By Nick Simonson
The past week has been my busiest in the outdoors, as it has been for the last eight years. There’s been more to get done than loading up for pheasant opener at the farm. The checklist is far longer than the one leading up to the start of firearms deer season. Fishing, now simply the grabbing of a rod and a handful of tackle, and maybe towing the boat somewhere (compared to all the forethought I used to pour into the process), pales in comparison to the efforts I and several dozen others have undertaken for the start of the spring shooting sports season, culminating in the recent rush. It’s becoming more apparent too, that the young shooters taking to the stand and their parents as well, don’t want to miss a weekend of the action; and that’s a good sign for the future of shooting sports and the interconnected avenues of hunting and conservation.
Against my calendar of swimming lessons, basketball and family events for my boys still too young to shoot, and those of my comrades in clay dust and their middle schoolers and high schoolers involved in every activity imaginable, we’ve planned for the start of the season over the past few months. This spring we’ve taken on fifty additional shooters over the previous year and added both sporting clays and five-stand to our group’s offerings. As we’ve planned, so have the parents of our participants. The inpouring of informational calls and emails range from questions regarding online registration, flight times and calendars, to messages inquiring as to what choke works best, where they can get a gun fitted, and whether there are places to get a few practice rounds in when not shooting on Sunday afternoons. They simply don’t want to miss a week of the action, and certainly want to crush every target they get a look at. The excitement and devotion from the participating families has increased season-over-season, and that bodes well for the future of not only the program but also the outdoors.
While I’ve often lamented the leading-a-horse-to-water scenario that is shooting sports and its connection to the future of hunting, more and more sportsmen’s and conservation groups are taking notice of the growing ranks of young shotgunners in their communities and beginning to nudge them into drinking of all the outdoors has to offer. From nationwide entities like Delta Waterfowl, to big game organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, to the littlest of local wildlife clubs, these groups are not only sponsoring the efforts of shooting sports organizations like ours, but they are beginning to recruit from their ranks these young sportsmen and women, who rarely miss a week of shooting, and as they improve, miss fewer and fewer targets on their scoresheets. They’re beginning to connect the two together, realizing that this spring’s new shooters are next fall’s new hunters armed with a great shot and more than the basics of what they learned in hunter’s education which makes their transition from trap house to field easier and more successful. What’s more, they’re beginning to see that next fall’s new hunters can be lifelong advocates for the activity and the conservation efforts that sustain it, beyond just the tax revenue that comes from their purchase of each shell shot at a sporting clays station or the fifth post on a trap house. Like a straight away clay on a calm sunny day, it’s an easy connection to make, and couldn’t have happened at a better time.
As our world returns to some semblance of normal and these conservation groups and shooting sports programs like ours spring back to life in recruiting for and advancing their missions, the growing ranks of young shooters provide a target-rich environment to jump start their futures. In that richness the hope of hunting rests, and from those new hunters comes the next generation of conservationists and advocates for tall grasses, open lands, clean waters and abundant game. The connection is there, and as the numbers of participants follow our group’s trends and increase into the tens of thousands participating nationwide each spring, it’s becoming an opportunity which is not to be missed by everyone involved in preserving the future…of our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Jackson Bryant of Legacy High School (Bismarck, N.D.) shatters a clay target thrown from a skeet house in Sunday’s opening session of the spring high school shooting sports season. Simonson Photo.