Student trapshooters aren't gun playing around

A young trapshooter targets a clay target on June 15 as part of the nine-day 2017 student Trap Shooting Championship, sponsored by the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League in Alexandria, Minn.

Dennis Anderson, Minneapolis Star Tribune

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Last week Laurie Dummer was among a throng of proud parents from Glencoe, Minn., and the surrounding area watching five girls squeeze shotgun triggers.

The girls are in the seventh and eighth grades, and wore uniform shirts identifying them as members of the Glencoe-Silver Lake High School trapshooting team.

One by one the girls called “Pull,” asking for clay targets to be thrown from a trap house. Some targets flew to the left, others to the right or straight ahead.

Standing alongside the school’s trapshooting coach, Doug Fegley, Dummer watched closely to see whether each clay disc continued its flight unbroken, or was instead shattered into small pieces.

When the girls had shot 25 times apiece and stowed their guns safely, the parents from Glencoe and Silver Lake clapped enthusiastically.

The scene was the 2017 Trap Shooting Championship, sponsored by the Minnesota High School Clay Target League, and for as far as the eye could see, other parents, as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles and assorted hangers-on, were sprawled in lawn chairs also watching what more and more Minnesota kids do in their spare time: shoot trap.

In all, more than 750 kids competed, each of whom had passed a required firearms safety course. Most shot, or shot at, 100 targets. And despite winds that gusted past 20 miles per hour, causing some clays to dip and dive unexpectedly, scores of 98 out of 100 and 99 out of 100 were recorded.

When the nine-day tournament ended this week, more than 7,500 kids will have drawn down on in excess of 750,000 targets, including those used for practice, making the tournament the largest shooting event of any kind in the world.

“I love it,” said 14-year-old Katrina Dummer when she and the other four girls from Glencoe-Silver Lake had finished shooting. “In trapshooting, girls can do the same things boys can do, and I like that. Also, there are no benchwarmers in trapshooting. Everyone shoots.”

While many students who shoot trap competitively on their school teams start out with hand-me-down guns, or guns they use for hunting, some quickly graduate to shotguns designed specifically for trap.

“Katrina shoots a Browning 12 gauge 725 trap gun,” Laurie Dummer said.

“My best score,” her daughter said, “is 23 (out of 25).”

As recently as 10 years ago, none of this could have been imagined. In 2008, the upstart Minnesota State High School Clay Target League claimed only three schools and 30 student athletes among its ranks.

The group’s rocket-like ascendancy in the years since is all the more remarkable, given that the words “students” and “guns” aren’t always uttered positively in the same sentence.

In ways, Jim Sable is as surprised as anybody that school trapshooting has been received so well.

Sable, founder and president of the prep trap league, which is organized as a 501©(3) nonprofit organization, and John Nelson, vice president, busied themselves in the Shooting Park clubhouse Thursday afternoon while a few dozen school teams shot.

Sable’s intent in starting the league was to bring more young people into the shooting sports. By 2000, about 10 percent of Minnesota’s longtime gun clubs had been shuttered because shooters who frequented them had “grayed out.”

Example: Sable shoots at the Plymouth Gun Club, where the average age of members in 2000 was 56.

From the three participating schools in the league in 2008, membership has grown to 343 teams.

Sable polled kids before starting the group to see what incentives might induce them to shoot competitive trap.

The answers: Kids wanted to earn varsity letters in trapshooting if they were good enough. And they wanted their team pictures in the school yearbook, just like kids who participate in football, basketball and other sports.

Each school that fields a team needs permission from its administration and, ultimately, its school board.

In most cases, discussions leading to consent have gone smoothly. In part this is because parents themselves seek the approval — the same parents who in most cases also volunteer to coach the teams.

Fegley, the Glencoe-Silver Lake coach, is a case in point. As preparation for forming his team, he visited the annual June championship in Alexandria, taking notes on how teams were organized, the uniforms they wore and the support they enjoyed from parents.

Now he and other volunteer adults oversee 39 kids on the Glencoe-Silver Lake team; 15 are girls, including his daughter, Daria, 17.

“The kids keep their guns at home and are responsible for getting themselves to our 5 o’clock practices,” Fegley said.

Near him as he spoke was a large portable screen house. Inside were hot dogs, buns and all manner of treats.

Similar food tents — perhaps 30 or more — were erected Thursday at the Shooting Park to support other school teams.

“Students shoot at the championship in three different classes, based on a student’s season average,” Sable said. “Kids in the novice class average up to 14.9 broken targets out of 25. Kids shooting junior varsity average 15 to 18.9. And kids shooting varsity averaged 19 to 25 broken targets for the season.”

Trophies and other awards are given for individual and team achievements, and the top teams and the top 100 shooters in each class qualify for the June 24 state tournament at the Minneapolis Gun Club.

“Amazingly,” Sable said, “last year, among varsity shooters, the top 100, because of ties, actually became the top 106 shooters. And the 106th shooter to qualify for the state tournament averaged 23.37 out of 25. That’s amazingly good shooting.”

Minnesota kids aren’t the only ones enamored of competitive trap and skeet. Wisconsin, South Dakota and North Dakota are among 15 other states that have formed prep trap and skeet teams under an affiliate organization Sable and Johnson formed called the USA High School Clay Target League.

“We’re in Oregon, New York, Kansas, Kentucky and even California,” Sable said. “People ask us when we will be in all 50 states. I tell them we’ll be international before we’re in every state. We’ve had interest from two Canadian provinces, and also from Norway.”

As Sable spoke, muffled reports of shotguns rang outside the clubhouse. Kids who called Pull concentrated on the task at hand, while kids who had finished shooting, or who had not yet started, happily relaxed in lawn chairs, chowed down on their parents’ potluck contributions or paraded in front of vendor tents, some of which advertised cheese curds, others ear plugs.

“About 70 percent of kids who participate hadn’t shot a gun before they started,” Sable said. “If I had a $10 bill for every time someone said I was crazy for doing this, I’d been rich.”

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