As a small part of a greater effort to celebrate agricultural and the rural lifestyle that constitutes the backbone of this community, we’ve launched the new Campbell County Fair Clover Kids campaign (CCFCloverKids), where friends, family, and the community of Gillette and Campbell County are introduced to local 4H’ers and invited to follow along as they train their livestock and prepare their projects for the Campbell County Fair 2019, beginning July 26 through Aug. 4.

Straight Shooter

It takes a lot of practice to become really good at something, and it’s clear that Garrett Steele has put in a lot of time at the firing range. Squinting with one eye closed, the 18-year-old popped off round after round on his 12-gauge Browning Citori XT, exploding one neon orange “pigeon” after the next as they soared down range. Nonchalantly, he discarded the spent shell in a mesh bag hanging from his belt, then reloaded for the next shot.

It’s 4-H practice night at the Gillette Gun Club range, and Garrett was surrounded by other kids his age and younger on the cement pad. Each patiently waited their turn while a handful of junkie-adrenalin real birds nose-dived in between shots like Kamikazes. Some days, Garrett has even seen an antelope snoozing in the grass just out of firing range, as if taunting them.

Skeet shooting is just one of the 4-H activities Garrett competes in each summer at the Campbell County Fair. Not only does he not miss any pigeons that night, he pretty much doesn’t miss much at all at this point. He’s that good.

He picked up his first rifle at age 2 and hasn’t stopped shooting since. Right now, he’s one of eight kids on the Wyoming State Trap Association team that has competed nationally for the last several years.

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“He’s always loved anything that goes boom or bang,” Garrett’s Dad Josh said as he watched his son explode another clay disc. “He’s put in a lot of time getting that good.”

Josh is proud of his son, he added, and simultaneously heartbroken to know in just a couple of months Garrett will be moving to Laramie to attend diesel mechanic school at Wyotech. Along with a shared love of guns, the two are also hunting buddies and spend at least half of the year tromping around in the woods and fields together. They live in a trailer in Wright and get out as much as they can.

Josh and Garrett also volunteer their time to help the younger 4-H kids, which Josh will continue doing once Garrett’s gone. He’s glad to be able to stay involved with the program while Garrett appreciates helping the younger kids hone their skills.

“The hardest part is making yourself stay focused,” he said. That and being patient.

For Garrett, the competitions are only a part of what drives him. He loves the social outlet and getting together with other 4-H’ers around the state every summer. He also likes exploring some of the other shooting sports like muzzle loading, which typically doesn’t draw a lot of kids his age.  But like his dad said, he likes anything that makes noise.

Competing in 4-H events is where his true training began, and Garrett learned a lot about marksmanship and being safe. He has yet to have any accidents, unless you count the time when he was 8 and grabbed his dad’s 300 Savage that rocked him in his boots, having ignored his dad’s warning that the gun was too big for him. 

Garrett shrugged. Sometimes it takes learning the hard way.

“He’s a good kid,” Josh said. And even though it’s not the cheapest hobby in the world, he noted, it’s well worth. For his son, it’s given him an athletic outlet apart from traditional school sports. It’s one of the few sports that don’t require you to be tall or a stellar athlete, he added. “You just have to practice and really want to be good at it.”

It’s also had the added benefit of keeping Garrett out of trouble and falling in with the “bad apples” at school.

“He’s never been in trouble,” Josh said of his son. “That in itself makes it well worth the cost.”

“I’m going to really miss it,” Garrett said with a shy smile. “I’ve met a lot of great friends here and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Chicken Whisperer

From a distance, the chicken appeared to be dead. Sprawled on its back in the grass with white wings tucked against its side, eyes at half-staff like a drugged patient about to go under the knife. Less than a minute ago, the same bird had been feverishly squawking in a cloud of flapping feathers as it tried to outrun young Danica Eliason’s deft grasp.

Once caught, the hen immediately became docile as Danica rubbed her chest and whispered to calm down. She did. And continued to stay still as Danica moved back a couple inches and started to stand up, at which point the trance ended and the chicken was up and running over to the sand pit to join her friends, who were de-bugging in the sand.

It’s safe to say that 10-year-old Danica has the magic touch. Right now, she’s trying out birds to see which one will be accompanying her to the 4-H showmanship competition at the county fair later this summer.

This will be her fourth year competing, after her first time in the open class when she was 7, and already she’s amassed a wall full of winning ribbons. She’s always loved chickens and can remember being escorted to the livestock barns during fair by her older siblings. Chickens, in particular, caught her fancy and she had been bugging her dad Darin to buy her a few chickens and, three years ago, he finally relented. It was contagious. Now, 39 chickens later, Darin has not only expanded his daughter’s chicken coop and added lots of bells and whistles, but he’s also her primary helper.

In the past couple years, Danica has brought home several grand champion ribbons and has learned a lot about chickens and life. Some lessons have been hard ones, like watching one of her favorite hens, Goldie, get bullied by the others. Watching Goldie brood in the laying loft looking for potential eggs to sit on to hatch, hurts her heart, Danica explained, as do the open wounds on her back from others pecking.

“But, I’ll nurse her back to health again,” Danica said, noticeably chipper as she tucked Goldie under her chin. 

The best way to train the chickens for competition is to hang out with them. So, she does, a lot. It never gets old, and she likes the egg money and the cash prizes she brings home each year from fair that immediately go back into the operation.

This year, she’s also going to try her hand competing with her 1-year-old Sheltie, Bailey, who already has a good grasp on laying down and walking at her side. She and Bailey go to 4-H puppy training classes to learn the tricks of the trade, and she’s got a couple more months to get there. 

By: Jen C. Kocher
Photos: Adam D. Ritterbush

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