Shooters take aim in USA CTL’s fall league competition. More than 10,700 student-athletes are participating this fall, a jump of more than 25 percent over autumn of 2019. Simonson Photo.

By Nick Simonson

While many other fall sports saw participation decline or be cancelled outright due to concerns over the resurgent pandemic, the activities of trap and skeet shooting have grown by more than 25 percent in this unique time of returning to school in a hybrid or completely online setting. 

Able to conduct regular league shoots in a socially distanced and safe manner, the USA Clay Target League (USA CTL) has seen its participation jump to more than 10,700 shooters nationwide this autumn as a coming together of situational elements and the organization’s growth-focused directives spurred more interest in shooting sports and a one-of-a-kind extracurricular activity to match the times.  On top of the established trap and skeet leagues, USA CTL has also extended its offerings into five stand and sporting clays to provide more safe, outdoor extracurricular options to student athletes this fall.

“With the cancelation of many fall sports or even the uncertainty of fall sports, with clay target shooting it allows a risk free environment for kids to participate in,” Nelson relates, citing the naturally social-distanced nature of a trap range and its outdoor setting.

Being flexible to the conditions and the times has helped the USA CTL increase the participation in its high school leagues this season, adding to the record-high autumn registration rate. Where high schools were once only allowed to join the competition in the spring, dozens of new high school teams were okayed to start their USA High School Clay Target League (HS CTL) programs in the fall.  On top of that, to facilitate the ever-changing societal conditions, USA CTL moved score submission and fee payment to the end of the season, just in case state and local restrictions changed and prevented competition for any team during the season.

“We offered a worry-free registration period, knowing the uncertainty of the schools and their decisions to offer clay target as a sport, we allowed kids to participate without any financial condition until the end of the year,” Nelson explains, “we actually added some additional states and new teams to the fall league; previously we didn’t allow new teams to join our fall league, but this year we allowed that simply because there were a lot of teams that weren’t able to participate in spring,” he concludes.

Similarly, the number of tech schools and universities taking part in the USA Clay Target League’s college level competition, the USA College Clay Target League (CCTL), has increased.  This fall, Bismarck State College joined the post-secondary programs competing with nearly 40 junior colleges, tech schools, colleges and universities in the CCTL’s fall league, nationwide.  Currently, CCTL programs at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, Lake Region State College in Devils Lake and the University of Jamestown are competing in the fall league.  Nelson recognizes that many of those high schoolers are looking to see if their tech school or college selections offer a shooting sports program in which they can continue their clay target pursuits.

“With us graduating thousands of clay target enthusiasts from the high school level, about 70 percent of those seniors are planning on going on to post-secondary education,” Nelson states, “we see that engagement in communications between the colleges and our senior audience at the high school level, so obviously colleges are interested in attracting these students to come to their schools,” he adds, referencing the ease of creation, Title IX compliance and other benefits the program provides to colleges.

The competition element goes hand-in-hand with other fall activities, as a shortened trap shooting season typically wraps at the start of many hunting seasons.  This helps feed competent, confident shooters into the ranks of hunters throughout the region and many midwestern states where USA CTL’s popularity has grown.  As the student athletes become more adept on the range, those skills transfer over to the upland fields and waterfowl marshes, helping to mint new hunters and to improve the skills of those young sportsmen and women who signed up for that purpose.  The program also helps establish safety for those fresh out of hunter’s education and looking to hit the field, making it easier for community conservation groups to get them their faster, safer and with greater success, helping to hook them on the experience of hunting.

“More than 60 percent of the kids that come into our league have never shot at a clay target before, so we know that a large number of those are coming from the hunting community, but one-third of the kids that are in this program do join the clay target league to enhance their hunting skills,” Nelson explains.

For more information on the USA CTL and its high school and college programs and how to start a team at either level, visit usaclaytarget.com. Due to its flexible nature this season, the USA CTL fall league competition will wrap in mid-November.  Information on the spring season will be available shortly thereafter at the organization’s website.