By Nick Simonson
The North Dakota State High School Clay Target League (ND CTL) has expanded its reach by 55 percent this spring, bringing in a total of more than 1,400 participants, up from a little over 900 last spring. The league now includes teams from 50 different schools in the state, up from 38 participating programs in Spring of 2017. Citing increased word-of-mouth between the various schools and an inclusive sport that is attractive to both rural and urban participants, ND CTL Director Joe Courneya is pleased with the inroads the program is making throughout the Peace Garden State.
“One of the big draws is the number of students who are already pursuing outdoor activities,” Courneya commented, “in our urban areas, its an opportunity to participate in an alternative sport for those students who are not involved in a traditional spring sport,” he added.
Courneya cites the primary growth driver of the league comes from schools in communities observing the early development of CTL teams at schools in neighboring towns and cities, and those organizers reaching out to learn from coaches and other administrators on how to set up a team. The initiatives to start a CTL team are generally well received among parents, administrators and school officials statewide. The hurdles lie less with the local school board as the league grows, and more often with the increased demand for shooting sports facilities and range time.
“[The] challenge is having enough range facilities so that schools don’t have to drive very far to get to one, or ranges getting flooded by a number of schools all at once,” stated Courneya.
Support for the state’s growing program has been strong from traditional sources, such as sportsmen’s clubs and conservation groups in helping to establish teams and finance them. The North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) has also been a big supporter of ND CTL, establishing grant programs large and small to help with major costs such as clay target range infrastructure and the funding of seasonal needs through its smaller grant opportunities.
“We’ve had tremendous support from the NDG&F staff,” said Courneya “they see the value of the program and its future crop of sportsmen and sportswomen and they have made it a priority to get them access to the league,” he concluded.
This rapid growth since the league’s inception in the state in 2015 has resulted in a concurrent improvement and expansion of the state’s shooting sports facilities. In direct correlation with the ND CTL, gun ranges, trap facilities and other shooting sports destinations are experiencing revitalization, the addition of new resources and the upgrading of current equipment. In an effort to sharpen shooters’ skills in winter and early spring before the season starts, the Red River Regional Marksmanship Center in West Fargo has installed a virtual trap shooting simulator as part of its offerings to help cater to the growing demand.
“We’re seeing trap houses that haven’t been used in decades getting opened up and the cobwebs swept out,” said Courneya, “it’s good for rural North Dakota and those communities to have that resource out there,” he concluded.
Schools in communities big and small are adding teams. Fargo South, Mandan, Napoleon, and St. Mary’s and Shiloh in Bismarck are among the dozen new programs joining in the spring competition. The statewide, eight-week spring league opens on Apr. 1, with schools logging their rounds at a local gun club and coaches submitting the resulting scores online. All students in grades six through twelve with hunters education or an equivalent firearms safety certificate can participate, and each shooter’s score counts toward team success. There is no bench, and the program is open to both genders. For more information on the league visit ndclaytarget.com.
This year, the ND CTL State Tournament will expand to two days to accommodate the increased number of participants, with teams traveling to the Shooting Park in Horace, N.D. on June 16 and 17 to compete, based on conferences which will be announced on Apr. 19. It is expected that upwards of 1,000 students will participate in the open-style event to determine this year’s best young trap shooters in the state. For more information on the event visit nd.traptournament.com.
(Featured Photo: This spring, more than 1,400 students will take part in the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League. Simonson Photo)