Coming from 47 states and several nations, more than 1,000 sporting clays shooters will invade southeast Kansas this week.
They’re part of the 2014 U.S. Open Sporting Clays Championship, which begins Monday and runs through Sunday.
“It’s a really big shoot,” said Frieda Lancaster, who owns Claythorne Lodge in Cherokee County, where the event is held, with her husband, Sam. “We’ve been working pretty hard to get it ready. It’s the big deal for sporting clays shooters.”
It’s a big deal for local economies, too.
“It’s happening in Parsons. It’s happening in Pittsburg. It’s happening in Joplin and all the small towns,” said Jim Zaleski, Labette County tourism director, referring to filled motels and packed restaurants. “This is all money coming in from the outside.
“We’re going to see a real up-kick in sales tax revenues. It’s very good.”
Most of the nearly 1,200 participants coming to the event think it’s a good location, too.
“It’s absolutely one of the best facilities in the country,” said Joe Cantey, an avid international shooter and owner of a shooting sports course in South Carolina. “We’re always glad to come to (southeast) Kansas. It’s not only a wonderful place, there are so many wonderful people here.”
Sporting clays has been called “golfing with a shotgun” because of the sprawling layout of courses that are set up to replicate hunting situations. Unlike trap and skeet shooting, where standardized courses are basically about the same from Alaska to Alabama, every sporting clays course – and every shooting station within the course – is designed to be unique.
Lancaster said clays experts worked days on the target throwers that will throw a variety of sizes and colors of targets so they would duplicate such hunting scenarios as pheasants flying high above the treetops and quail being flushed from near jungle-like cover. Some targets are rolled and bounced on end to replicate a full-speed rabbit bounding across the prairie.
Cantey, who arrived early to help get the course ready, said about 300 target throwers will be used, spread over about 600 acres of courses. More than 1.24 million targets could be launched through the week.
It’s not the first time Claythorne has hosted such an event. It had the same event in 2000 and 2006, Lancaster said, and the World FITASC Championship with shooters from more than 20 countries in 2003. FITASC is an acronym for a European style of sporting clays, which usually features faster and farther targets.
Lancaster said many of the 200-plus people who will work at the event are from the immediate area. Many may have never shot a round of sporting clays in their lives.
The dozens of shooting stations will be monitored by a staff of probably more than 100 referees, she said.
“We’ve been working quite a while training and certifying referees,” she said. “We have the Pittsburg State football team and a lot of other local groups. For some of them, it’s a major fundraiser.”
The referees make sure shooters conduct themselves safely, operate the machines that release the targets and score whether the targets are missed or hit.
Keeping accurate records of scores – with the many classifications of shooters based on gender, age, experience and shotgun gauge – takes a complete command center with specially programmed computers.
A sprawl of large tents has also been erected at the edge of the shooting courses, as most vendors in the shotgun sports industry showcase – and try to sell – their equipment.
Zaleski, the tourism official, is betting a lot of the participants will be roaming around southeast Kansas.
“Not everybody shoots every day, so they’ll have some free time,” Zaleski said. “It’s great that at most events, like conferences, we get (visitors) for three days. These people will be here for a week or more.
“It helps that they’re somewhat on the affluent end of the scale, so they’ll have some disposable income. These are just the kind of people we want to showcase southeast Kansas to.”
The public is invited to attend and watch the shoot for free. For more details, go to www.claythornelodge.com.