Youths learn firearms safety and more at camp

SHAFTSBURY — "It's like a busted-up sponge," said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, holding up a stringy piece of destroyed watermelon.

Volunteers at New Experiences Camp had shot into a watermelon to show campers the damage bullets do, as a watermelon has a consistency like flesh.

It was part of a day of firearms experience at the Hale Mountain Fish & Game Club, part of the five-day New Experiences Camp put on by the Bennington Police Department, the Bennington County Sheriff's Department, the Bennington Fire Department and the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center.

Kids rotated between supervised shooting stations with shotguns, pistols, and rifles, with older campers also shooting precision and specialty rifles, including .308 caliber rifles.

Throughout the week, volunteers had taught the campers about gun safety, including how to stand and sight alignment, Doucette said.

"We let them come out here and experience it in person," said Doucette, who is also a firearms instructor. "This is one of the more popular days that we have at the camp."

On firearms day, they continued the teaching.

"In today's world, unfortunately, we see active shooting," Doucette told campers gathered at the shooting range shortly before lunch. Doucette explained to them how law enforcement would handle a situation like that — not like it's shown in the movies. Namely, they don't just step over a person after they've had to shoot them.

"You must render first aid," Doucette said. "Everybody deserves a chance at life. Because you made a poor decision doesn't mean you should lose your life."

Volunteers demonstrated how they would handle an active shooter utilizing a zombie dummy.

"We are going to engage Mr. Zombie," Doucette said. A group of four volunteers, along with Doucette, stood in front of the dummy.

"Police! Let me see your hands!" one called out.

They fired.

Immediately after, they tied a bandage around the dummy's chest while two members of the group acted as cover. "We take care of them," Doucette said. "We don't just leave them there."

Bullets spin and cut, destroying organs and breaking bones at the same time. Even some bulletproof vests can't stop all bullets, Doucette said.

He showed the campers another dummy wearing a vest manufactured in 1982. "Let's see if it [will] stop three handgun rounds," he said. It stopped three rounds from a handgun, but it wasn't as successful with shots from a 5.56 caliber.

"What do we see this now that we didn't see before?" he asked the campers, showing them the dummy.

"A hole," some responded.

After the demonstrations on firearms safety and usage, the smell of gunpowder, loud booms and popping sounds filed the air as groups practiced shooting.

By the precision rifle area, a long plastic table sat covered with boxes of ammunition like Blazer Brass 9 mm luger, Remington .300 AAC blackout and Remington Core-Lokt.

"Isn't that awesome?" one kid asked as he walked away from shooting a rifle.

"That's awesome," another agreed.

Matthew Harrington, 15, has been hunting for about six years. This day gives him the opportunity to shoot a wider variety of firearms, he said. "This is my favorite day, out of all of them [at camp]," he said.

Many kids at the camp are interested in firearms, and a majority have previous experience with guns, Doucette said.

The camp teaches kids about firearms as a tool, for people like hunters, law enforcement and firearms enthusiasts, he said.

It's also about teaching the realities of how law enforcement use firearms.

"We can actually show them what's real," Doucette said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BEN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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