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  • Writer's pictureNorth Dakota Wildlife Federation

CTL Build Better Hunters



The virtues of the now well established USA High School Clay Target League system are many. In addition to furthering familiarity and safety with a chosen shotgun for each participant, which is the extracurricular league’s primary focus; it also builds confidence and competence during the spring season that transfers over to the field each fall. This in turn creates better shooters, whether it’s for ducks, geese, pheasants, doves or grouse. These better shooters find more success in the field, and success is a leading indicator of enjoyment and retention in any outdoor activity.


While I endured many days in my youth of catching only bullheads on my native flow, I still hung on and eventually became a devout angler, once I had whittled away the tactics that resulted in rough fish and nailed down those that landed me more white bass, smallies and walleyes in my outings on the small river running through my hometown. My experience in the field – without such a well-publicized and highly-touted trap shooting program available to me – was about the same. It took 27 shots to down my first rooster, and much of the rest of that season was spent smashing air as opposed to pheasants. Each fall, I became a bit better at uplanding. I learned about those other important items such as habitat identification, dog commands, and edge work to produce birds far more quickly than my shot developed. Over time, however, my marksmanship improved to match my field knowledge elsewhere in the uplands. If I didn’t suffer from a bit of a manic singlemindedness at times, I doubt I would have hung

in there for very long, but such a steep learning curve can be avoided by those who heed my path through the rolling fields and find a way to shorten the distance, and the angle of their journey through such a shooting sports opportunity.


The improvement between the first week of CTL competition and the final one each spring in 90 percent of all new participants is notable. They come into the chill of late March or early April uncertain and inexperienced, and often leave with a level of confidence that the sport will be theirs for a lifetime. This too transfers over to the fields of autumn, where shooters become hunters who – unlike me and my early adventures – are successful from the get-go. I’ve mentored those who had only broken clays the season before, and watched proudly as they took down a flushing bird behind my dog as easily as a thrown target cast from a green cinderblock house. The smiles on their faces were guarantees of return forays into the uplands, and proof positive that experience on a range is a heavy indicator of success in the field.


This spring, as new sportsmen and sportswomen are minted with graduation from firearms safety courses and hunter education classes, the opportunity to get them involved in CTL is a logical and beneficial next step. Whether simply to build on the understanding of the lessons learned in the winter classroom and mock gun safety awareness exercises in an auditorium, or to advance their skills behind a shotgun for future use in the field, the league provides a structured, safety-focused arena that builds

competence, familiarity and a heightened skill level that pays off in seasons down the road. The importance of the program in building the next generation of hunters cannot be understated. There are no other programs I’ve witnessed in my 20 years of mentoring that do it so effectively, and ultimately produce the next generation of conservationists as a result of the early success in their hunting efforts.


With that in mind, act now as registration periods open up, slots on area high school teams fill, and competition nears to get a young person involved in shooting sports. CTL is not only presently the best option for such an education, it is the future of better hunting and better hunters, nationwide.


By: Nick Simonson

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