National sporting clays shooting event descends on southeast Kansas

05/30/2014 3:00 PM

06/03/2014 2:23 PM

Frieda Lancaster marvels at how the piece of land in southeast Kansas that she and her husband, Stan, bought 23 years ago has changed.

“When we bought it in 1991, it was just a broken-down old farm,” she said.

That land, now known as Claythorne Lodge, will be the center of the nation’s shooting sports’ universe in days to come. Some 1,300 shooters from almost every state and countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Jamaica, England and Canada will travel to that secluded piece of ground to compete in the U.S. Open Sporting Clays Championship.

The national meet will get underway Sunday and will run through June 8.

The competition is one of the showcase events for the sport, in which shooters aim at clay targets under simulated hunting conditions. For example, there are stations that simulate hunting for ducks over water, quail in an upland situation, rabbits bounding along and much more.

Sporting clays is growing rapidly in popularity, and there is competition each year to host the U.S. Open.

So how did it end up in Kansas?

Part of it can be traced to a decision the Lancasters made when they bought that run-down farm 23 years ago. Intrigued by the popularity of the fairly new shooting sport, they decided to get in on the grassroots level and hire a designer to carve a course out of their rolling terrain, which held a variety of habitats.

Their sporting clays course became so well-known regionally that they decided to make a bid for the U.S. Open in 2000 and won, which was an eye-opener for the national shooting-sport community.

“When we made our first bid, I think a lot of people said, ‘Kansas? What does Kansas know about sporting clays?’ ” Frieda Lancaster said. “But once they saw what we had out here, they changed their minds.”

Claythorne Lodge now offers guided hunts for pen-raised pheasants and quail, all kinds of clay target shooting, and comfortable lodging and dining.

But it’s the sporting clays course that has brought Claythorne national attention. The Lancasters also won the bid for the U.S. Open in 2006, and now the national meet is back a third time.

“It really is a tremendous place to have a national competition,” said Dave Miller, project manager for CZ-USA, a shotgun manufacturer based in Kansas City, Kan. “I’m looking forward to shooting in it. It has great terrain for this type event.

“It’s challenging, even for the top shooters.”

Shooters will compete on three courses with 12 stations each. Nationally known course designers were brought in to lay out the fields.

“This has been a year and a half in the planning,” Stan Lancaster said.

One thing is certain: the U.S. Open will be an economic boon to southeast Kansas. Shooters will be staying everywhere from that corner of the state to western Missouri to northern Oklahoma.

“We’ve lost some sleep over this lately,” Frieda Lancaster said. “But we’re ready to go.”

To reach Brent Frazee, The Star’s outdoors edtor, call 816-234-4319 or send email to bfrazee@kcstar.com.

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