Trapshooting a ‘lifetime sport’ for students in Portage

By Noah Vernau – Portage Daily Register

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Sometimes the country song “Beautiful Crazy” plays in the head of Emma Ashbrook when she walks to the trap line at the Portage Rod and Gun Club.

The song by Luke Combs is one of her personal favorites, she said, but that isn’t the reason it plays.

What’s important to Ashbrook is that she’s not thinking about failure.

“If you think bad thoughts, you’ll do poorly,” the Bartels Middle School eighth-grader said.

Ashbrook joined Portage High School’s Clay Busters trapshooting club last year, not long after which she hit a personal record of 23 targets in a row.

She credited the early success to good coaching — the club has eight of them at the Portage Rod and Gun Club — and that early success had her thinking bigger in the third week of the new trapshooting season Wednesday.

“This year I want to hit all 25; I want a perfect score,” Ashbrook said. “This a sport that just makes me want to do better.”

Portage High School seniors Halie Maier and Jacob VanWormer enjoy the sport for similar reasons.

As they loaded their guns with ammunition for Wednesday’s practice, they explained why trapshooting is a means for self-improvement.

“It’s really all about your mentality,” said Maier, who joined the club last year because she knew how much VanWormer, her close friend, enjoyed the sport.

“As our coach says, if you can hit five targets in a row, you can hit them all,” she said of the advice students get from their lead coach, Bill Voigt.

Extended season

Maier has hunted deer since she was 9 years old, but hunting seasons aren’t very long, she said. The club’s competition season is offered to members in the spring and summer, and then there’s another season available to them in the fall.

Maier — whose personal record also is 23 — has the option to hone her craft year-round at the Portage Rod and Gun Club.

That’s exactly what she does, she said, whether the scores count or not.

The high school club only had about 10 members when VanWormer joined it as a sophomore. Four years after it first started, the club now has 29 members. VanWormer credits the growing popularity of the sport, locally, to coaches like Voigt, who frequently stress to the members the importance of safety and having fun.

“When everything is made safe and fun, everybody will talk about it with everyone else,” VanWormer said.

His personal record is a perfect 25, which he scored last year, and his goal for the spring is upping his average scoring per round from 23 to 24.

He routinely does well in local competitions and came in 900th out of more than 1,200 competitors at the national competition he qualified for last summer in Mason, Michigan, he said. But that isn’t why he joined.

“I’ve seen myself grow from an average score of 16-17 to hitting 23 (targets per round),” he said. “I just love how it’s an individual sport.”

The Portage club belongs to the Wisconsin High School Clay Target League — a subsidiary of the USA High School Clay Target League that collectively holds about 30,000 students in 19 states, Voigt said. About 1,100 of them hail from Wisconsin.

Safety first

“Our league’s mantra has always been safety, fun and marksmanship,” Voigt said. “Those three legs hold up the stool. In every conversation, at every meeting, when we get together, the first thing we talk about is about safety.”

Coaches such as Voigt, 71, hold decades of experience in trapshooting and shoot often themselves. With the students in grades 6-12, the coaches will work on “all of the things fundamental to shooting aerial targets,” he said, including foot placement, gun hold, swing and follow-through.

“It’s pretty cool to watch kids start breaking six to 10 targets, and then get to 12 and 14 targets,” Voigt said. “And then when they start to break more than 20 targets, that’s when you know you’ve made some headway.”

“It really is an equal-opportunity sport,” he said of the club’s mixed ages, genders and skill levels. “It’s a spectacular thing to get kids involved in a lifetime sport.”

For more information about the club including how to help raise funds for its student members, visit