Student Athletes Thrive in New Mexico’s Shotgun Education Program

To many people, the warm and sunny day in mid-May 2015 might have seemed like just another day in Roswell. The air held a slight breeze, just enough to keep everyone comfortable in short sleeve shirts. Most people were thinking about upcoming graduations, summer plans, vacations, tasks that needed to be done at the ranch and a million other things that cross one’s mind.

Above: From Albuquerque, Tristan shot at the 2019 New Mexico NMHSCTA state shoot. Below: Casen Calkins trains in Aztec.

But for 30 youth, their families and coaches, it was not just another day. The true impact of what started that day, would not be known for many years.

To look at it now, in 2020, one knows that we are still just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Families came from small farming and ranching communities across southeast New Mexico; the youth gathered, shotguns in hand, to try their hand at trap shooting. As if shooting singles were not enough, the youth took on the challenge, a few steps back and tried their skills at shooting handicap.

Students from Artesia, Clovis, Melrose, Roswell and Texico might have attended the first competition but student athletes from Los Alamos, Aztec, Portales and Rio Rancho also had fledging High School Shooting Sports Programs. These teams started practicing, hosting practices, participating in satellite shoots and pushing coaches to host an in-person competition held in conjunction with New Mexico 4-H Shooting Sports Competition at the NRA’s Whittington Center in Raton.

It was at this shoot that coaches stepped up again, adding to the stack of volunteer hats on their heads. Somehow, adult volunteers found more time in their busy schedules to form a board, create a handbook and start creating more opportunities for youth to attend competitions across New Mexico.
And just like that the New Mexico High School Clay Target Association (NMHSCTA) was fledged and soon began to soar.

NMHSCTA clubs across the state were quick to join New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s Responsible Hunter Program. The Responsible Hunter Program provides an opportunity to cultivate fundamental hunting and shooting skills; expose youth to competitive shooting events; teach the fundamental outdoor skills such as orienteering, wildlife identification, hunting and environmental ethics; teach hunting skills such as tracking, game calling, care of game and game habitat management. The program will instill leadership and team spirit through group involvement and cooperation. The goal of the program is to establish a foundation of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship in youth hunters and shooters in New Mexico.

Above: The Albuquerque trap team at the 2019 State Shoot in Raton.

Clubs who sign up with the Responsible Hunter Program receive the opportunity to use firearms provided by the Department as well as $100 per youth athlete per year to purchase consumable items such as ammunition, targets, eye protection and hearing protection.

The association is committed to hosting six in-person competitions over the next three years and a state championship each year. Competitions have grown to include singles, handicaps and doubles. The board worked hard to combine the program with the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) and the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA), allowing athletes’ scores to count for both programs and encourage opportunities for the athletes to continue their shooting careers.

Above: Participants at the Northern New Mexico Youth Clay Target Challenge in Los Alamos.

Through the program, four students have been offered college scholarships, and three have accepted them.

The year 2019 gave way, and more of the iceberg was revealed. Ninety youth athletes from 48 schools, including 22 senior athletes, have grown with the program, becoming close friends, responsible firearm owners, competitive athletes, role-models to younger athletes and all-around good people.
Can these positive qualities all be attributed to a youth athlete shotgun program?

Probably not 100% attributed…but there is a fair percentage that can be attributed to the program. You don’t find groups of over 100 youth with these manners just anywhere.

While only a few people may remember the inaugural champions, Mackenzie Perkins and Carson Holt, several hundred student athletes have felt the impact of that warm day in Roswell.

And our guess…hundreds more New Mexico youth, and their families will feel the positive impacts of this program in the years to come.


About Tristanna Bickford

Tristanna Bickford is the Assistant Chief of Education for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.