The clay target shooting team at West Salem High School is brand new, but they don’t compete like it.
Just a few weeks ago, four team members shot a perfect score, 25 out of 25.
“That’s tough to do,” says coach Paul Liethen, also an automotive and welding instructor at the school.
One of those team members was Evan Rowe, a senior at West Salem. And though his team is new, Rowe has been clay target shooting — also known as trap shooting — since he was young.
He’s one of nearly 2,000 high school students from 78 high schools competitively trap shooting this spring through the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League.
“I’ve been holding a gun ever since I could hold it up, practically,” Rowe said. “I started hunting, and then through 4H I found trap, and my family shot a lot of trap. And I just grew to love the sport, really.”
The round consists of 25 clay targets, or “birds,” divided among five stations on a shooting range. Students each start on a single station, shooting one at a time. Once it’s their turn, the student says “pull.” The clay target is launched from a structure called a trap house, and the student shoots at the target with a shotgun. After five shots at one station, the students rotate to the next, until all participants have shot at 25 clay targets.
The sport is relatively under the radar, but it’s growing. Approximately 500 more students are competing this year over last. West Salem’s team, in its first year, has 30 members.
The Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League is open to both boys and girls from sixth grade through high school. About half of West Salem’s team is in middle school.
West Salem High School partnered with its local rod and gun club, which provides additional coaching and guidance, as well as a place to compete from.
“They usually have five to 10, to sometimes 15 adult-experienced trap shooters that are there helping us make this thing safe, make this thing happen,” Liethen said. “And make it happen so that, especially the young students, learn the fundamentals and are able to get better each week.”
The sport is competitive, but students don’t often physically see the people they’re competing against. Each team shoots from their local shooting range and sends in their scores to the league. They then can check the standings to see how they’re doing, both among their teammates and among the league as a whole.
Rowe said he enjoys shooting clay targets. But doing it competitively has a different pressure, an incentive to do well for your teammates.
As one of the two seniors on the young team, he’s trying to be a leader who can inspire the team to continue, long after he has graduated.
“And just keep this trap thing get going, get it started,” he said. “Bringing the younger generations up and get them to shoot instead of sitting on the couch eating potato chips.”