Plains 4-H shooting sports coaches retire
Plains 4-H shooting coaches Mike Blake, far left front, and Matt Cockrell, far right front, have led the program for nine years. (Courtesy photo)
Mineral Independent | November 17, 2021 12:00 AM
Name a sport that you can learn at an early age that you have the opportunity to participate well into your 70s and 80s while considering the normal health and aging process?
Golf seems to be the most popular answer on a rapid survey quiz. Croquet is a contender in the list as well as tennis, obviously in a simplified match.
But what about trap shooting? It has a high ranking and if you drive by a shooting range, you’ll notice most participates have white or silver hair under those ball caps.
Mike Blake turns 82 pretty soon and is stepping down from being the trap shooting coach for the Plains 4-H Shooting Sports Program after nine years.
Blake and Matt Cockrell, who is a well-known gunsmith in the valley, started on the same day and will be hanging up their coaching-spurs, again on the same day.
Blake recalls, “I was at a 4-H meeting, and they asked me if I would think about taking the coaching position. I’m not much of a trap shooter. I’m a rifle man but I decided right then and there that I’d do it.”
He’d never been a coach before but took the assignment on just because he likes kids. He had, however, been a passionate duck hunter so he knew his way around a scatter gun.
There was a little bit of money from the air-rifle program that had previously closed, so Blake used that for seed but then went around to all the businesses in town asking for donations and the community was more than generous.
“We (4-H) didn’t have one shotgun when we started. I had a shotgun and Matt had a few and a couple others were located to get the program going,” he said. “The night of our first meeting we had 19 kids show up and from there it took off.”
Blake didn’t know that he had to be certified so when that fell into his lap, he quickly handled it so he could be the coach immediately. Matt also became a certified instructor and only missed one day in the nine years.
Some of the shooters had never handled a shotgun before but Blake made that introduction safe and comfortable. Once the kids started busting the clays, they became genuinely excited and started having fun.
“Something we also did was tell them that all of the shotgun shells would be free. They only had to pay for the targets and earned a 4-H shooter's hat upon successfully completing the program,” Blake said.
His pupils were soon shooting 23s and 24s out of 25 shots. The students who wanted to learn more about the sport were taught to score so they worked trap tournaments and could make about $200 on a weekend.
This went on for nine years where they started in December and shot for 10 weeks.
“I’m quite strict, so if you didn’t show up two or three times, you were out of the program. It was Mondays at 4 p.m. after school and it didn’t make any difference if it was raining or snowing. We shot,” he said. “The businesses in town have been absolutely wonderful to us. We go through about 30 cases of shotgun shells which quickly adds up.”
They are all factory shells as Blake would not take any chances with reloads. The program has a couple of 20 gauge shotguns for the younger kids but then mostly 12 gauge Remington 870s and a few Winchesters that were donated by NRA and private citizens.
“Harry Greene and Plains Trap Club deserve a lot of credit,” he shares.
“I have only been the agent here for the last five years, but Mike has been the leading force for our shotgun program and its success. We are sorry to see him go but wish him the best in his retirement,” said Juli Thurston, MSU Sanders County Extension Agent. “My husband, John and I will be taking over the program and we hope to do it justice for him. Right now, the plan is to see how many youths enroll in the project this fall.
"We will meet with those families and determine a plan of action that best fits their schedule to meet and hone their shotgun shooting skills! We welcome any new members”!