By Nick Simonson
Kids these days! There’s nothing they can’t destroy from any angle and they do it no matter the conditions: in the rain, in the wind, and in the sun, it just doesn’t seem to matter. When they’re not actively smashing something, they’re talking in hushed tones among their little groups of four or five, pointing out what other sets of kids were doing and jockeying for position to figure out who’s better than who. It also goes without saying, that when they’re not doing any of the above, they are on their phones – CONSTANTLY. They’re a source of a gut-wrenching mixture of hope, anxiety and excitement for the onlooking adults around them; but just so we’re clear, when it comes to the State High School Clay Target League Tournament, NONE of these are bad things.
Because the things they’re destroying are four-inch discs of bright orange clay that shoot at over 40 mph from one of the army-green houses holding an automatic trap thrower at the state’s season-capping event. Through the worst and the best the weather can throw at them – pouring rain one day, shifting winds and changing light conditions the next – they’re on it, dedicated to the idea that every target counts and the investment in their shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity with squadmates and discussions with and encouragement to other teammates on how they did on the big day matters just as much as their individual scores in determining success at the event. As for being on their phones, a good part of their use (along with my own) throughout my two days behind and alongside them, was a constant updating of the online rankings via the event website which laid out their success in real-time numbers but hardly did their accomplishments justice.
The true achievements could be seen in the first year novice, who had averaged just over 13 targets all spring, then suddenly dropped a 44 out of 50 to start the event to spur a run to second place in his division with an 82 on the day, making the case to his father that fall trap league would be a good addition to his other autumn sports. He found a way to settle himself through song between each shot and find his groove, admitting with a smile that his gift to the team’s overall scores came due to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” being stuck in his head.
In the rain of the first day of the event, with a 49 on the board, it was a return to form for the Varsity division runner-up as a squall passed overhead and the rain began to come down, he smashed his way to another 49 to put himself on the podium in the most pressured of situations and challenging conditions. Following his lead, and the rain turning to rolling breezes and dark skies, two Junior Varsity shooters posted their career high competition totals together as they claimed both the boys and girls division titles in the same squad. As they finished out with a smashed clay apiece, I patted the fathers of each boy and girl on the back, and congratulated them as well, for the “live-and-die-with-every-clay” atmosphere they had just endured.
Finally, in the second day of the tournament, the crowd watched in tense excitement as, after enduring a wind shift of her own that snatched two of her first six targets away from her and the gusts visibly moved the braids running down the back of her shooting vest, the eventual ladies champion smashed 44 straight clays to close out her season, and assure most of us who were watching that she would claim the title as well with a total of 95 out of 100. As she cracked the last target into pieces on her final shot of the fifth post, she turned, wide-eyed and smiling to acknowledge the onrushing crowd of coaches, friends and family that knew it was the performance of her season, and was met with a round of cheers, hugs and high fives. With everyone’s heartrate back in check, her grandfather and I shared a laugh afterward, as I helped him load up the digital scoreboard on his phone, warning him that he might be doing as much screen watching as the kids, while her competition’s scores rolled in throughout the waning hours of the event.
In their team jerseys and camo hats, shooting vests and blaze orange caps, they clapped and cheered for one another and those competitors from other schools in the closing ceremonies, as a spirit of sportsmanship and shared endurance of the demands of one of the most challenging sports – and eventual gateways to successful wingshooting, hunting and conservation – permeated the awards celebration. The 48 hours once again proved that today’s youth – be they on a path of orange-dome destruction, engaged in friendly competition, giving the onlooking adults fits of high blood pressure and yes, even sometimes checking their phone way too much (along with the rest of us) – are indeed a dedicated bunch and that these days will forever belong to the kids…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: A squad of shooters takes aim at the fourth annual ND CTL State Tournament in Horace, N.D. Simonson Photo.