ESCANABA - Three years ago a group of local guys from the Great Lakes Sports and Recreation Club came up with an idea to recruit kids into the shooting sports. They didn't plan on anything spectacular.
It was to be a place where youngsters could be introduced to shotgun shooting at clay targets.
The newly formed league would open toward the end of June and complete the season in mid-August and run on Saturdays from 9-2.
Young archers aim at one of the 15 newly installed 3D targets, above.(Photo courtesy of GLSRC)
To host the range, they'd need certification and the National Rifle Association course was used. Thirteen individuals attended and became certified as range instructors and all have worked each season providing their services free of charge.
In fact the whole program is free of charge.
The criteria followed by the GLSRC was similar to that used for the Olympics. It had a simple and clear assignment and would serve on into the future, providing guidelines should the league expand to a point where outside match competition was possible.
The first season came and went with relative good success. Approximately 30 youngsters enrolled and finished out the year. Not everyone attended full time. There were absences due to family vacations and a few first timers that just couldn't make it.
That was three years ago.
In the second year the GLSRC Youth Shotgun League expanded with a base membership of 48-50 participants. They incorporated the GLSRC five station sporting clays, where trap and skeet are included as part of the shooting disciplines.
In 2009, the directors of the club sat down with the City of Escanaba to expand the grounds adjacent to the GLSRC, installing a 3-D archery range.
According to project chairman Ken Buchholtz, "it was very simple. First we approached the City of Escanaba Administration and showed them how our youth league was doing. Then we explained how we'd like to install the archery circuit so more kids could participate. That must have been the right combination as we now lease enough land to hold the entire course with a variety of 15 individual targets."
He was absolutely right as the newest addition brought participation this year to 133, with 71 female and male young guns, and 62 young 3-D archers.
As part of the weekly curriculum, the NRA certified instructors review the works of a firearm with special emphasis on safety. The kids learn the action and process of point-aim-fire that includes follow through.
The course instructors must be feeling pretty good as Buchholtz reported approximately 6,000 clay targets were thrown this year with about 2,900 birds hit. That's a 48.3 percent success rate. There were no instances of safety issues in all three years of operation.
This year, the most improved shooter accolades went to Gunnar Larson and the "Top Gun" award went to Derek Lark.
According to Buchholtz, a number of parents were also regular weekly attendants and everyone held a positive spirit, encouraging the kids all the way.
This is but another example of how the overall program to recruit kids in the shooting sports and outdoor recreation is being enhanced. Some of the youngsters go on through the fall and winter months, participating in the Archery in the Schools Program.
It is hoped there may even be a high school shotgun league formed in the not too distant future.
All of these programs are intertwined and networked with conservation clubs and businesses to cover essential costs for start-up and maintenance.
This year, the NWTF, Delta Waterfowl, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, UP Whitetails Association, Wildlife Unlimited, Sackerson Foundation, Dagenais Foundation, Ford River Lions Club and Jug Bourdeau Fishing Tournament represented fraternal sponsorship.
Those businesses making the program successful with sponsorship this year are Family Eye Care, Mr. Klean, Marble's Outlet Store, Marble Arms, M&C Gun Shop, Mr. Rental, Dunham Sports, Fiocchi Ammunition and Superior Outdoors.
The GLSRC will finish out the year hosting the annual Youth In The Outdoors and National Hunting and Fishing Day Sept. 26.
There is no admission fee and a free lunch will also be provided. Registration will be from 8-9 a.m., and is required. Youth must be accompanied by an adult.
In addition to the shooting opportunities, kids will be able to utilize a fishing pond and there will be demonstrations that include the safe use of ORV/ATV's.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resource Conservation Officers will also be available to work with the kids and answer questions from the public.
The club will also host a pre-hunting season shoot Sept. 12 from 10-4. Cost is $35 and includes lunch and will feature 5 stand, trap, on-site registration and games including prizes, raffles and guns to give away. This event is sponsored Delta Waterfowl.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.