By Nick Simonson
Throughout the winter, things were looking good for the start of the new season of the High School Clay Target League this spring. Calls and emails poured in to our coaching staff about how to get kids signed up and school resource centers and cafeterias were packed wall-to-wall with students and parents looking to get registered at our informational meetings. By early February, our volunteers realized what we had on our hands as we had blown through our bottom mark of 120, then through our cap of 150 students. With the excitement building community-wide, I even let the season’s light snow totals feed the idea in my mind that the final, hard-cap of 180 kids signed up for the six local high school teams in my area would be shooting in shorts and t-shirts in an early spring.
Then March, as it so often does, roared through with three snow storms, dumping almost 20 inches of thick, wet, heavy snow. While most of it had melted off after each event, leaving jagged, crusty late-season snow banks, last week’s arctic slap left a coating six-inches deep, covered by a frozen-rain film. Our coaching group met ahead of our opening day, bumped up a week and into the chilly grasp of March by the Easter Holiday – a fact that was often lamented in our discussions. We laid out the plan to deal with the most recent piling of snow that covered the nearby gun club. Rallying the troops via email and phone, we mustered 50 strong for Saturday afternoon.
Armed with shovels, chisels and snow blowers, layered head to toe in hats, jackets, waterproof boots and thick gloves, we followed the trails carved by skidsteers and tractors that opened the main walkways and house paths. Scraping snow, ice and slush from gun racks, picnic tables, and patios and clearing a place for more people to park, we made the club look like shooting season as best as possible, despite the four-foot drifts in the areas coming off the hillside.
With a little added melting, the sidewalks and trap house lines were walkable by the Sunday afternoon start. In muck boots and jackets, caps and scarves, the first flight of 55 shooters took the stand and the crack and snap of spring’s first shotgun blasts echoed out over the prairie. The remaining berms of snow between each post behind the trap thrower gave a unique vantage point as I watched shooters of all stripes take aim at a new season and for many, a new pursuit. They too plowed through the cold conditions, which while not unfamiliar to anyone who has participated in the spring league before, still provided the added challenge of cold hands when concentration was key.
With each new squad that came to my assigned house, and those up and down the line at the gun club, the piles of snow got smaller and excitement for the season continued to grow. Not only because my rubber boots cut a trail through the berms to stand behind and help each shooter with form, stance and hold points, but also because the weather rose to meet us, with winds dying down and temperatures nearly touching forty; a win with all the ground cover and prevailing patterns still keeping things cooler than average.
By the time the fourth flight rolled through and took their last shots, the melt was on. The popping rhythm up and down the line of green houses had taken on a summer-like beat, and we could say in our end-of-day meeting with all honesty that things went as smoothly as the conditions could have allowed. With the last shot of the day and the call of “dead, open and out,” the nearly 180 participants that had passed through had gotten a taste of another trap season, and many dozens of new shooters had been introduced to the sport. Despite the challenges of early spring, they showed they were ready to enter the ranks of shooting sports enthusiasts and that they couldn’t be slowed down by the worst of what the weather had to offer…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Participants take aim on the first day of the Spring Clay Target League season amidst the piles of melting snow. Simonson Photo)