MANY OF US who venture afield have fretted for years about the declining number of youth engaged in outdoor activities. Too little spare time for kids and parents, too many other options, and limited access to opportunities are often cited as the problems that have led to fewer and fewer young people participating. We’ve also worried that young people’s exposure to firearms is limited to what they see in movies or on the nightly news, neither of which often show shooting sports or hunting in a positive light. These trends are leading to a future of less conservation and outdoor recreation.
Against this reality, it has been a huge breath of fresh air to see the immense popularity of the USA High School Clay Target League. Its growth has been nothing but stunning, and schools are embracing it as I never would have envisioned.
As a dad of two high school students— a boy and girl two years apart—I was dismayed to find this wasn’t available in their school, and wasn’t in the works. However, my inquiry prompted the activities director to suggest I submit a proposal to create a program. With the help of another dad, we wrote up a proposal, met with school staff, and a few months later launched the Mounds View High School Clay Target Club. Our Spring 2014 team had 19 members. We stumbled our way through that first season, but managed to introduce those students to a great new sport.
As the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), I see tremendous value and opportunity in this program. The League teaches youth respect for firearms, safe gun handling, that growth comes with practice, and that skill doesn’t require big muscles and can be found in either gender. These are lessons we want as many kids as possible in Minnesota to learn.
The Minnesota Legislature has taken notice of the huge popularity of school shooting sports, and has lent support. With a special appropriation, the DNR now offers grants for clubs to improve trap ranges, specifically to accommodate the sport. So far, several hundred thousand dollars have been distributed—usually in $25,000 increments—to add trap houses, upgrade equipment, and increase capacity for the thousands of new youth shooters.
The initiatives mentioned above found receptive champions at the Minnesota House. There was a hunger to support this type of activity, and I suspect that could be found in many states. As I found when starting our own chapter, there are a lot of people who want this to succeed. Connecting with the right folks, including the like-minded staff and volunteers in the League, can launch and sustain a program at the school, or even at the state level.
I think there is immense potential nationwide. The Minnesota DNR, along with many other state-level natural resource management offices across the US, have created a Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) program to attract new hunters and anglers into the ranks. If the first step is to get students involved, then what better program for conservationists to support than the USA High School Clay Target League, which has been more successful in exposing students to responsible outdoor shooting than any other program in the country?
If you care about conservation, and recognize that those who teach our next generation of outdoor enthusiasts foster conservation, here is your way to carry on the tradition. Help your local team flourish, or work with your local school to get one started. Partner those teams and youth with conservation groups dedicated to preserving our outdoor heritage. Your life, their life, and the future of conservation will all be better off as a result.