GF youth sporting clays program flies high in its first year

Black clouds threatened rain in every direction Thursday night, but the bad weather missed the Dakota Hunting Club and Kennels southwest of Grand Forks.

Black clouds threatened rain in every direction Thursday night, but the bad weather missed the Dakota Hunting Club and Kennels southwest of Grand Forks.

Good thing, too, because about 20 kids were there for a fun shoot to conclude the Grand Forks Park Board-4-H Shooting Sports' sporting clays program.

If Thursday night was any indication, it's been a fun ride. The eight-week program that began in early June attracted 22 young shooters in its inaugural year.

Thursday night's wrap-up also included hot dogs and other snacks, and all of the young shooters received trophies for participating.

There were plenty of smiles to go around.


"A lot of them are coming right along," Matt Mutzenberger, a Grand Forks sporting clays enthusiast and volunteer instructor, said of the young shooters. "At the beginning, there were kids shooting four or five targets out of 20, and they're shooting in the high teens now.

"Like golf, it's all mechanics. It's all method -- it really is."

Sporting clays often is described as golf with a shotgun because shooters walk a course and shoot at targets being thrown in patterns that simulate real-life hunting situations.

It's more challenging, in other words, than traditional trap or skeet shooting in which the targets follow a set path.

Some of the more experienced young shooters Thursday night were testing their skills in a type of sporting clays known as "Five-Stand." Instead of following a course, the shooters lined up at five stands, or cages, to try their luck at hitting clay pigeons being thrown from seven different traps, the area from which the target originates.

A computerized electronic target thrower programmed for five shooters set the sequence of the targets for each of the young shooters, who shot five rounds at each station. Ron Galstad, East Grand Forks, operated the thrower. A volunteer parent, Galstad was there with his son, Ian, 14.

The program, he said, has been a lot of fun.

"He likes to hunt with me, and one of the best things to do is keep him interested," Ron Galstad said.


Varying targets

One trap threw a target that skittered along the ground like a running rabbit. Others threw the targets from left to right, right to left and overhead sailing away.

Another target slowly sailed toward the shooters and seemed to hover in mid-air.

In very simplest terms, five-stand offers a sporting clays experience in a limited space without having to walk a course. As Mutzenberger explained, it's a game within a game. And a target at one of the five stands can look a lot different than it does at another cage just a few feet away.

As he has all summer, Mike Collings, Grand Forks, was on hand Thursday night with his two sons, Ethan, 14, and Tucker, 11. While he has shot sporting clays for several years, Collings said this summer's youth program is the boys' first experience with the sport.

"Sporting clays is so challenging," Mike Collings said. "It humbles even experienced trap shooters."

Tucker, who'll be a sixth-grader at Sacred Heart, says the left-to-right shot is the hardest for him to hit.

The running rabbit also is tough.


"I miss it a lot but I shouldn't," he admitted.

Getting started

The youth sporting clays program got its launch last winter when Grand Forks shooting enthusiast Don Dietrich approached the Grand Forks Park Board. A Level 1 sporting clays instructor through the National Sporting Clays Association, Dietrich also is North Dakota state director of the association's Scholastic Clay Target Program, which fosters young shooters.

According to Dietrich, the park board quickly signed on to the program. And since the Grand Forks County Extension Office had approached him about starting a 4-H clays program a couple of years earlier, teaming up with the park board was a logical step.

The program snowballed from there, Dietrich said. Marc Kurz of the local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter helped with fundraising, and Mike Elgin of the Dakota Hunting Club agreed to supply targets and use of his five-stand sporting clays facility for a reduced fee.

Dietrich served as coach for the young shooters, with Mutzenberger and Kurz as his assistants.

"What really got me involved is I'm an avid outdoorsman; have been for years," Dietrich said. "I'm also an avid shotgunner, and I just love to see kids outdoors instead of indoors playing video games and having the TV as entertainment.

"The other aspect is you teach the kids how to shoot properly, and that kind of replenishes the old shooters like myself. It keeps the sport going."


Safety first

The emphasis on safety was apparent Thursday night. Guns were unloaded with the actions open outside the shooting stands. And Mutzenberger, as a volunteer instructor, was quick to offer young shooters tips and encouragement if they missed a target.

Mike Collings also helped mentor the youths.

"Safety, we really watch for that," Mutzenberger said. "We make sure guns are not loaded until they're in the cage."

Dietrich said the program recently sent 11 young shooters to the North Dakota state sporting clays championship in Bismarck with sponsorship support from Scheel's and the local turkey federation chapter.

"They were the talk of the shoot," Dietrich said of the Grand Forks youths. "They were safe, courteous and friendly. I said, 'They're all my grandkids.' I was really proud of them."

With the first year a success, Mutzenberger says he can see the program continue to build.

"I can see 50 kids a year doing this," he said. "We've had a lot of fun."


Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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