The local Central Oregon Youth Hunter Education Challenge team is preparing for the state competition in June

by: KEVIN SPERL - From left, Kayla Pieren, Karinda Pieren and Emily Leavitt load up the sporting clay trap machine before practice on Wednesday.

Members of Central Oregon's Youth Hunter Education Challenge team gathered at the Redmond Rod and Gun Club on Wednesday morning for some sporting clay shotgun practice in preparation for their upcoming state competition in June.

For team member Kayla Pieren, it was just another day.

"For the state competition, we practice about three hours each day," she said, "And, for the nationals, we increase that to five to eight hours."

Team parent Ken Pieren, whose two daughters, Kayla and Karinda, take part in the challenge, explained that YHEC is comprised of four educational and four shooting events.

"Competitors are tested in the areas of orienteering, wildlife identification, safety and ethical hunting practices," said Pieren. "There are also four shooting events in .22 rifle, muzzle loader, sporting clays and 3-D archery."

According to the team's coach, Carl Shaver, YHEC's international competition is the longest youth running program offered by the NRA and teaches kids to shoot proficiently in a variety of disciplines,

Shaver and his wife, Sharon, founded the YHEC Central Oregon chapter five years ago and have sent teams to the international level every one of those years.

Crook County will be well represented. In addition to Kayla and Karinda Pieren, the Central Oregon team is comprised of senior team members Braden and Jenae Graves, and junior competitors Justin Smith, Zach Rictor, Kristen Griffith, Emily Leavitt and Landon Graves.

"These kids are ready to represent Oregon," said Shaver. "The state is well known at the international level, and has taken first, second and thirds individually as well as the overall team title."

Practice is not the only thing the team needs to get to these competitions. They need money to pay for registration fees and travel costs, totaling almost $2,500 per competitor.

To raise that money, the team is planning a fundraiser, taking place today and Saturday.

From 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on both days, the parking lot of Ray's Food Place, located at 1535 N.E. Third St., will be the place to get a BBQ Tri-tip Hoagie sandwich, chips and a drink, all for $5.

Shaver explained that grant money is used to send the top five winners, in the junior and senior division, from Oregon to the international competition, to be held in Mansfield, Pa. in July. This year, the Central Oregon chapter wants to send a second team of seniors.

Pieren said it's because this year's team is deeper, when it comes to experience, than ever before.

"Last year the top five junior kids all graduated to the senior category," he said. "And none of the senior kids are aging out. We, therefore, have 10 really good senior kids, and we want to be able to send them all."

First up for the team is the state competition, scheduled for June 21 and 22 at the Redmond Rod and Gun Club, that is sponsored by Prineville's Grocery Outlet, where Pieren works, and Nosler of Bend, a bullet manufacturer.

"We do not know who the top five kids will be until the state competition," explained Pieren. "The top five kids will be named to the Oregon state team based on total points scored."

For sisters Karinda and Kayla Pieren, their familiarity with hunting equipment started at the age of 5, using rifles to shoot at soda cans. Now, they are among the veterans of the team, as Kayla placed first in the seniors and Karinda placed third in juniors at last years' state competition. At the international level, the two helped the senior team place second and the juniors third overall.

For the pair, competing is a mixture of fun and pressure.

"It is cool to be able to travel throughout the United States and to compete," said Karinda.

"It is also pressure," added Kayla, "I don't really like competition until I get into it and then I'm ready to go. These events are a great way to become comfortable with guns."

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