the shooting sports in 2019,” said Zach Snow, director of shooting range services for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

For more details, call park headquarters at 308-385-5048. I hope to see you there!

Jarrod Spilger writes the outdoors for The Independent.

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