In California, clay target shooting at the collegiate level isn’t easy to find, but the sport is thriving at California State University, Fresno—more commonly known as Fresno State.
The Fresno State Shooting Team, which uses the school’s Bulldogs mascot, was founded in 2013 by a small group of bird hunters on campus.
“It was just a bunch of guys who had hunted together and they started an actual gun club on campus,” says Jacob Lehar, an assistant coach and former president of the team. “And they found out that they could turn this into a competitive team and that’s kind of where it started.”
Since then the team has fluctuated from four to as many as a dozen participants. Most have lived within 30 miles of the university, but next year’s group includes students from farther out, Lehar says. And they’re working on recruiting more from throughout the West Coast, ramping up recruiting efforts such as a shoot for high schoolers incorporated into the team’s annual Bulldog 100 event.
“We’re just trying to let these California shooters know that there’s an option to shoot collegiately right here at home,” Lehar says. “They don’t have to go out to the Midwest. You can put on a shirt or a vest for your local school and go shoot for them.”
Located near the Sierra Nevada, Fresno State is one of 23 campuses in the California State University system—one of the largest higher education networks in the world. Fresno State happens to have the lowest tuition of those schools and most other four-year colleges in the state.
Fresno County is well-known for farm- ing and Fresno State boasts a leading agricultural program complete with a 1,000- acre student-staffed farm. Most of the Bulldogs team is attending the college for agriculture in one way or another, whether it’s animal science, crop science, agriculture mechanics, agriculture business, or another related program, Lehar says.
“We’re a very agriculturally-based com- munity and there’s a lot of pride for the college in this valley,” he says. “And there’s a lot of pride for the college among the students and the people in the area. That’s something we really preach is just community and family.”
Lehar is one of three assistant coaches, all of whom attended Fresno State and served as president of the Bulldogs team. The team’s head coach, Dylan Imperatric, is also a past president of the team.
The Bulldogs practice at Fresno Trap and Skeet about a half-hour from campus every Tuesday from September through March, and travel to at least three competitions a year including a national shoot in Texas. But the team bond goes beyond shooting.
“We talk every day, we’re very, very close. We look out for each other,” Lehar says. “We all get together and have dinner at somebody’s house once a week, if not more.”
SERIOUS ABOUT SHOOTING
Though fun and camaraderie are important to the Bulldogs team, excelling on the range is still the goal.
The team competes in trap, skeet and sporting clays and has a coach for each discipline to make sure each athlete gets enough guidance. The team has bested its rivals in upper West Coast competition four years running and individual athletes have earned accolades as well.
“Our mentality or what we work off is, when the guns are in the cases, we’re all buddies and we’re all going to hang out and have a good time,” Lehar says. “But when the guns come out, it’s time to go to work. We are a shooting team first and foremost; everything else kind of comes after that.”
The team’s hope is to get some new members with trap shooting experience to help take it to the next level. But anyone can join, regardless of experience, as long as they provide their own firearm and gear. Shells, clays and travel (except food on trips) are covered through a grant, and each participant pays a minimal fee for team shirts.
“Even if we could keep three or four high school students a year from going East to shoot it would help,” Lehar says. “I think once we start getting kids in the door who have a shooting background, we’re going to really take that next big step.”