By Nick Simonson
Through the valleys and hills of the sporting clays course east of town, we tracked the movements of our five high school shooters logging their final rounds of the season. Sunday’s rounds were different, in that they comprised the last 100 targets of the year and the first to be entered into the tournament scoring system for the USA High School Clay Target League (USA CTL), with the inaugural season nearing its completion. Five participants from two schools put on a shooting clinic, with the scores ranging from 79 to 89 on some very challenging stations, many of which have given me fits over the past couple of years. Diligently, I marked down the hits and misses on the scoresheet as we went from station-to-station in the finale. As the tallies mounted, I wondered how many more kids we could accommodate next season, while the group shared smiles and fist bumps as they closed out their season.
While the group was small, I like to think that’s how all big things start. Word spreads quickly through schools, social media and even the old-fashioned way and things begin to grow. It certainly has been the case for high school trap shooting across the country. Where once there were only a handful of teams near Minneapolis when the organization began in 2001, the league has expanded dramatically, especially in the in the last decade, growing from around 3,000 shooters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in the spring of 2011 to more than 38,000 shooters across 37 states this past season. Even through the pandemic, numbers remained high, despite the cancelation of some schools’ seasons and the state tournaments, which thankfully are back on the calendar this spring, not only for trap and skeet but the added disciplines as well; continuing the organization’s mission of expansive and inclusive shooting sports.
Sporting clays is one of the two new offerings added to USA CTL this season, along with the more stationary version, 5-stand. In the latter, shooters still get the experience of targets whizzing across and from behind them, a bouncing rabbit and an incoming floater from eight different stations, mixing things up while staying in a familiar five-post setup. It too, with a combination of single birds and report pairs, tests a shooter’s ability to track and crush targets across the range. That group of eight who had logged their tournament rounds earlier in the day included some of our sporting clays shooters, also helped usher in the discipline for our local clay target league. Locally, we’ve added 50 new shooters this spring, bringing seam-busting totals of 240 strong and including the six local high schools and a college team to our organization. In total, 11 of those shooters participated in the 5-stand season, and for many it was an eye-opening experience. One shooter – a participant who was well established at the top of his team’s rankings in trap – remarked as he logged his final league rounds in 5-stand that he’d never shoot trap again, citing the excitement and variability of the new offering.
It is in those increased options that continued growth is possible. Like sporting clays, 5-stand offers that challenge of something different, a place where experienced shooters can go to find a new mountain to climb, or where new shooters can forge their own path. While facility availability may be the biggest challenge to teams across the country – as sporting clays often requires an area of 40 acres or more, and 5-stand needs a bit more space than a standard trap range – enough exist to meet the moment of starting these disciplines off on the right foot, and the latter discipline can be constructed fairly quickly to provide the variety demanded by the growing throngs of safe and passionate high school shooting sports enthusiasts.
Through this expansion, the greater organization and our local group’s mission is clear: more shooters with more opportunities than ever before, all while stressing safety, fun and marksmanship in the process. As a result, a growing new generation of shooters will take the line behind a trap house, the semi-circle of a skeet range, the cages of a 5-stand setup, or the trails of a local sporting clays course. In exchange, the world will be blessed with thousands of young adults who know not only the importance of safe firearm use, but they will also develop the competency with a shotgun required of recreational shooters and ethical hunters. The greatest by-product of this growing program, however, is the confidence developed in a young person that comes with the smashing of more and more orange clays in each round, and the high-fives, fist bumps and smiles shared with coaches, classmates and friends that come after…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Student athletes take their shot in the 5-stand state tournament. Pictured are JJ Entzel, of Bismarck’s Legacy High School, Halle Dunlop of Bismarck’s Century High School and Bryce Brendel, Mandan High School. 5-Stand is one of two new additions along with sporting clays to the USA CTL shooting sports offerings this season. Simonson Photo.