A valued volunteer gets involved with youth

His job with Bridgeman Creamery brought him from Williston to Minot in 1974. Bridgeman later changed names, but Wes Thomas never changed his commitment to youth in the Minot area. The volunteer has been deeply involved in junior shooting since he arrived in Minot.

Thomas said he responded to an advertisement seeking junior shooters in Minot. At the time the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club was situated in a make-shift shooting range in a building along “Rodeo” road, also known as the back road to the Minot Fairgrounds.

“I asked my older son if he would like to try shooting and he said sure,” recalled Thomas. “We went down to the club and he enjoyed it.”

Within a year Thomas’ daughter and youngest son got involved in shooting too. Shooting became a family affair.

“Any young ladies who spent Friday night at a slumber party at our house knew they were going shooting Saturday morning,” laughed Thomas.

Thomas became a regular at the range, so much so that he began volunteering his time to assist young shooters.

“They needed somebody to cock air rifles that the club had at that time,” said Thomas. “The young kids weren’t strong enough to do it. I’d sit between two of them and take turns cocking the air rifles for them.”

Thomas enjoyed helping youth, even if the facilities were sub-par. The air rifle range for youth was set up in a back room off the old range. A space heater was needed to keep the room warm enough for shooters during the winter.

By 2002 the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club was making plans to construct a modern indoor range. The doors to the new facility were opened in 2004. Because of his commitment, Wes Thomas was asked to be director of a new junior shooting program that was a vital part of the club’s long-range plans. He accepted the opportunity and was instrumental in growing the program.

“The new indoor range was big. Everybody who remembers the old range is totally over-whelmed with the facility we have in Minot now,” said Thomas. “It caused junior shooting programs in other areas to take a look at what they offered. Bismarck and Fargo built new indoor ranges. A lot of that came from, basically, Minot setting the lead.”

Under Thomas’ leadership the junior shooting program continues to grow and flourish. Today about 70 juniors participate. Equipment they use is among the best in the industry, a big plus for young shooters learning a new skill.

“Our number one thing is safety. That is the main concern,” said Thomas. “Then it is having fun and, finally, if it is something they really enjoy doing and want to be a competitive shooter, we have all the equipment. You’d have to spend big dollars to improve on what we have.”

Young shooters use club equipment, making it easy for them to get involved in the shooting sports with very limited expense. Thomas has been instrumental in making sure the young shooters are supplied with everything they need at the range. As a result, many young shooters who try the program enjoy it so much that they look forward to their next session at the range.

“Some work at it all year,” remarked Thomas. “Some have been here since they were 6 or 7 years old. They are teenagers now and shoot very, very well.”

A big change from the early days of the program has been the involvement of female shooters.

“There were no girl shooters when we started,” said Thomas. “Now the girls sometimes outnumber the boys.”

Thomas credits his friendship with fellow junior shooting leader Al Sivney for staying involved in junior shooting long after his own children had finished the program. He’s passing the torch this year. Five years into retirement, he has decided to spend the winter in Arizona.

“I was Junior Director only by title,” said Thomas. “A lot of people have helped out and still are helping out. I’ll come back later this winter for the 3-position shoot. I’m looking forward to seeing the program continue to grow and watching some of those kids advance higher up in competitive shooting. I’d say to others, if you see a need, find your niche and work with it.”

Apparently heeding that advice is Thomas’ youngest son, Jeremy. He will be playing a bigger role in the junior shooting program in his father’s absence.

“That’s what makes a good club, a real important core of people. It is not just the numbers,” said Thomas. “You have to expand the sport so others can take advantage of it and appreciate it.”

Thomas’ contribution to the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club’s Junior Shooting program has been appreciated by fellow club members and countless numbers of young shooters who have advanced through the program under his tutelage.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to mdnews@minotdailynews.com.)