I recently took part in youth hunt in North Dakota. We were at a pheasant farm where our hosts had set out pheasants for these first time youth hunters. Prior to arriving, the young man I was paired with had gone out to shoot a round of trap that morning just to get used to the Remington 870 shotgun.

While the non-hunting parents were a bit anxious as we loaded their kids into our vehicles, they were pleased we were taking them, and the young hunters were about to experience something special. The young man I was coaching told me he had lain awake dreaming about shooting a pheasant, and I was hopeful that he would get his chance that morning

As the young man struggled through the knee-high CRP wearing jeans, tennis shoots, and his oversized Pheasants Forever hoodie, my English Setter Tana was rigidly pointing a pheasant, backed by my other Setter Toba. The young man was so excited that I had to stay right behind him, and remind him to slow down and be safe. It was another 30 yards to where my setters had locked on point, and the pheasant wasn’t going anywhere.

When the young hunter was finally in position, we flushed the bird, he released the safety, and to everyone’s surprise made a beautiful shot. The pheasant flapped down into the CRP, and while the young man was sure it was running away, my setter made a wonderful retrieve to hand.

That young hunter held that pheasant in his hands for the next hour and a half on the long ride back to town to show his mother. He said it was the best day of his life, and that he was going to have the bird “stuffed.”

Helping to provide young men and women experiences like these are why I am such a proponent of youth shooting programs, and why I helped sponsor the development of the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League (NDSHSCTL) in 2015. In that first year we had just four teams, but I knew that it was the start of something special.

This spring, just two years later, there were 38 teams in the NDSHSCTL. And as I watched them compete at the NDSHSCTL State Tournament, I was struck by just how courteous these young men and women are. They’re respectful of their parents, coaches, and each other, and they’re thrilled to have the opportunity to trap-shoot for their school.

As I watched I had the same feeling I had on that youth pheasant hunt. What an opportunity for these kids, and so good for our sport and our shooting heritage. Thanks to the good folks at the USA High School Clay Target League offices, many of the young men and women shooting for their schools today will be lifelong outdoor enthusiasts, team supporters, and coaches of tomorrow.