GONE COUNTRY

When Tara Garner came across the League on Facebook in January, she knew right away her private school in the small Virginia town of Tappahannock needed to be involved. “Our students love being outdoors, hunting and fishing, and trap shooting was just a natural fit,” says Garner, head of school at Aylett Country Day School, which serves 189 students from 10 area counties in pre-K through eighth grade. “We saw an opportunity to get students involved in something a little different and to help them develop life skills and do something they would enjoy.” Soon after the decision to move forward with a clay target program, Garner started hunting for a coach. Her husband recommended Robert Hayden, a former
competitive shooter who had participated in trap, skeet, and sporting clays events for decades throughout the region.

Hayden, also a Vietnam veteran, avid hunter and former member of the
Dunnbrooke Hunt and Gun Club just 10 minutes north of the school, was eager to help. He knew many of the parents at the school and though eye problems caused him to stop shooting competitively a couple of years ago, he had plenty of knowledge to pass on. Besides that, the team provided an opportunity to revive trap shooting at the club. Hayden and some other club members had installed the small range’s only trap field back in 1990 and over the years, it had fallen out of use. “The actual hunt club members don’t use it at all,” Hayden says. “I spent a whole day cleaning it up so it would launch targets.” Hunt club members have been glad to see the activity on the range and are happy to help when needed. Support from parents and the greater community has also been strong, Hayden says.

The team totaled 10 members this year, all boys in sixth through eighth grade, though Garner says she already has some girls interested in joining next year. The school itself closed early in the year because of the pandemic, but the clay target season went a full 10 weeks for the team, with safety precautions in place. “Even though our school was closed, it’s a sport where you can easily be socially distanced, and we did encourage wearing a facial mask and not getting too close, but we were able to continue and were able to submit our scores,” Garner says. As the scorekeeper throughout the season, Garner says the team went from hitting 54 percent of its targets at the start of its season, to 74 percent at the end of the season. Every student showed improvement. Beyond the performance bump,
she said she saw growth in other ways—students becoming leaders and forming new friendships.

Hayden said though all students had some form of firearm experience, some didn’t have any shotgun experience. It took time to get through the basics of stance, swinging the body vs. arms, and other techniques, he says, but everyone stuck with it and above all, took safety seriously. “All of these young men were great,” Hayden says. “From day one, when you told them the dos and don’ts about safety, they applied it and they were conscious of
it the whole time.” The team hopes to compete again in the fall and expects a jump in participation. And Hayden says he has ambitious goals. “My goal is to get all of these kids shooting 50 straight,” he says. “And I think they can do it if they stick with it.”

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