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On Target: Interest in Youth Clay Pigeon Shooting Surges

18 Jun, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

Trapshooting, one of the simpler variations of competitive clay pigeon shooting, has an old and storied history. It also continues to have a relatively small but passionate following in the context of high school and college-level extracurricular clubs. In Minnesota, it’s currently the fastest growing high school sport, according to Minnesota Public Radio News. In 2008 only about 30 students statewide competed in sanctioned trapshooting events. In 2015, this number rose to 8,600 students.

Proponents say that it’s a great sport for young people who don’t fit the typical athlete profile, or who don’t have interest in team sports. The coach of Hermantown (Minnesota) High Schools’ trapshooting club, Guy LeBlanc, told Minnesota Public Radio News that there are no tryout requirements. Participants need only complete a Department of Natural Resources-sponsored gun safety course. They also need to bring their own gun and ammunition, and cannot store them at school.

“It fits the niche of a different kid," said LeBlanc. "Most of our kids, there's 45 on our team this year, and I think there's about 28, 29 of them that don't play another sport, they're not in band, choir, drama, this is their thing. And you don't have to be 6 foot 2 and 220 pounds to be effective at it."

The rise in interest in young shooters is music to the ears of fans of the sport, who note that in years past, the average age of competitors was on the rise. To accommodate and encourage new interest among young people, the American Trapshooting Association (ATA), which governs the sport at the club level, recently created new categories for youth participation, including a junior class for shooters between 15 and 17, and a sub-junior category for shooters under 15. The ATA has launched a major initiative to attract more youth shooters. The organization also provides scholarships for youth champion shooters.

John Nelson, vice president of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, told MPRN that the success and popularity of trapshooting programs in his state has prompted inquiries from 30 other states for advice on forming leagues at the high school level. Interest in the sport is also growing at the college level, and much of the activity there is funded by the gun industry, which is hoping to change its image among younger people. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a powerful firearms lobbying group, has awarded more than $1 million in grants since 2009 to about 80 colleges looking to start or fund shooting clubs. The initiative would appear to be working: this year’s collegiate clay target championships attracted more than 700 students this year, up from just a few hundred in 2010.

Many youth athletics experts say the rising popularity of trapshooting is part of a greater push toward non-traditional sports in schools: interest in bowling, bass fishing and archery are also on the rise. With participation numbers improving, so too will scholarship opportunities, offering a shot at free rides to student athletes not inclined to follow the traditional football-basketball-baseball route.

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