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Some rules exist for very good reasonsSome rules exist for very good reasons

Front Porch: Here's why 4-H and fairs frown on project exhibits that involve guns, ammo, bows and arrows.

Tom Bechman 1

July 28, 2016

3 Min Read

Have you ever heard someone say, “Boy, that sure is a dumb rule.” Or maybe, “How in the world did anyone ever come up with that rule?” And for sure you’ve heard, “Rules are meant to be broken.”

Well, here’s an example that illustrates how a rule that might seem dumb and unnecessary to you could have come about.

Judging county fairs is something I like to do. It’s especially fun when you get to talk to the 4-H’ers. There are the shy kids, the ones who won’t stop talking, the kids who obviously didn’t do the project and the kids who are so proud of what they accomplished that they smile constantly, even if you’re not sure what they’re proud about.


At one county fair this summer, kids had three hours to bring in projects. At 7 p.m. sharp, judging would stop so I could pick the champions. Not a soul showed up after 6:30, so before 7, I was looking things over, ready to name the big winners.

At 7:02 I heard the lady helping me say, “OK, here’s another shooting sport exhibit.” I could tell that rule was going to get bent. After all, what’s two minutes?

Then I saw the smiling face of a teenager with a ball cap on, carrying a lamp. His dad was close behind. Before I could say, "What does this have to do with shooting sport?" he wanted to know if he could plug it in to show me it worked.

The lamp lit up, and I could see the stem resembled a gunstock. “I carved it myself,” the boy said, beaming.

Think fast!

How was I going to get out of this one? As my wife asked me when I got home, “What did a lamp have to do with shooting sports?” No clue.

Then I remembered that a shooting sports item — typically a target or an ammo box, or something related to guns and ammo or bows and arrows — must be accompanied by a written explanation of cost and construction plans. As soon as I asked for it, the lightbulb went out — at least on the 4-H’er's face.

“It didn’t cost anything,” he said. “I just made it out of stuff.”

I’m quite sure that wasn’t the concept leaders wanted to teach with that requirement.

So I told them it would have been a blue ribbon, but would be red since there wasn’t a plan, and sent them on their way.


If you don’t think the story ends there, you’re right. “What if next year he brings a real old gun and talks about the history of it?” Dad asked. Before I could respond, he continued. “Oh, the shooting mechanism doesn’t work anymore, so it wouldn’t hurt anybody. Or we could just cut off the gunstock and bring that in.”

Now, I’m not big on rules, but this time I couldn’t reach for the county handbook fast enough. Parroting state fair rules in big letters, it says: “No guns, ammunition, bows or arrows of any kind are allowed on the fairgrounds.”

Whew, dodged a bullet there! The 4-H’er and his dad left, less than sure what had just happened to them. That made three of us. I hope I see them next year. And I hope this time they bring me a great poster, with a picture of an old gun that doesn’t work and a bullet-point description of the history of that old firearm.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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