By Robert Lucke
Competitive shooting for kids is alive and well in Havre, Montana in no small part because of the dedication and persistence of coach Cal Burr. This marks his 35th year of coaching a full house several days a week in the basement of the Havre Fire Department.
The VFW Post 497 supports the program, which includes the VFW Girls Rifle Club and the VFW Bear Paw Junior Rifle Club.
And as Burr is fond of telling, the program is certainly not new for this area.
Ive got some records going back to the early 1940s when there was a shooting club in Havre, Burr said.
One thing for sure, this is a sport. Kids do not join to learn how to become better hunters. They join to compete nationally and more often than not, Burrs troops win big in national events.
My first year of helping was in 1963, Burr said. I became an instructor in 1964 because my son was shooting. I was involved and found that I liked it. Vance Warwick was the senior instructor at the time and encouraged me. I took the test and liked it.
In 1966, Tom Furlong was the girls instructor. My daughter showed an interest and I went to Tom, who was 72 at the time and wanted to retire, but he said that if I would help him, my daughter could shoot. There were times that I was putting in four nights a week prior to 1985, Burr said.
But it was worth it for the long-time engineer. Now, the Havre clubs have 48 distinguished boy shooters and 48 distinguished girl shooters.
There are 14 ratings before they get to be a distinguished shooter. Most take three years to get there and some go to four or five years, Burr added.
The problems with the Havre clubs never involve too few shooters. This year there are 57 in an area set up for 48.
Because of that, we shoot an extra hour to accommodate extra shooters, Burr said. And certain NRA requirements we are not living up to because we dont have enough instructors. We could have lots more kids if we had more instructors.
And then there is Burrs involvement with 4-H shooting on the side.
Then there is 4-H. For 10 years, we have had a 4-H shooting class which is eight weeks with the air rifle for kids ages six to 12, Burr continued.
Ages for Burrs VFW-sponsored clubs are from 10 until their 20th birthday.
Think of this. Right now I have two boys on their seventh year who have never missed a night of shooting. That is once a week from September to April, Burr added.
Havre Rifle and Pistol Club has helped out the junior shooters by providing equipment to speed up the shooting process and allow more kids per evening to shoot.
Mainly, what happens to keep kids in the program long term is that once they get into the program and start to achieve ratings they stay. Their shooting is experimental until they get involved, and they certainly dont know a lot about pressure shooting until they shoot, Burr contends.
And Burr and his helpers produce national winners year after year in spite of not enough room, not enough coaches, and 20 good rifles for 57 kids.
The backing of the VFW has really helped the program, too, related Burr.
So why, after 35 years in a sport that some are very critical of, does Burr continue to stick it out?
Well, it is one of the few sports that you can continue all of your life. It is sort of like golf that way, Burr said. I still enjoy shooting at age 74 and I suppose I always enjoyed it. When I came out of the service, I enjoyed it and my kids always like it because of their dad. And I have a wife willing to help even though she has never fired a round. She was good at discipline and keeping records.
Burr thinks that now that they are retired, maybe they ought to travel a little more, but somehow it seems like his mission in the basement of the firehall is not over yet. Travel may just be put on hold.