Spectators at the California Youth Shooting Sports Association trap shooting competition stood outside the shooting range at the Capitol City Gun Club on Saturday, watching as young people set their sights on victory.
The 180 shooters, ages 9-18, came to Carson City from such far-flung locations as Angels Camp, Del Oro, Portola, Auburn and Truckee, Calif., as well as northwestern Nevada.
Carrying rifles from the range to racks, the boys and girls took noticeable care to hold barrels in safety positions.
They learn safety before they learn to shoot, Capitol City Gun Club president Rusty Wollbers said.
“Gun safety is our number one priority,” he said. “All here have to have a safety class. There are specific rules for when the gun is in hand that are strictly controlled.”
Wollbers has helped with youth shooting programs for seven years.
“When I can take one of these kids and teach them how to shoot,” he said, “their attitude, it’s an incredible change.”
Tobe Stone, head coach of the Truckee Junior Shooters, agrees. He has been teaching youths to shoot for four years and brought 29 young people to Saturday’s competition.
“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Stone said. “It builds character. You don’t meet a bad kid at these shoots. It teaches respect.”
Micah Davis grew up in the Capitol City Gun Club. He started shooting seven years ago while in eighth grade and credits the club with teaching him real-life lessons.
“I started because I liked shooting and hunting and stuff,” he said Saturday during a pause from volunteering as a member of the hosting club. “It made me more of an extrovert rather than an introvert, more of a leader.
“It gets kids out to do things. And it got me my first job.”
That job was mainly weeding around the grounds. Now, Davis handles the “hole hopping,” filling the traps with the targets, a never-ending task.
“We buy targets a truckload at a time,” Wollbers said.
The CYSSA conducts six shooting competitions a year that are so well attended that it takes three clubs to host each competition, he said. The association has about 1,000 members in Northern Nevada and Northern California.
During Saturday’s competition, each round included 25 youths divided by teams at five traps who take turns shooting. Each competitor has a morning round and an afternoon round of 50 targets.
As each shooter is ready, he or she calls “pull” and the voice-activated trap throws an orange target made out of pitch into the air at various angles.
It’s a repetitive process that’s just plain fun for the kids involved.
“I tried trap shooting and loved it,” said Truckee shooter Shane Swigard, 12, who learned to shoot several years ago with his dad. He got involved with the club last year after seeing a notice at school.
Members of the Calaveras County clubs — the Gold County Shooters, with grades fourth through eighth, and the Calaveras High Sportsmen’s Club with high school students — had a three-hour drive to get to Carson City.
Billy Burdick, 14, was one of 41 kids competing from Calaveras. He’s been shooting for five years.
“It’s challenging to try and hit targets going about 85 mph,” he said while waiting his turn to shoot. “The only way to really understand it is to come out and try it.”
His teammate, Ida Brown, 12, is in her first year with the club.
“My dad wanted me to try it and I ended up liking it,” she said “I like any sport that’s competitive. I’m really competitive.”
For students committed to learning how to shoot well, the sport can open up wider opportunities, Wollbers said, noting several of his former members received college scholarships due to their shooting skills.
Teaching children to shoot “is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.