June 16, 2023
Many of today’s youth live for competing in their favorite sports. Football, baseball, and basketball take up all of their time outside of class, but there are many kids that don’t fit into the traditional school athlete role. These students would rather spend their time in the deer stand or fishing than running wind sprints or competing in contact sports. What school group would these kids fit in with? Many of them would benefit from a group that provides good social contact and positive interactions with other students and adults. In this day and age, with teen depression on the rise, any bright spot we can provide might make a huge difference to someone battling demons that we cannot see.
New Opportunity at Small School
Our school is one of the smallest in Arkansas. Our graduating classes are usually fewer than 30 kids, but we still have a lot to offer. Given our small student to teacher ratio, we are able to make strong connections with them but our size also means we are limited on extracurricular activities we can offer the students. For this reason, I partnered with our Agri teacher to start a trap shooting team and offer a new opportunity to our students. We figured there would be a few kids that wanted to participate but we were blown away when 13 kids showed up at our first meeting! Larger schools might not think that was much, but at our tiny school, that was a huge number!
A handful of them also play other sports, but we were still excited about the turnout, both boys and girls! While some would have to split time with baseball, about half would be able to focus solely on the trap team. Although a lot of them had shot quite a bit in their lives, all of them were completely new to trap shooting. But experienced or not, this was an exciting learning experience for us all.
A Few Hurdles
Although we did not expect any resistance to starting the program, we had to present it to the school board, and they quickly approved it. But the biggest hurdle we had to get through was the finances. We have limited funds to work with so we would have to raise our own money to support our team. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission runs the Youth Shooting Sports (YSS) program and is active and supportive of schools looking to start their programs from the ground up. All it took was one email and I quickly received an abundance of information from the YSS Coordinator about the Youth Shooting Sports and what the Game & Fish offered as assistance.
We are lucky that Arkansas is supportive of schools in the shooting sports program. The coordinator of the YSS told me about a grant program that I was unaware of, The Game and Fish Wildlife Conservation Education Grant Program. It uses money from Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hunting and fishing tickets to support the local schools. Because it comes from ticket fines, it is heavily funded. He also guided me on what we should present with our grant application. “All they can do is say ‘No” was his advice when we were deciding what all to include within the application. He wanted me to try and get all that we needed with the grant.
He was a great resource of knowledge for the setup of a program, giving us a lot of guidance along the way. With all of the different options for trap machines, we would have been taking a shot in the dark without his help on which one would best fit our needs. With his recommendation, we included funding for a brand-new Matrix ATA machine from Promatic with our application. It would hold 300 clays at one time and had more settings than imaginable. We also submitted in the application for the BRB Voice Release to go with the trap machine. It had five microphones that would automatically throw the clay when it would hear the shooter call for the bird. We put in for both of these, as well as for shooting vests and other smaller items and all was approved; we got $9,000 to fund our program!
The Game and Fish Commission is also supportive in other ways. They gave out five boxes of shotgun shells and a box of targets for each shooter for practice. That would not cover all of the supplies we would need, but it went a long way with getting us started. With the grant and the Game and Fish’s help, we were able to greatly reduce the cost of starting our program. They also have a shotgun loan program set up to let shooters borrow a shotgun for the entire trap shooting season and return it once the season is complete. Although no one on our team needed to borrow one, it is a good feeling to know that we can borrow a shotgun in the future if needed.
We also had to learn the specific rules regarding the shotguns to be used in the competitions. First off, only 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns can be used. This was not an issue for any of our shooters as these were the only gauges that any of them planned to use. But we did have a couple of kids that had to make adjustments on their chosen gun. For example, we had one girl that showed up to the first practice with an old Remington 12-gauge automatic that in one word was HEAVY! For her to get it up to fire her shots at the targets, she had to get into the most awkward, uncomfortable shooting position. We addressed this issue, and luckily her parents were very supportive and a few practices later she showed up with a new, lightweight 12-gauge single shot. It was the perfect shotgun for her and after transitioning to this lighter gun, she turned out to be one of our best shooters!
Another issue with starting a school shooting team is the fact that you have to find a place off campus to shoot, since guns a not allowed at school. With our supportive community, this was not a huge problem. Our technology director had a good chunk of land not far from the school, and she was happy to give us access to it for our practices.
Time to Get Going
Now it was time to start our practices and get ready for the competitions to come. Although I have hunted and shot most of my life, the setup and organization for trap shooting competitions is new to me. None of our shooters have ever shot trap either. This is new territory for us all, but thankfully, the shooters understand and accept that I am learning along with them.
While it might seem that shooting trap could be an individual sport, it is actually set up in a team format. We would divide up our team in squads of five. We can have as many squads as we want, but each squad competes on their own. At the competitions, all five shooters in the squad go out at the same time, each one shooting from a different assigned spot. Starting with the shooter at the first spot, they get one target and one shot and then it moves to the next shooter, going all the way through the fifth shooter. Then it starts over, going through this rotation five times. Then, all shooters rotate spots and it goes through it all again. At the end of it, each shooter will have shot five times from each spot, for a total of 25 shots. At some competitions you only shoot one round of 25, but at the regional and state shoots, the shooters shoot two rounds of 25. Scores are tallied by adding up the number of hits made by each shooter on the squad. It sounds simple enough, but it is a type of shooting that none of us have been a part of before, so it will most definitely be a learning experience for us all.
Our first match was great, and it turned out we had a few really good shooters. One of our shooters had torn his ACL in basketball season and was unable to play baseball, so his focus was on shooting. He was extremely upset with his injury, having to miss the remainder of basketball season and all of baseball, but being able to be a big part of the trap team did a lot for his mindset. He was 25 for 25 the first time out. He was feeling very confident about himself; everyone was blown away by how great he was.
We have a lot more to learn and a long way to go to before we get to the actual competitions, but we are growing as a team. Both of us coaches have already bonded with the kids and will continue to connect with them and help them grow. It can be intimidating to start a program like this from scratch, but with community support and help from the Game and Fish, it has been a positive experience so far.
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