Rise Of The USA Clay Target League


Imagine revisiting the high school extracurricular activities schedule to discover “shooting” on the list. Decades ago, this was not uncommon. Many schools had rifle teams, usually for small bore and air rifles, with their own ranges. Some still do, but many have long since been phased out for political, financial and environmental reasons. Today, the USA Clay Target League has nearly 1,500 competitive shotgun teams in schools across the country and is 100% school approved.

There were over 3,000 participants in the 2021 USA Clay Target League High School Nationals.

With so many educational institutions opposed to guns, how did the USA Clay Target League reach such large numbers? I asked USA Clay Target League President John Nelson, who confirmed it was a problem early on. Today, that is not the case – many requests for new teams come from school officials. He attributes this success to what he calls “proof of performance and education of all stakeholders”.

“A firearm is the equipment a student needs to participate in sport. Like all sports equipment, if handled safely, it will not harm anyone,” Nelson said. “Our main message to schools is to consider all of the benefits that a sport or activity offers to its students, families and institution when considering adding a clay target.” More importantly, with over 150,000 student-athletes and approximately 85 million shots since the start of the USA Clay Target League, there have been no reported injuries.

There’s almost no reason for a school to say no to a target team on clay. “With [approximately] 1,500 teams endorsed by participating schools,” Nelson said, “it’s harder than ever for a school considering adding the clay target as an activity to justify not approving it.

USA Clay Target League Facts

Safety is paramount. Each athlete must complete their state’s hunter education program or the USA Clay Target League’s Firearms Student-Athlete Certification (SAFE) program. Unlike hunter education courses, the SAFE program focuses on clay target shooting sports.


The USA Clay Target League grew out of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League (MNSHSCTL), a program whose roots date back to the early 2000s. Concerned with declining shooting ranges and increasing participant age medium, the Plymouth Gun Club in Plymouth, Minnesota has appointed Jim Sable as youth program director to address the issue. His idea of ​​starting in schools started it all.

It’s logic. Secondary schools have huge concentrations of students between the ages of 14 and 18 who are ready to learn, looking for scholarship opportunities and ways to participate. In fact, shooting sports, both at the independent and team level, appeal to students who may not feel drawn to more traditional sports or extracurricular activities.

In 2007, Sable contacted John Nelson, a former colleague in the advertising industry and now League president, asking for help with business development and marketing. The following year marked the start of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League. Three teams, three coaches and 30 student-athletes participated. The MNSHSCTL went from three teams to six in 2009 and 57 in 2012 with 1,715 participants.

This success sparked interest from neighboring states, sparking the creation of the nonprofit 501(c)(3) USA High School Clay Target League in 2012. Growth has exploded since then. There were 34 state high school clay target leagues in 2021, as well as 1,311 high school, college and home school teams with 39,255 student-athletes enrolled.

USA Clay Target League

The USA Clay Target League’s current goal is to increase participation to 100,000 student-athletes by 2025.


The USA Clay Target League is made up of three smaller leagues: one for homeschoolers, another for high school student-athletes, and the third for post-secondary education.

Allowing everyone to participate is of great importance. Students can join a team through their high school or create one. The USA Clay Target League website (usaclaytarget.com) has resources to help you. It is also possible for existing high school teams to accept students from nearby schools, as well as homeschool students, although this depends on the individual schools.

There was a barrier to entry that the USA Clay Target League found a solution for. “The USA Homeschool Clay Target League was created because more than half of the states in America have restrictions against homeschooling students from participating in high school sports teams in their school district,” Nelson said. “For states and school districts that allow homeschool students to participate, they do so through the USA High School Clay Target League and its state-affiliated teams. Through our targeted high school and home school marketing efforts, students and parents are contacting SU to ask, “How can we get involved?” The League now offers the opportunity for every student to make this happen.

Teams are divided into conferences based on size, starting at five athletes. Since competition is by team size rather than location, the actual size and location of the school does not matter.

Participation in the American High School Clay Target League

For growing participation, the USA Clay Target League credits its strong network of coaches, as well as parents and kids looking for fun outdoor activities.

Four different virtual clay target shooting sports leagues are available: five stands, skeet, trap and sports courts. These virtual matches are the modern equivalent of a postal match, but with scores submitted online. Each team shoots on its home field and scores are compared against all teams in their respective conference. The leagues are held in two seasons: fall and spring. Teams participate in conferences within their state. In cases where a league does not have enough teams for equal competition, there is a national league with conferences in each of four different clay court sports. A virtual national tournament concludes the spring season.

Dedicated to making things as fair as possible, scores are calculated using the USA Clay Target League’s TrueTeam scoring method.

Nelson explained the system. “This method allows approximately 75% of a team’s athletes to contribute to the team’s score. Student-athletes can compete against all of a conference’s athletes, not just a select few from another team. This confirms one of the League’s beliefs that inclusion is more important than exclusion. Smaller teams will use fewer athletes for team scoring and larger teams will use more. The league’s smallest team this year has two student-athletes and the largest team has 153, so many conferences will feature a wide variety of team sizes. Once an event is completed, the League ranks student-athlete scores from highest to lowest, then uses the same number of athletes to use for each team. This is determined by the conference’s TrueTeam point allocation that occurs prior to the start of the season. Once the scores are counted, the scores and rankings are published.

Student-athletes can view scores and standings as well as set goals and track progress through the League’s Shooter Performance Tracker app. Scores are also posted online. Quickly accessible results are key to building excitement and excitement among athletes, coaches and families. Individual and team rewards are sent out at the end of each league.

USA High School Clay Target League trap line

More than 7,800 local volunteers across the country support USA Clay Target League operations.

The USA Clay Target League doesn’t just sanction virtual competitions. Many states hold championships. According to mclaytarget.com, the 2014 Minnesota Trap Shooting Championship was the largest shooting event in the world with over 5,000 athletes. This year, John Nelson is expecting 8,000 athletes. Additionally, the USA High School Clay Target League invites top athletes to its in-person national championship held in Mason, Michigan.

This season, 31,688 student-athletes compete on 1,466 high school, college and school teams across the country. While these numbers are impressive and have broken previous USAACTL records, the USA Clay Target League has a more ambitious goal: 100,000 participating student-athletes by 2025. Pandemic concerns and ammunition shortages cast a cloud over that goal, but the league only grew in popularity. since its creation. All shooting disciplines provide opportunities to learn and have fun. The USA Clay Target League has figured out how to combine all the benefits of competitive shooting with school, state, and Second Amendment pride.


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