Shooting sports options are expanding across North Dakota with the growth of the USA Clay Target League into area colleges and with the opportunities provided in the fall high school league as well. Simonson Photo.

Registration for the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League (ND CTL) fall season is underway across the Peace Garden State, and while it is the smaller of the organization’s two programs, it provides many unique opportunities for participants, especially those who are new to the activity of trap shooting. The fall session will also be available in about ten to fifteen of the 25 states which sport affiliate leagues under the USA Clay Target League, the parent organization to ND CTL, according to John Nelson, its president.

“[The fall league] allows teams to introduce the sport to new kids who are coming into school; secondly, it doesn’t hurt as far as a prerequisite to the hunting season,” said Nelson, “because we don’t offer it to new teams…it’s a much easier season especially for entry-level kids; they don’t have the pressure of performing at a state tournament or an elongated season and it also eliminates any conflict for those kids that have spring sports or activities, so they can participate,” he concluded.

The fall season runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 26 and consists of a reserve week and five league weeks, shortened from the spring season’s eight-week program. In North Dakota more than 60 schools have clay target league teams, and in the spring season over 1,700 students participated in the fourth year of the statewide league, including more than 1,000 of whom competed at the year-end state championship in Horace. The fall league has typically been about one third the size of the spring league in North Dakota, though those numbers are growing as well. At Legacy High School in Bismarck, the fall numbers are considerably higher than the state average, with 60 spring participants and already 40 signed up for the upcoming autumn session.

“I think it’s great to see the interest is there, people are seeing this as an alternative to other sports,” said Legacy CTL Team Head Coach John Paczkowski. “Its building on the spring program and how well the kids have done, it just attracts more and more and that’s awesome,” he concluded.

The fall program in select North Dakota high schools is open to participants in grades six through twelve who have completed a firearms safety course such as hunter’s education through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, or through USA Clay Target’s Student Athlete Firearm Education (SAFE) program – an option some students are taking in light of demand outweighing supply for state-run firearm safety programs not only in North Dakota, where they are abundant, but in other states, where they aren’t as readily available.

“We started our SAFE program because kids didn’t have access to the hunter education program and their firearms safety,” Nelson relates. “The SAFE program is specific to our league, it doesn’t teach them anything else; when you look at a hunter’s education course, typically less than 25 percent of it is about safety.” He added that in Kansas, there were no published hunter education courses, so SAFE fit the bill for getting the sport introduced to new shooters there and in helping to maintain the nationwide league’s record of zero injuries over 18 years of competition and more than 70,000 participants.

College program registration underway

While involvement in traditional high school sports, such as football, is rapidly declining due to injury concerns from athletes and parents, participation year over year in clay target shooting has been on the rise, particularly in states outside of Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin where the program was received well in its early stages. The safe, fun and marksmanship-oriented experience has also resulted in increased demand from those high school athletes graduating and moving on to college. This in turn has spurred the creation of yet another league under the USA Clay Target banner.

“In addition to our relationship with the Minnesota College Athletic Conference which now includes a couple of North Dakota schools, we’ve started up our club level league and we have probably about 20 teams that will be on board with that, so a couple hundred kids,” Nelson stated, explaining the new College Clay Target League program under the USA Clay Target League will feature four shooting sports disciplines including trap, skeet, sporting clays and five stand.

Nelson encourages students at North Dakota colleges and universities to visit for information on starting a program at their school and for working with their administration to secure the proper authorization. The University of Jamestown and the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton have authorized programs to start this fall with the new college-level affiliate of the USA Clay Target League, and more are expected in the coming seasons, according to Nelson. In many cases, the creation of a team rests with the participants and requires them – not a coach, advisor or other non-student adult – to take the initiative and work with the powers that be to start the program. Those that have the experience in the high school league and have moved on are prime candidates to establish college-level teams at their institutions, Nelson relates.

Registration for North Dakota’s numerous high school clay target league teams and the new college-level affiliates in Jamestown and Wahpeton closes on September 10. For information on the continuously-expanding high school and college leagues, visit

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