Gun Nut Challenge: The Merit Badge

Photo by Andrew Hetherington

There was a time when all you wanted in the big wide world was a little circle of gold, brown, and blue thread. Back then, the official Boy Scouts of America Rifle Shooting merit badge patch carried the prestige of practice, marksmanship, and respect. It still does.

The question is: Could you earn it again, right now?

Acing this merit badge test means you possess the fundamental skills required for shooting game--big and small--in every corner of the continent: breathing control, trigger control, body positioning, and follow-through. There's a written essay test that leaves no doubt whether you know the difference between a squib and a hangfire. You'd better bone up on rifle cleaning, gun safety, and local laws, too.

That's before you even pull a trigger. And pull it you will. The Boy Scout test involves 40 shots. Not a one can be a clunker. No wonder the test put many a young man in a cold sweat. It's not easy, whether your scouting days have just ended or are only a misty memory. Mop your brow, and get started.

The Challenge
Snagging the official merit badge involves a three-part challenge--shooting a tight group, adjusting the sights to zero, then punching high-scoring holes in an NRA bull's-eye.

Step One: Decide on a preferred shooting position, either from a benchrest or supported prone, and set up an NRA smallbore or light rifle target 50 feet away. You have to fire five groups, with three shots per group, each of which can be covered by a quarter.

**Step Two: **Adjust the sights to zero in the rifle. Get ready to sweat.

Step Three: Fire five more groups, with five shots per group. No fliers and no excuses--every single shot has to meet or exceed these scores:

NRA A-32 target: 9
NRA A-17 or TQ-1 target: 7
NRA A-36 target: 5

Advanced Challenge
Stand up and man up. Get off the bench and shoot your group from a standing position.

Good Gun

For this accuracy-is-everything challenge, you might as well shoot a grown-up bolt-action rimfire rifle, such as the Browning T-Bolt. For optics, go for a scope with an adjustable objective (AO) lens for the shorter distances of picking squirrels off of logs, or a rimfire-specific model with parallax adjusted for close ranges.