In the latest installment of's Select Fire, we hit the road to visit America's fastest-growing school sport. 

The USA Clay Target League this summer has nearly 16,000 high school athletes from across the country participating in state tournaments and championship events. No less than 47 events collectively totaling 62 days of individual and team competition were held in June alone across the nation. The largest of these was the Minnesota Trap Shooting Championship in Alexandria – which for the record is the world’s largest clay target shooting sport event – with over 6,500 student-athletes in 300 high school teams taking the field over the course of nine full days of competition.

We visited Alexandria this year to sit in on a day of events and were impressed with what we saw. 

Safety was paramount

The League’s priorities are safety, fun, and marksmanship – in that order – and participants have fired more than 75 million shells since its inception with a spotless safety record. Each student-athlete must pass a safety certification before becoming active in the sport and safety equipment was mandatory. The League – which bills itself as the safest sport in high school – has not logged a reported injury since its founding in 2001.

Line of shooters advancing in a clays competition
Seeing thousands of high school students safely carrying cleared shotguns and participating in the biggest shooting event in the world is an incredible sight to behold. (All photos: Chris Eger/


Line of shooters in clays competition
As the tournament stretches over a week, each team is assigned a specific day determined by their class and conference designation, allowing them to complete their competition (novice, junior varsity, and varsity) on a single day with teams of similar size.


Safety in clays competition
Eyes and ears! 


Everyone welcome

The League sees its co-ed and adaptive nature are key attractions to schools, not only in Minnesota but also nationwide. Fully Title IX compliant with both male and female athletes competing on the same team, shooting clays is what's known as an "adaptive" sport, i.e., one that easily allows students with physical disabilities to take part. 

Student athlete with her leg in a cast at a clays competition
Grace Niebuhr was injured in a nasty car accident a few weeks before the competition, but that didn’t slow her down. The student-athlete was allowed to shoot from a chair and did well. 



One thing we never saw in short supply at the event was smiles. From the athletes competing and hanging out with their friends – a recurring theme we heard often – to family members there to support them, there was a palpable feeling in the air of fellowship. Sure, it was a competition, but it didn't feel like it as much as your typical football, hockey, or baseball game because the animosity was not there. 

Family atmosphere collage at clays competition
Family and support for the athletes was widespread


clays competition carnival row
The event also had a sort of county fair atmosphere. A great family event, teams, parents, siblings, and fans were able to check out a row of vendors and exhibitors. 



In another shift from what you see in average scholastic athletics, rather than having school faculty assigned to the teams, many of the coaches we met were parents of the youth on the team. Others, whose kids have already been on the team while they were in school, remained to help lend a hand. That's not to say there weren't any teachers/school personnel involved in the teams. One of the teams with some of the highest-scoring athletes had a very successful head coach who was their school's cheer coach!  

Coach at youth clays competition
Volunteer team coaches were very busy and were key to the competition



As can be expected, there were lots and lots of shells on hand, with each team responsible for bringing their own supply. Although the latest Great Ammo Crunch has put a crimp in finding bargains on case and pallet quantities of shotgun shells, we were told over and over how teams have been hustling all year to get enough boxes for the student-athletes to both practice and compete. This included local fundraising and garnering the support of the community and businesses in their area. Some teams went into 2020 with ammo already stacked deep, and, with last year's season scrubbed, were able to fall back on that old stock. Federal Ammunition is also a sponsor of the USA Clay Target League.

Ammo at clays competition
Shells, the fuel of the sport, were on hand in zealously guarded lots, with Federal, Remington, and Winchester clay loads in 12 and 20 gauge being the best represented. What the future holds for finding ammo for the 2022 season was a common topic of conversation. 


Team shirts at clays competition
Speaking of community, many of the teams sported team shirts, which both helped with spirit and identity. It also provided a chance for local vendors to help sponsor the athletes in their neighborhoods. 


The guns


With student-athletes providing their own shotgun – except for the case of team guns – there was a wide array of both 12 and 20 gauges on hand at the event. SKB Shotguns is a sponsor of the league, and there were many in attendance. The same was true for Browning and Beretta semi-autos and over/unders


Shotguns at clays competition
SKBs, Brownings, Stoegers, Berettas, and Remingtons all hanging out on one team's stand. 

However, tried and true pump-action staples such as the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 were well represented as many of the youth also use their guns for hunting. One athlete on hand zapped 100 clays in a row last year at nationals with his Model 500, which also clocks in with a slug barrel for deer season. 

Remington 870 at clays competition
There were many pump guns in use, and they did well. 


clays competition shotgun rack
Veteran scatterguns that no doubt saw several seasons of use in the blind before the student-athlete was even born were on hand, as were plenty of camouflaged field guns.


A stepping stone

The championship was the qualifying team competition for the Minnesota State High School League’s State Tournament, which was held late last month at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake, with competitors heading to Nationals from there. 

At least 53 colleges and universities sponsor varsity shooting sports teams, many with scholarship opportunities, and international clay pigeon has been an Olympic sport since 1900 – an event that America has historically done well in. Even if these student-athletes don't continue competing past high school, the sport itself is enjoyable and widespread. It's also one that can be safely practiced informally well into the later years of life. Going past that, the kids that are standing at today's clay stands will be tomorrow's community leaders, business owners, lawmakers, and, possibly, the team parents and coaches for the next generation of sports shooters. 

clays competition awards
Photo: Chris Eger/


Big thanks to the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League and USA Clay Target League for opening the doors to last month and to all the students, families, and coaches for everything they do.

revolver barrel loading graphic