116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A split second after Rachel Cross said “pull,” a clay target zoomed outward from a low concrete structure in front of her.
It was doomed.
She deftly sent a charge of shot after the fake bird, shattering it into shards.
We were watching the Cedar Rapids Prairie High School Trap team compete against Clear Creek Amana at the Amana Sportsman’s Club. Visiting the team helped us understand how extensive and valuable scholastic shooting sports are.
Although virtually absent from newspaper sports pages, it’s a popular, safe and growing sport for high school and college athletes.
At least 12 Iowa colleges or junior colleges and many high schools have teams or clubs. These include Jefferson, Xavier and Kennedy high schools in Cedar Rapids. Coe College has a cracker jack team. So do Wartburg, William Penn, Upper Iowa and Simpson.
There are three main types of competitive shotgun sports called skeet, trap and sporting clays. Although each is different, the basic concept is for competitors to hit a high percentage of targets.
Shotguns shoot relatively low powered shells filled with a cup of tiny pellets, called shot. Targets are small clay discs that shatter when struck by pellets. Most high school teams shoot trap, but the Coe team also includes sporting clays and skeet.
Shotgun competition is one of the oldest of all sports still in existence. It goes back to the 1700s in England.
Originally live pigeons were caged in a “trap” in front of shooters. One would pull a string and shout “pull” to release the poor bird. Fortunately, in 1880 the clay pigeon was patented. It’s a small disk that flies somewhat like a Frisbee. Once on the ground the material of the clay pigeon deteriorates.
In trap shooting, clay pigeons are launched by a machine called a trap housed in a low concrete structure 16 yards in front of a line of five shooters. It oscillates, so shooters don’t know what direction or height out front the hurled clay pigeon will go.
Shooters are positioned at five stations, each offering a different target angle. Competitors shoot five times from each station and rotate stations for a total of 25 shots. A scorer seated on an elevated chair behind the line records hits and misses.
We watched Prairie teammates turn disc after disc into chunks. It looks easy. It’s not.
“Newcomers might hit 10 targets with 25 shots, but with practice and coaching they quickly improve,” said Robyn Wilson, the Prairie Coach. “Seasoned competitors rarely miss and often hit over 90 percent of the targets.”
The most skilled trap shooters often hit 98 percent or more of targets.
Like many other sports, shooting sports can improve physical and mental fitness of participants. Upper body, arm and wrist strength help lift and aim a gun. Stronger core muscles support correct posture, improve stamina and aid in controlled breathing.
All result in shooting success. Mental focus is essential for hitting the target. Confidence rises with each hit. Camaraderie among participants adds to the benefits as all work toward team success.
“A delight of trapshooting is its inclusiveness,” Wilson said. “Boys and girls serve on the same team and compete equally. Competitors have varied physiques and even with disabilities are amazingly skillful.
“Often students uninterested in mainline sports, like football or basketball, are attracted to competitive shooting. It gives them an enjoyable and safe athletic experience.”
Two members of the Prairie team echoed that.
“I love shooting air rifles,” Rachel Cross said when asked if she competes in other sports.
Teammate Natalie Baustian loves archery.
Several Coe College students said they participated in trap shooting in high school and sought a college with strong academics and a trap team.
Coe’s Clay Target team brought Allison Darling to Cedar Rapids from her home in Kearney, Mo., and Collin Malin from Illinois. Cameron Kelso was on Cedar Rapids Kennedy trap team.
Having a trap team helps colleges recruit new students with majors like biological sciences, business and nursing. Many of Coe’s team members earn a varsity letter.
“This young Kohawk team has gone way beyond our expectations when we added this sport to Coe’s athletic program a few years ago,” Coe College Trustee Sigrid Reynolds said. “I couldn’t be prouder and I wear my Coe Clay Target Team Cap everywhere.”
Scholastic shooting sports programs are cooperative efforts among schools, parents and students, the Department of Natural Resources, shooting ranges and private conservation groups.
“We shoot at the Cedar Rapids Izaak Walton League and the Otter Creek Sportsman Club ranges,” Coe Coach Patrick Cory said. “Both have enthusiastically helped us and let us use their facility.”
Prairie’s Wilson said the same about the Amana Sportsman Club where the Hawks, and other schools, shoot.
The Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF) promotes education and opportunities to school-age youth to encourage athletic growth and development. It also provides scholarships.
Wilson said three students from Prairie have been awarded scholarships to colleges. Some of the Iowa colleges that have trap shooting teams award scholarships.
Shooting coaches are trained in firearms safety and coaching fundamentals, and are background checked.
Many might be surprised by the remarkably low injury rate in scholastic shooting. According to the SSSF 18.8 percent of youth football participants are injured. With basketball it’s 7.6 percent. In contrast, the injury rate in competitive shooting is 0.4 percent, making it one of the safest sports a young person can enjoy.
Shotgun sport team members bring their own shotgun. A Coe team member said he started with a used Mossberg gun that cost under $150. As shooters advance, they often buy a special shotgun that could cost several thousand dollars. Wilson said Prairie team members bring their own ammunition and purchase targets from the shooting range.
Being on a team can cost around $700 for a season, less than many other team sports.
Coe business major and team member Allison Darling is certified to teach firearm safety and is a crack shot.
“I love the dynamics of the team,” she said. “ It’s like family.”
Clay target shooting isn’t just for students. Thousands of adults enjoy testing their skill at the range. Anyone interested in learning more can consider joining private ranges in the Corridor, including the Linn County Izaak Walton League, the Amana Sportsman Club or the Otter Creek Sportsman Club.
Rich and Marion Patterson have backgrounds in environmental science and forestry. They co-own Winding Pathways, a consulting business that encourages people to “Create Wondrous Yards.”