By Nick Simonson
With the final week of the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League’s (ND CTL) fall season wrapping up, the hundreds of participating students will rest their guns for the winter ahead of the 2020 spring competition. While they’re taking a break from the trap houses which will likely go quiet under a blanket of white, the ND CTL will be gearing up for its biggest season ever, and when the kids return to the range, the competition from around the Peace Garden State will be deeper and more challenging than in any prior trap shooting season.
“We had pretty good growth; we had 24 teams from North Dakota registered for our fall league, which is about doubling what we had last year, that’ll encompass about 450 to 500 shooters in the fall,” said ND CTL State Director Joe Courneya, “I anticipate us growing [for the spring league], we had 1,700 last year, and we may be hitting 2,500 participants this year in North Dakota; we’ve had pretty good response this summer and fall from new folks wanting to get into the league,” he detailed.
Student-athletes, sportsman’s clubs and other groups should begin the process of starting a team this time of year by logging on to ndclaytarget.com and sharing information with school board members, athletic directors and administrators, according to Courneya, as it allows schools and their administrations to get the information they need to approve the program ahead of the registration period in February and March. After submitting a request to the ND CTL to start a team and vetting the program with the sponsoring school and identifying a shooting sports facility where the team can compete, the final step of recruiting volunteer coaches and participants is usually the easiest part of the process, as enthusiasm has been building for the league.
“As soon as students find out it’s available, they pretty much jump on board with the sport,” Courneya explained about the winter sign-up period, adding that the community enthusiasm which results has created entire facilities from nothing, even in the snow and cold, “the Steele Sportsman’s Club, they got on board and they went to town right through the middle of last winter and got their trap range set up so that their local school could participate in the spring.”
Partnerships with rural communities, sportsman groups and the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) have helped spur the growth of the program, as support in the form of both manpower and financial donations and grants from businesses, conservation organizations and the agency have made it easier for schools to fund the growing teams. In turn, the benefits of increased participation in shooting sports are paying dividends in the form of increased local sales of shooting sports equipment and ammunition, involvement in sportsman’s groups and their related activities and ultimately, the recruitment of new shooters and hunters in the fields of North Dakota.
“The number one benefit we see is introducing our student-athletes to the safe handling of firearms, but for our communities – especially our rural communities – some of them are developing resources they’ve never had in the past, or had in the past but have shut down,” Courneya explained, stressing the impact of NDG&F trap range grants in making that happen which pay off in a new crop of hunters, “if you talk to the NDG&F folks related to R3 activities, anytime you have young people engaged in shooting sports…that next step is that they would like to be involved in the hunting-related activities we have in the state for young people to participate in.”
Currently, the ND CTL is the eighth largest high school sport in terms of participation, catching the eye of the North Dakota High School Activities Association and likely to become an officially-sanctioned sport in the state in the next few years. Courneya and ND CTL representatives are working to present this possibility to the association in the coming months. With its relatively inexpensive price tag, co-ed nature, and a flawless safety record covering nearly two decades and more than 80,000 shooters nationwide since its inception in Minnesota, the popularity of the ND CTL program continues to grow and excitement for the coming seasons is burning red hot on many fronts – from the participants and coaches, to the schools and communities involved – and appears poised to continue to do so, no matter how cold this winter will get.
Featured Photo: Mandan High School Clay Target League Team members take to the trap houses at Capital City Gun Club in Bismarck, ND as part of the 2019 ND CTL Fall League. As the autumn session ends, the league plans for considerable growth next spring. Simonson Photo.