By Nick Simonson
It used to be that the middle of January was a dead time for me, a melding together of quiet post-holiday nights ticking away in front of the tying bench punctuated by frantic weekend searches for perch or walleyes on hardwater in an attempt to overcome the slowing mid-ice bite, all while counting the days toward March and my estimate of when the first openwater angling options would come to be.
Over the last five years, however, January has become much busier since I became involved in Clay Target League. Sure, I still sneak a few nights in at the bench and a couple days on the ice each week, but for most of the month I’m answering calls and emails, drafting presentations and securing sign-up locations for the next season of trap shooting competition for local high schoolers. The investment now pays off in an easier season, and with a deep team of coaches alongside me, the process moves even smoother, but the dividends reaped can’t be tallied in the number of kids signed up, targets crushed or medals won at the state championship down the road in June. Instead, the outcomes are often far less tangible, but so much more real.
For the kids, CTL provides a way to become a competent shooter and with that skill comes an unrivaled confidence in themselves. Many times, while standing behind a line of five youngsters on a house, I look back on my slow grind up the learning curve in the field, having never shot trap, and think “this is how I should have done it” and just how many missed birds would have been in the bag when I was younger. The confidence in those new shooters who go from single digits in the first week to rounds of 20 or more by the end of their first season is obvious. They see things differently and carry themselves with surety in the warmth of spring alongside their classmates. That spills over to fall and the stories they share of first trips afield after pheasants, geese and ducks and success on a level I never saw. They’ll never have to think back on “how they should have done it,” because they’re doing it right.
For coaches and volunteers the program provides a way to pass on knowledge, to assure our legacy and impact is made, and to be certain that the next contingent of shooters and hunters know how to do both safely and respectfully, whether behind the house or a good bird dog. There won’t be much worry regarding those who leave the program, because we know that they understand the importance of safety, of staying focused and respecting everything that comes with holding a shotgun in their hands, from where their muzzle is pointed, to the importance of being respectful to their targets and the habitat that creates them. From this involvement, we’ve opened our worlds to them, whether it’s the die-hard competition shooter sharing tips on form, or the hunter-turned-coach trading field tips with the kids after a few rounds.
Finally, CTL provides a focal point for a community, and especially for the sportsmen’s and conservation groups within the greater public. The mere existence of a team increases membership and the bottom line for the trap clubs that host the young shooters. It also provides recognition for those supporting groups that add volunteers and financial backing to the program. So, while serving to further educate the young participants in the safe and fun pastime of trap shooting, CTL creates a positive halo for the brands of those supporting groups, businesses and host facilities, which resounds with success and is something to be celebrated.
Odds are this January, there’s a CTL team conducting sign-up meetings near you. With the rapid expansion of the program to over 30 states, and hundreds of teams in Minnesota and dozens in North Dakota welcoming new shooters to their ranks each spring, opportunities to get involved abound this time of year. Whether you’re a young person ready to take on a new challenge, an older person looking for an outlet to help kids succeed and pass on your legacy, a director of a trap club looking for additional current members and people who will join in the future or a sportsmen’s or wildlife group looking to recruit future hunters and conservationists, CTL is that outlet. In addition to the normal mid-winter activities, add some excitement to your season by helping kick off a new shooting sports year, and get the youngsters in your area enrolled in a safe, enjoyable and positive path to success…in our outdoors.
For more information on the Minnesota and North Dakota High School Clay Target Leagues, visit mnclaytarget.com and ndclaytarget.com, for more on programs in other states, visit USAclaytarget.com.
(Featured Photo: Shooters take to the trap range at Capital City Gun Club near Bismarck, N.D. as part of the 2018 ND CTL Spring League. Simonson Photo.)