Elk NetworkExploding Clay Pigeons = New Alaska Wildflowers Below

General | September 21, 2023

What if an exploding clay pigeon dropped seeds onto the earth below, resulting in a landscape dotted with colorful wildflowers? Talk about a unique “planting” project – this is it!

John Rusyniak, a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation member and volunteer for Tok Wolverine Trap, headed up the effort in Tok, a small, remote Alaska community about 320 miles northeast of Anchorage.

“After successfully running the trap program in Tok over the last five years and being introduced to sporting clays in Juneau and Birchwood, I’d like to start a sporting clays addition to our trap program,” wrote Rusyniak in his grant proposal to RMEF. “We’d start by involving parents and youth in the building of the cages, purchasing some very portable trap machines, obtaining some ammo and prizes for the events, then host a few sporting clay events this summer.”

But then his proposal really got interesting.

“To add a nice twist to this program, we’d partner with Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge to get clay targets loaded with wildflowers that would spread flower seed to the range and other areas where we’d determine need. Alaska Fish and Game will also assist in recommending areas where native wildflowers would be beneficial to the area,” wrote Rusyniak.

RMEF approved the proposal and supplied $3,500 in grant funding, raised by its three Alaska chapters and more than 1,000 RMEF members statewide, in collaboration with other partners. In all, 34 youth and 22 adults helped out. First, they designed and built five sporting clay stations out of PVC piping. They bought four trap machines and loaded clays with wildflower seeds, covered with stickers. Add to that ammunition, targets, prizes, awards and food, and everything was ready.

On May 20, 2023, shooters of all ages gathered from across eastern Alaska, including Native Americans and other locals. When the shooters struck the clays with their shot, the clays exploded sending seeds to the ground below. If missed and not struck by shot, the seeds released when clays broke as they hit the ground.

“During the shoot, clays were distributed around the trap field. We’ll have to wait to see if seeds germinate,” Rusyniak wrote after completion of the shoot, “but we are getting rain today, just two days after our shoot.”

RMEF has a long history in Alaska. Since 1993, RMEF and its partners completed 148 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects there with a combined value of more than $6.6 million. These projects conserved or enhanced 8,239 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 5,931 acres.

(Photo credit: John Rusyniak)