At the beginning of this school year, Michael Ziglar, now a senior at Colusa High School, made a life changing decision: he decided to forgo playing football and joined the Colusa County Youth Shooting Sports team. According to the 17-year-old, it’s one of the best decisions he has made in his young life.
“This is one of the funnest sports I’ve ever played,” Ziglar said at the Ducks’ Introductory Shoot on Saturday afternoon.
Ziglar became a part of a team that has seen tremendous success in its short existence, raking in individual and team awards during the trap, clay, and skeet seasons in the past two years.
“The success we’ve had at competitions has been really great,” head coach Bruce Hardwick said on Saturday.
As a part of Ziglar’s senior project – a graduation requirement at Colusa High – he wanted to introduce others to the sport of competitive shooting, and to share the positive experience that he had enjoyed as a member of the Colusa County Ducks.
“The teachers all really pounded it into our heads: do something you love,” Ziglar said. “I was inspired to take on the Intro Shoot because I have always passionate about shooting.”
He asked his coaches if he could take over as the organizer of the Introductory Shoot, and they were happy to oblige.
Organizing the event brought Ziglar’s experience with the Ducks full-circle: he said he was first introduced to competitive shotgunning at the Ducks’ Intro Shoot in 2016. The event left a mark on him, and was part of the reason he joined the team a couple years later.
“I came out to this event in the first year they did it. It was really fun, and it was free,” Ziglar said. “You just got to come out, eat lunch, and shoot.”
With help from a handful local businesses, a community grant through the Colusa County Community Advocates for Parents and Children, and the grilling expertise of Colusa Lions Club members, Ziglar provided that experience to others. According to his head coach, Bruce Hardwick, his senior project was a resounding success.
“He did a fantastic job. He didn’t leave any details out,” Hardwick said.
Ziglar’s duties included obtaining the grant, soliciting donations and coordinating with the local clubs and businesses, and marketing the Intro Shoot. Ziglar said he personally went to every high school and elementary school in the county to deliver fliers for the event. He also contacted local media outlets and used social media to get the word out.
“It was a tremendous amount of help, and it took all of the pressure off of the parents and coaches that typically put this on. We didn’t have to do anything this year except show up,” Hardwick added.
Among the children in attendance were Willows residents Bailey and Blake Lerstang. While the two twins have shot shotguns before – Blake has duck hunted with his father, Larry Lerstang, and Bailey recently attended a California Waterfowl Association Conservation Camp where she shot for the first time – they were out at the Intro Shoot on Saturday because they were considering joining the Ducks.
“We were looking for something like this and it popped up on social media,” said Paula Lerstang, the twins’ mother. “This is a great opportunity to come out and shoot and see if it’s a fit with us.”
Blake and Bailey’s day of shooting started with coach Mark Andreotti, to the south of the trap range itself. Blake, the more experienced shooter, hit his first three clay targets and quickly earned the stamp of approval from Andreotti, allowing him to move to the main range, while Bailey needed a little more coaching.
After struggling to hit her first few targets, Andreotti she soon hit her first target with her .410 gauge shotgun.
“It’s an incredible amount of satisfaction that you get when you have a kid that catches on so quickly and is so willing to learn,” Hardwick said. “It’s incredible to see how quickly the kids pick this up and start hitting targets.”
It’s also a testament to the Ducks’ coaching staff, which includes (among others) Hardwick, Andreotti, and Bob Maffei – each of whom were coaching at the Intro Shoot.
“I think we have some of the best coaches out there,” Ziglar said. “Because of the great coaches, I learned fast. In one season, I was pretty much able to master the physical part of shooting, and the rest of it was mental.”
Kristen Simmons, Ziglar’s mother, said that the team’s coaches continue to impress her.
“There are a lot of good people out here – patient people,” Simmons said. “(The coaches) have been out here for two hours straight, and no matter how many kids they have seen, every time a new kid comes up, the first question is always the same: ‘Are you right handed or left handed?’”
Hardwick echoed that sentiment, giving credit to Andreotti and Maffei.
“They don’t have any kids, and they put a lot of effort into it,” Hardwick said.
As part of his senior project, Ziglar obtained his Level 1 Coaching Certificate from the NRA before the event, allowing him to coach the shooters there, too – including some of his friends from Colusa High School.
“It’s welcoming, and it’s fun,” Ziglar said of why his decision to join the Ducks, instead of playing football this year, was the right one. “This is definitely a sport where you’re excited to come to practice. What strikes me is it doesn’t matter how strong fast, or good you are. The coaches aren’t going to bench you. No matter how good you are, you’re going to go to every meet.”
The Colusa Ducks will began practice for trap and skeet season in mid-January, with competitions beginning in March. Anyone interested in joining can call Bruce Hardwick at (530) 701-4051. ■