By mid-summer, the exhilarating memories of hunting cagey mountain Merriam’s turkeys during April have started to fade and thoughts of fall hunts begin creeping into the psyche of hunters everywhere. One of the best ways to scratch that itch is to visit the local gun club or public range and start blowing the dust off of latent shooting skills.
Shooting trap is perhaps one of the easiest ways for both experienced and novice upland game hunters (and others) to get back in the swing of swinging a shotgun. Clay targets are launched from a single machine. The targets usually move up and away from the shooter before gliding down to the ground. This is the simplest form of clay shooting and probably the best for working on basic shooting mechanics.
Shooting sports gaining popularity among women
My wife, Melinda, has been hunting sporadically for several years now. In September 2014, she completed the Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) hunter education course. Since then, she has been exposed to antelope, turkey, pheasant, grouse and geese hunting. However, she has not had enough range or field experience to become a proficient shotgunner. Additional range and field time are prerequisites for increasing her base level of hunting knowledge and skills.
Melinda is part of the larger trend of women taking up hunting, as author Lily Raff McCaulou knows well. When Lily traded an indie film production career in New York for a reporting job in central Oregon, she never imagined that she’d find herself picking up a gun and learning to hunt. But her perspective shifted when she began spending weekends fly-fishing and weekdays interviewing hunters for her articles, realizing that many of the hunters and anglers were more thoughtful about animals and the environment than she was.
“To me, hunting my own meat feels like saying grace before a meal and really, for the first time in my life, meaning it,” says Lily. “It is only since I started killing my own dinner—watched it switch, in an instant, from living to dead—that I have felt truly grateful for a meal.” And Lily knows that killing quickly (and, hence, ethically) requires practice. Consequently, she shoots clays to help sharpen her shotgunning skills, as explained in her book Call Of The Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner.
“There are several games of clay-pigeon shooting, including trap, sporting clays, five-stand and skeet. In each one, shooters move between stations and shoot ‘birds’—clay disks—that are flung from various positions. Trap is the simplest … Trapshooting first developed in England in the late 1700s, and involved shooting live pigeons as they were released from cages called traps. Today trapshooters take aim at standardized four- and five-sixteenth-inch disks, painted fluorescent colors and hurled at about forty-two miles per hour.”
At the Pikes Peak Gun Club near Colorado Springs, shooting a round of trap (i.e., 27 clay-pigeons: 25 targets + 2 target buffer) costs a mere $8. To find a range near you, visit:
- Colorado Parks & Wildlife-Shooting Ranges
- Colorado-Clay Targets Online.com
- Colorado Sporting Clays Association
- Colorado State Trapshooting Association
- USA High School Clay Target League
Increased interest in clay target leagues
High School Clay Target Leagues are growing by leaps and bounds across the country. Although the Colorado High School Clay Target League appears to still be in its infancy, the sport is growing exponentially in other states. I suspect this is, in part, due to its affordability and convenience compared with other sports.
According to a 2016 article in the Duluth News Tribune, it costs about $210 for each student to participate in clay target shooting in Minnesota. “It’s an affordable activity for families,” said John Nelson, vice president of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League. About $30 of the $210 collected from each student goes to the league, with the remainder used for ammunition, targets and hearing and eye protection. Teams shoot at their own ranges each week and post scores online, so no travel is required except for the state championship.
And it’s safe. “Through last year , we had pulled the trigger 12 million times since 2001 with never a reported injury,” Nelson said. Just one factor is holding down growth in the sport. “We’re running out of gun clubs to shoot at,” he added. “We’re turning away many kids each year.” Given the growth trends, you can see why. From 2001 to 2008, the Minnesota Clay Target League had 3 teams with 30 athletes. By 2016, there were 319 teams with 10,300 athletes.
CPW supports shooting sports
Colorado Parks & Wildlife is doing its part to help grow shooting sports participation in Colorado. During August, CPW hosted several shooting events at state parks across Colorado to recognize August as National Shooting Sports Month. Shooters had the opportunity to fire .22-caliber rifles and 20-gauge shotguns, with ammo, paper and clay targets provided.
CPW is partnering with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to encourage participation in recreational sport shooting and emphasize firearms safety. It is designed for everyone from experienced competitors to hunters to those just becoming interested in acquiring a firearm and learning how to shoot.
In the words of Jim Posewitz (in Beyond Fair Chase), founder and former director of Orion, The Hunter’s Institute: “When hunting, if the first shot is a miss, and a better shooting opportunity does not present itself, do not continue firing. If you miss your best opportunity, the ethical choice is to either get a better opportunity or become a better shooter. The latter requires a return to the range. Your first shot is usually going to be your best opportunity. Make it count.”
To learn more about the value of shooting sports, please take a look at the following references:
- “With bird seasons at hand, hunters hone their shooting skills.” Tom Boyd.
- Call Of The Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner. Lily Raff McCaulou.
- “Young shooters still flock to clay-target leagues.” Sam Cook.
- “National shooting month continues in August.” KOAA.
- Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethnic & Tradition of Hunting. Jim Posewitz.
Story written by David Lien. Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers . He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”