A group of sharp shooters are right on target when it comes to growing their sport.
Boys and girls from across the start are part of the South Dakota Clay Target League, which has its annual state tournament at the Aberdeen Gun Club each June.
The sport got started in 2017 and has grown ever since.
“Overall, it continues to grow,” said Roncalli coach Cory Backous. “They set records every year on number of teams and number of participants. It’s growing every year.”
As a point of reference, the league is expecting to increase the amount of shooters at this year’s state tourney by about 100.
“Last year we had probably close to 900 that competed in the state tournament,” said Aberdeen Gun Club President Jerry Brick. “I’m expecting probably over a thousand this year.”
The sport’s origins can be traced back to Minnesota, which has about 9,000 participants at its state tourney.
“It’s just really phenomenal what’s going on,” Brick said.
There are three teams from the Hub City: Aberdeen Central, Aberdeen Christian and Aberdeen Roncalli. Area schools that have teams include Groton, Warner and Bowdle to name a few.
The sport is not sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, so the schools operate under the direction of the state league.
The shooters practice once a week and then have a virtual competition against another opponent once a week. Scores are recorded and then compared with the results of that week’s foe.
Because squads do not have to leave town to shoot, it allows individuals time to compete in other sports besides trapshooting, which many do.
Backous believes that has helped to increase the number of participants in the sport.
“It’s very unique in that respect,” Backous said. “Kids aren’t gone two nights a week to Britton or Redfield or Sioux Falls or wherever.”
In fact, it doesn’t take shooters much time to compete at all compared to participating in other sports.
“They probably spend more time running out to the gun club than it does to actually shoot the trap, the two boxes of shells that they shoot,” Backous said.
The only time that the shooters actually compete against each other in person is at the state meet.
That event has always taken place at the Aberdeen Gun Club.
“We were fortunate that we saw what was going on over in Minnesota and just started making inquiries before anybody else did,” Brick said of being able to host the state event. “That’s what happened. I think they like having the tournament here.”
The local club is one of the few ranges in South Dakota big enough to host a state tournament and it does its best to make sure the shooters are happy about their experience when they come to town.
“I talked to a lot coaches that are perfectly happy coming to Aberdeen,” Brick said. “They like to shoot there.”
Brick said the individuals like the grounds as well as the targets that they are shooting.
“There’s been times I’ve been walking up and down the line,” Brick said. “I talk to the coaches and I say, ‘You know I think we could set those targets down a little bit,’ and the coaches say, ‘Aah, just leave them the way they are. That’s the best ones they’ve shot all year.’“
Brick said the thing he enjoys most about the annual state tournament is the environment surrounding the competition. He said while everybody wants to win, the shooters also want others to do well.
“I like that shoot, because everybody is so kind,” Brick said. “They’re competing out there, but it’s not a try to kill each other type thing. Everybody likes to see each other shoot good scores.”
And speaking of good scores, today’s generation of shooters is definitely hitting its mark.
The winner of the last two state high school tournaments nailed 100 targets in a row to claim state championships. Not only that, but two of the high school shooters ended up finishing right near the top of the adult state tourneys the past two seasons.
There are several reasons why today’s teens are turning into top guns on the range.
Part of it is the amount of time spent shooting to help foster their muscle memory.
“These kids are competing with the adults but the reason for that is the exposure,” Backous said. “Trapshooting is all about practice. It’s all about putting rounds in. It’s like shooting a basketball.”
The logic is the more you work at something, chances are the better you will be at doing it.
“The reason why these kids are a lot better now days is we’ve provided these leagues for them,” Backous said “and they’re putting in hundreds, if not maybe thousands, of rounds each spring into it.”
Not only that, but today’s equipment is much better than when Brick was growing up, plus the coaching has improved.
“They’ve got good coaches that can show them what they’re doing for techniques and things like that,” Brick said.
A big factor when it comes to being in a clay target league is cost and that is where the Great Plains Outdoorsmen has played a key role. The organization gives each local shooter between $70 and $100 to help cover the costs associated with trapshooting.
“They’ve been very, very helpful and very supportive of this,” Backous said.
While boys far outnumber girls in the sport, that does not necessarily mean they are more accurate when it comes to nailing targets.
“Girls have won the last two state tournaments,” Backous said.
He is not exactly sure the reason for that, but he does have a theory.
“The reason why I think that is, is when girls get it figured out, they’re better shooters because they’re calmer,” Backous said. “They’re just not amped up like boys are.”
There have been more than a few changes in the sport since Brick was a teenage shooter growing up and who knows what the future will hold.
“We did a lot of traveling around the state and competing in the different towns around the state,” Brick said, “but nothing at all like this.” //