By Nick Simonson
In good springs and bad, snowy ones and warm ones, no matter how the kids come out of the final day of competition in the USA High School Clay Target League’s regular season, it’s the four weeks in between today’s end of the often chilly, windy, and trying eight weeks that make all the difference ahead of the state tournament. Whether with the first team in southwest Minnesota I helmed nearly a decade ago, or with the six pack of schools I coach along with 75 other adults now in central North Dakota, the month in between this week’s final rounds and the big, multi-day event on Father’s Day weekend is where shooters make the most progress.
I first saw it when our bunch of first-season upstarts made their first trip up the highway from Marshall to the awe-inspiring spectacle that was the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League state tournament near Alexandria. Their rounds in the near perfect conditions soared above the averages they had set their first season; only one of which was over 19. There we saw the program’s first perfect round of 25, a top ten finish by a young shooter in his division, and radio interviews with the local station providing mid-way and end-of-day reports as to the scores going up and what was going down. It was a magic we’d capture again and again, even as regular season averages improved in the following seasons. There was just something about state and the time leading up to it where shooters got better.
Here too now in North Dakota, the eastward jaunt to Horace for the state tourney often brings the same conditions, as our half dozen teams duke it out with the other 60 or so in the state at spring’s end. While we’ve ducked our share of morning thunderstorms and gusty conditions, champions have been crowned, novice shooters post the scores of veterans, and the majority of participants rise to the occasion. At that event, I sit nervously on a cooler or a borrowed camp chair when not at the scoring table, knee bouncing with surging caffeine and hands twitching with residual adrenaline as targets rise and disappear in a black cloud with a snap of a shotgun, and it happens with more regularity up and down the roster.
You can see the improvement most in those kids that continue their time on the range between the regular season’s end and the big event. Those that punch out the remaining rounds on their practice cards, log a few extra targets each week, and exhaust their remaining supply of shells from the season are the ones who make the biggest jump. Those that are shooting nines, or thirteens, or fifteens at this point in the calendar are suddenly dropping a majority of their targets, topping 20, and even setting themselves up for their best rounds, or first perfect rounds in the clutch, just four weeks down the road.
While this spring might be an outlier, there’s not as much battling of the elements now. Likely the snow has stopped, winds are a tad calmer and evenings behind the trap house are a bit warmer and this seasonal shift facilitates better shooting, higher numbers of targets crushed, and an overall building of confidence.
Whether at a team-hosted practice night or on their own, change and improvement happens fast. The novices get better and the great become excellent, focusing what they learned and added over the season through the next twenty eight days into a more refined form and an air of confidence they carry into the season’s final showdown. Watch and learn, sit back and enjoy the experience, or better yet, be a part of the improvement. Change happens fast, progress becomes evident, and positivity spreads like wildfire from the home houses to the ones at the big event, and the real preparation for the biggest show in trap shooting begins now…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: The high school spring trap season starts in the cold, cloudy conditions of late March and April, and when the league ends in May, kids find four weeks for improvement ahead of their state tournaments. It is often then, in the warmer, calmer days of late spring, that great strides are made toward an awesome performance at the big event. Simonson Photo.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.