After a minute working on his posture and frowning into the wind, Spencer Ackerman, 9, hoisted the muzzle of his shotgun up.
He peered down the sight, cutting a figure nearly identical to the archetypal green miniature soldier until the weight of a gun as long as he is tall had him tottering forward again.
It's OK. Spencer and the group of about 10 who were at the Lake City Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center Saturday still had a few more days to prepare before this weekend's squirrel hunt.
This will be the Missouri Department of Conservation's second squirrel hunt, an event Outdoor Education Center supervisor Steve Elliot said is designed to familiarize young hunters with basic hunting techniques.
And while the creatures don't have the same notoriety as bigger game, Elliot said there are plenty of reasons to start with squirrels.
“First of all, they're plentiful,” he said.
“This is how I got started 40 years ago,” volunteer John Rittel said, leading the group through a crash course in squirrel at the Burr Oak Woods Nature Center. “Nowadays, everyone wants to start out hunting deer. But if you specialize in just one kind of animal, you're not a very versatile hunter.”
What's more, the squirrels out in the woods have the daily challenge of survival and a food chain they have to make sure they're not about to become a part of.
“This ain't your regular backyard creature,” Rittel said. “They're going to be tougher and a lot quicker.”
Almost on cue, a group of squirrels showed up outside the Nature Center. The miniature hunters looked more than ready.
They just need to nail down this shooting thing a little better.
Out at the firing range, the young hunters had missed their clay pigeons more often than not – but to be fair, a squirrel is probably not going to have the same movement pattern unless they're of the flying variety, which Elliot assured one student they weren't hunting.
The line of hunters fired in succession, occasionally connecting with the disc, exploding with elation. Pauses for celebration were frequent.
The firing also paused with Spencer, who was negotiating between proper posture and staying warm, on top of just hitting the disc.
However, the shooting range staff stayed encouraging and suggested Spencer try resting the butt of the gun on his shoulder inside his coat.
Once again, Spencer looked down the shotgun's sight and did not quiver calling for the target.
“Pull,” he called.
A metal arm launched a ceramic disc into flight sailing into a neat arc, abruptly ending with the crack of Spencer’s shotgun fire, and settling into several confused and spinning pieces. While Spencer processed his shock and amazement, cheers erupted behind him.
Missed the squirrel hunt? The Missouri Department of Conservation is now taking applications for turkey hunts for youth ages 11 to 15. Permits will be issued on a lottery basis. Applications are available at the department website, mdc.mo.gov.