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A Look at 2 BSA Merit Badges for Shooting

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My son's troop is having their annual Shotgun Shootout campout this month. September also happens to be Boy Scout month at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, who are hosting three BSA merit badge classes throughout September – one of which is Rifle Shooting. Naturally, that got me to thinking about gun violence in America; but it also got me to thinking about early America, when kids with guns probably didn’t turn too many heads I figured.BSA Merit Badges

This thinking made me curious, so I got online and started doing a little research. Here is the opening line from an article by the National Review that I read: “Once upon a time, it was common for an American child to be packed off to school with a rifle on his back and for him to come home smiling and safe in the evening.” Imagine that in modern-day America! Imagery aside, here are two facts offered up by the article:

     1. “Shooting clubs, now quietly withering away, were once such a mainstay of American high-school life that in the first half of the 20th century they were regularly installed in the basements of new educational buildings.”

     2. “In 1975, New York state had over 80 school districts with rifle teams. In 1984, that had dropped to 65. By 1999 there were just 26. The state’s annual riflery championship was shut down in 1986 for lack of demand.”

You can read the article for more information about the history of guns and kids in our country. I thought it was pretty interesting.


And that brings me to this month, when my son will spend a weekend with about 20 other Scouts and adults shooting clay pigeons on someone’s 2,000-acre property. Last year they shot 2,600 shells in one day. He went with his dad, who brought the guns he inherited from his dad, who inherited them from his dad. I suspect those guns will reside in a gun cabinet in my son’s house one day.

I never even saw a gun until after I was married, so it can be a little disconcerting to me. However, I know the Scoutmaster and my husband will be adamant about gun safety at this event, and the BSA requires a trained gun instructor to be present. Similarly, I’m sure the Bass Pro Shop will teach safety along with rifle shooting to my son in its merit badge class. Like earning the Totin' Chip, earning the Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting merit badges almost seems like a rite of passage for the boys.

You can find the requirements for these BSA merit badges here:shotgun-shooting-boy-scouts

The first Boy Scout merit badge related to guns was the Marksman merit badge – it was one of the original 14 “Badges of Merit” from the 1910 original edition of the BSA Handbook. That right there says something about the importance of teaching shooting to boys in those days. When that temporary handbook was made permanent in 1911, the badge was renamed the Marksmanship merit badge – then one of 57 merit badges. The badge taught both rifle and shotgun shooting, which was made more apparent when it was replaced with the Rifle and Shotgun Shooting merit badge in 1967. Finally, to complete the progression, that merit badge was split into two in 1987: Rifle Shooting, and Shotgun Shooting.

It’s interesting to look at the history of BSA merit badges – which ones have been discontinued or replaced by more modern topics. For example, several merit badges that were created in the early 1900s related to animal husbandry were subsequently discontinued and/or replaced by the current Animal Science merit badge. These included Animal Industry, Bee Farming, Beef Production, Dairying, Poultry Farming, Hog and Pork Production, Rabbit Raising, and Sheep Farming.

But unlike some merit badges, which were discontinued permanently (e.g., Cement Work, Consumer Buying, Masonry, Master-at-Arms, which only lasted from 1910-1911, and Taxidermy), Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting continue to have merit within the Boy Scout program, and thus live on as merit badges.

Leave me a comment if you have one!

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P.S. Do you wish being a Scouts BSA parent was a breeze? It is with the Smooth Sailing eGuide, Planner and Organizer for new and continuing Scout parents! Updated January 2020.

Smooth Sailing Through Scouts: Guide, Planner & Organizer for Scouts BSA Parents


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