That’s how Nick Simonson, president of the Lyon County Pheasants Forever Chapter, describes his passion for programs such as the Clay Target League (CTL) and the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
“It’s very important (that) we get kids outdoors and get them involved in shooting sports because that’s a bridge to conservation,” Simonson said.
Both the CTL and NASP have seen unprecedented growth and success in attracting kids to shooting sports all across the country. Both sports have defied the odds of including children, schools and guns (or bows) in a sanctioned activity.
In 2015, the CTL held its annual trap-shooting event in Alexandria and more than 5,100 student athletes participated, making it the largest shooting sports event in the world. This June, the total could exceed 8,000.
“Last year was a six-day event, and we thought that was way too long,” Minnesota State High School Clay Target League Executive Director Jim Sable said. “In 2017, it will be an eight-day event. A lot of the smaller towns from around (Minnesota) come for the whole time saying it’s like the State Fair for them.”
The inclusion of any student, male or female, is one reason both the CTL and NASP have grown so fast.
“Last year at the national tournament, there was a kid who drew the bow back with his mouth,” said Jeff Long, North Dakota Game and Fish’s NASP coordinator. “He was one-armed and had a mouth tab. His parents came and talked to us saying that this is one of the few things that he could get into and feel like he was no different than any other kid in the school.
“We could have a fourth-grade girl lined up against a senior quarterback, and they can shoot side-by-side,” Long said. “And she might just beat him.”
Just three years ago in Minnesota’s Lyon County, no kids were shooting trap. Since Simonson started the Marshall High School Clay Target League team, more than 180 kids compete on four high school teams.
The ultimate result of these programs is an increase of youths in the outdoors. It also means more clays breaking at area trap ranges, which is why the CTL started in the first place. Gun club members weren’t getting any younger. Ranges were closing and leagues were diminishing. Now kids barely old enough to drive are getting better scores than the life-long members.
With 17 states sanctioning the sport, the CTL is following a similar trail blazed by NASP.
“NASP started in Kentucky as a program to attract new youth to the shooting sports,” Long said.
Kentucky was losing 7,000 hunters a year along with those license fees. To stem that tide, more kids needed to get involved, so the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and Department of Education, along with Mathews Archery, put their heads together and created the “Kentucky Archery in the Schools Program.” As it grew in the region, “Kentucky” was replaced with ‘National.”
“It reached North Dakota in 2005 and operates in 47 states, all Canadian provinces and across the world from Australia to South America,” Long said.
Both sports allow student athletes of varied ages and abilities to compete on a level playing field, giving parents and administrators a sport that is easy to support. The safety records don’t hurt either.
“Zero accidents in 15 years,” Sable said. “And we do everything to make sure it stays that way.”
No other sport can boast the safety that both the CTL and NASP have enjoyed and that begins with proper training and expectations.
Kids who go through these programs have strict training procedures to follow, and the training is just a part of what they will take with them the rest of their lives.
“When you look at the water-quality issues that we’re facing, connecting kids through shooting sports and outdoor activities puts their skin in the game,” Simonson said. “They know that without having public land, clean water, clean air and clean land, they won’t be able to do this. They’re the next generation of conservationists. They need to know that they are the future stewards of the land.”
NASP and CTL offer an introductory or non-intimidating activity that is approachable for youths from all walks of life. This was done by design to introduce those who didn’t grow up in households that hunted or fished already.
Have these programs resulted in more licenses being sold?
“It’s hard to make the direct correlation,” Long said. “But what I can say is that, over time, there’s been a lot of states that just happened to notice a dramatic increase” (in archery-specific licenses). We know that NASP is a part of that, there can be no doubt.”
NASP estimates that 2.3 million kids are shooting bows in their schools, and the CTL is the fastest-growing high school sport in America, giving hope that the mystery of introducing more kids to the outdoors has been solved.
To get involved
Both sports include little to no cost to participate, and NASP has grants available to help schools purchase necessary equipment. Each athlete uses the same model of bow and the exact same types of arrows, providing a level playing field.
To learn more about getting you or your school involved, visit the NASP website (www.naspschools.org). The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League is becoming the USA High School Clay Target League, and information about joining can be found at www.usaclaytarget.com.