By Nick Simonson
The hustle and bustle of summer is expected. Between holiday weekends, road trips, fishing adventures and a million family duties ranging from coaching baseball games to Thursday night lawn mowing, the season is here and gone in the blink of an eye. Made more of a blur by a spring that was more like winter, cramming angling adventures and time on the boat into the warm days provided has been even more challenging. Thoughts of those mellow days of fall, leisurely strolls through the grassy hillsides punctuated by periodic rushes of adrenaline from a solid point and the pounding wingbeats that follow it, seem to slow down the fast-forwarded progression of days into seconds, to perhaps just minutes on life’s clock in fall.
Along with those adventures too comes a return to the range for hundreds of coaches who nurture the growing clay target league teams across the upper Midwest, as thousands of student-athletes return to school and to the trap range in just a few weeks as part of the USA Clay Target League’s fall trap, skeet, 5-stand and sporting clays leagues. Now entering my tenth year of those coaching and organizational efforts, I’ve come to feel that the fall season is by far the more relaxing of the two, providing an ideal time to integrate new shooters into the program and introduce them to the safe, fun, and marksmanship-oriented league. In addition, there are a number of other reasons why the autumn season of competitive clay shooting is even better than its sister spring program.
4. Better Weather. No one likes shooting in the cold, even when hunting. While low temperatures don’t stop the die-hards, most hunters will take a temperate day afield over one with chilly conditions and howling winds. The same holds true for trap shooters, especially new participants. While the spring CTL season is unpredictable, conditions coming out of March and into April are often cold, windy, and challenging, requiring thick jackets, stocking caps and gloves. These additional articles of clothing influence gun mount and even where the cheek connects to the stock of the gun. Not to mention, the cold conditions are just physically and psychologically wearing. Fall however, especially September and early October, provide generally better conditions as seasonal shifts are just beginning and warmer days typically outnumber colder ones until later in the season, giving new shooters a start where the target is often the only challenge they’ll face.
3. More New Shooters. As fall brings in a new crop of young students into their respective middle schools, so too does it add to the ranks of clay target league participants. These new shooters ride the wave of excitement that comes with moving up in the educational world into the various niches of organized activities afforded to them at this point in their life that weren’t available just four months ago in elementary school. Wide eyed and open for new experiences, many novice shooters – including those fresh out of spring and summer hunter education courses – are ready to see what they can do on the range and begin what could be a lifelong passion for shooting sports. Their anticipation is infectious and their excitement and willingness to learn is contagious. By the end of their first season, many are ambassadors for the sport, encouraging their classmates to give it a try, even in the chilly spring.
2. The Seasonal Chatter. In the longer spring USA CTL season, there’s one focus – crushing every target in an effort to get set for the exciting state tournament at the end of the league. Through gusts, rain, snow and other rough conditions in April, to the warmer days in May, averages tick upward and the focus is on success. In fall, shooting sports are sandwiched against weekend hunting trips for grouse, pheasants, ducks and geese, with a little bit of deer discussion in the mix among those waiting for their turn on post. The two go hand-in-hand, as good shooters make for great hunters, and the fall season allows for the blending of both pastimes, as perhaps the former spurs on the advancement latter all in the same 48-hour stretch.
1. A Relaxed Vibe. While hemmed in by the heat of August, and the chill of whenever winter decides to make its presence known, fall lacks the urgency of summer which requires us to cram all the aforementioned activities into the few nice weekends we’re allotted. While the autumn schedule remains solidly booked for most – think football, pheasant opener, youth hunting seasons, and more – the panicked rush to capture every warm day and make the most of it just isn’t there. The same holds true for clay target shooting. There’s no big state tournament to get ready for, the grind of an eight-week season through challenging conditions is reduced to six generally nicer ones, and while competitors still vie for conference and state honors and team titles, the urgency to do so is not as present and many shooters and coaches see it as a time to breathe a bit deeper, think about what they’re doing, and explore options to make them both better in their efforts. If ever there was a time to introduce a young student-athlete to such a pursuit, the fall would be it. At the very least, it would give them six weeks up on anyone joining in spring, should they decide to things a bit more seriously than this narrative lets on; and they often do.
Across the region, middle and high school teams are gearing up for what the fall will bring for their clay target squads in a brand-new season. From trap and skeet to 5-stand and sporting clays, there is much to be learned, and the nicer conditions, influx of new shooters, mix of shooting-and-hunting discussions shared by them, and ultimately the laid-back atmosphere make it one of the autumn’s highlights, and allow for just the slightest slowdown to catch one’s breath and watch the next generation shine.
Learn more about the USA Clay Target League at usaclaytarget.com and the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League at ndclaytarget.com.
Simonson is the lead writer for and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: The warm days of September often provide good conditions for both new and previous CTL shooters to take to the range and is just one reason why the autumn CTL season is a ton of fun. Simonson Photo.