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Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

We have been blessed with nice soaking rainfall this month.

Total amounts for the year near Los Alamos are up to just over 8.6 inches. Heavier rainfall fell to our south, causing Gibraltar dam to spill, sending water down the Santa Ynez River into Cachuma Lake, which was only at 30 percent of its capacity.

Hopefully, the folks living in the burn areas down south weren’t hurt too badly by the recent rains. Here in North County we are hopeful more soaking rain events are on their way.

Last Saturday I was checking on our pruning crews as they removed last year’s growth from our grapevines. It was a cool, clear morning and I could not help but notice cattle grazing along the verdant green hills surrounding the vineyard, a scene reminiscent of the stories my grandfather told of raising sheep and cattle during the California Rancho period. It’s easy to let yourself be taken back to a time not so long ago.

Several weeks ago, in between rainstorms, our son Clayton and I headed up to Merced for 4-H shotgun leader training. Some of you may recall from previous columns that I am an assistant leader in our Vineyard 4-H shotgun project. The two-day training in Merced will enable me to become a certified volunteer. Clayton is our project teen leader and wanted to go through the training sessions with me.

I was a little worried about driving in the Tule fog over in the Valley, which I remembered all too well from my days living in Corcoran. Luckily, as we made our way over the hills east of Paso Robles the sky was clear, providing an awesome view of the snow-capped Sierras as we made our way toward Kettleman City.

We made our way up Highway 41 toward Fresno, driving past dairies and pruned table, raisin and wine-grape vineyards. Once on Highway 99 past Fresno, almond growers were busy shaking their trees to remove mummies, another name for the nuts that remained on the trees after harvest. The left-behind nuts can make great places for worms and other pests to hide and cause problems for next year’s crop.

Clayton and I made it into Merced around 4 p.m. and after checking into our hotel decided to go to the River Oaks shooting range in Winton, about 20 miles up the road from where we were staying, just in case it was foggy in the morning. We had no problem finding the Safety-First Shooting Association, River Oaks Range Firearms Training Center on a dairy in rural Merced County. The site was complete with two portable classrooms and ranges to accommodate not only trap shooting, but archery and rifles as well.

Our Saturday class ran from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. We had great instructors who reminded us that the 4-H shooting sports program is far more than teaching kids safe and responsible use of firearms. They want to strengthen families through participation in life-long recreational activities, while enhancing development of self-concept, character and personal growth through safe, educational and socially-acceptable involvement in shooting activities.

Clayton perked up when the instructors talked about full-ride scholarships to colleges with trap and skeet-shooting teams that compete throughout the country.

The 4-H shooting sports program strives to enable young people, their parents and adult volunteers to become responsible, self-directed and productive members of society. I’m proud to be a small part of it.

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Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau, and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair board. He can be reached at