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Monday, April 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Skeet-shooting school helps foster new wave of gun-sport enthusiasts

For two days this week, the Spokane Gun Club became much more than that place in Greenacres with all the intrigue of firearms without full understanding.

Up until recently, that’s exactly what the 124-year-old establishment had been to members of the Kienbaum family.

“We would drive by the Gun Club every day,” 14-year-old Deanna Kienbaum said. “We asked about it and Dad said we should check it out. And, we kind of just got hooked.”

That’s exactly what the Bob and Shannon Thornton, who organized the Inland Northwest Youth Skeet Camp, were hoping when they started organizing the camps four years ago.

“If we don’t get young people and women involved, shooting sports will die,” Bob Thornton said.

Each summer, volunteers and shooting instructors host a group of youth to drill them on firearm safety and eventually give them pointers about footwork and technique to make them better clay pigeon shooters.

The camp that just ended had 26 youths, ages 9 to 17, who took part. They came from Colville to Coeur d’Alene.

Some 15 instructors handled every shell given to the youth during the shooting sessions, which ended without a single incident.

“I have a background in firearms since I was little,” Shannon Thornton said. “It’s a fun sport.”

But the Thorntons, who live near Athol, Idaho, also get a kick out of watching the shy kids turn into something else.

“These kids blossom,” said Bob, 68, who has a background in shooting sports dating back to 1971. “Most of them are quiet. Then they start hitting some clay birds and you can just see them grow.”

That’s exactly what happened for 12-year-old Kyler Talbot, of Nine Mile Falls.

“I’ve been shooting for two years, but it’s my first time in this type of camp,” he said. “I usually hunt pheasants and waterfowl. This year, I’m hunting deer for the first time.”

Asked how he shot, Kyler replied: “I’d say decent. I’ve gotten better. I hit on my first shot and missed my next two. Now, I’m hitting most of them.”

Bill Brooks, who is the highest ranked shooting instructor in the Northwest, helped the Thorntons put on the camp, which was funded by donations and by the volunteers.

Each of the parents were asked to provide a $50 check, which were all refunded because each child was able to complete the two-day program, which included hundreds of expended shot shells and free lunches.

Deanna Kienbaum shot in the camp along with her 15-year-old sister Madeline, 16-year-old brother Dexter; and 12-year-old brother Avery.

Deanna and Madeline said they started shooting in their backyard with a BB gun before graduating to the 12-gauge shotgun. Both Kienbaum girls went to state, where Deanna won two gold medals.

But some of the toughest competitions come from shooting against the Kienbaum boys.

“I have outshot Avery,” Deanna said, “but not Dexter. Avery gets a little upset.”

Sibling rivalries aside, Brooks said the camp uses instructors who are specialized in dealing with very young shooters. The teenagers, who have already shot in competitions, get a different set of instructors.

“We want kids to understand that guns are not to be feared, they are to be respected,” he said. “They are tools, whether you use them for sporting or hunting. And, they can be misused. We spend a couple hours in the beginning hitting that really hard.”

Kyler, who later won the citizenship award for offering to bring his instructor a drink, said he really enjoyed the camp.

“It’s really nice because I get to make a lot of new friends with people who like to shoot,” he said.

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