Five athletes stood in their assigned positions at the 16-yard mark. Despite their obvious youth, it was easy to see they were all business, a team clad in matching red jerseys with one purpose in mind: Win the 2012 Scholastic Clay Target Program State Championship, the first one in Las Vegas.
Suddenly, someone yelled "Pull!" and an orange clay target launched from the trap house at 41 mph. In an instant, the athlete at Station 1 raised his shotgun, found the clay target and squeezed the trigger. Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the clay target vanished in a cloud of orange dust. The dust still hung in the air when the athlete at Station 2 yelled "Pull!" and another clay target launched from the trap house. In an instant, the target disappeared.
This same process repeated itself over and over Saturday at the Clark County Shooting Complex, with each of the five athletes having the opportunity to shoot 25 clay targets, five targets at each of five different shooting stations. The athletes didn't connect on every shot, but there was a period of time when this group of middle school-age athletes busted nearly 15 targets in a row before one of them missed. Even then, the cadence didn't change. They kept their poise and the next athlete called for the target. "Pull!"
After shooting two 25-target rounds, the squad moved to another trap field and the process started over again. This continued until each member of the squad had the opportunity to shoot 200 targets. The discipline and skill demonstrated by these youthful athletes was impressive, to say the least.
"I can't keep up with them, they are that quick," Pete Miller said of his two grandsons and their teammates who grew up shooting together and now compete in the SCTP college bracket. "As soon as it's out of the house, they're on it. And we have some little guys, fourth- and fifth-graders that are almost that quick. They'll shoot 80 of 100 and 90 of 100. That's a good score for an adult, and we've got kids in the fourth or fifth grades that are turning those kinds of scores in."
Miller, a coach for the Western Nevada Trap Cappers of Yerington, speaks highly of the SCTP athletes as a whole.
"They are all good kids. I don't care where they are from. I've met them from the other groups - Carson City, Elko, Vegas, Fallon, all over - and they are all good kids. I've never seen them really in trouble," he said. Saturday's event featured 122 competitors.
The Scholastic Clay Target Program is open to all youth, but there are some requirements. Participants are asked to abstain from alcohol and tobacco, and to maintain the same academic proficiency as athletes in the state's education system.
"We want them to be role models. We stress self-discipline and responsibility and, above all, gun safety," said Linda Hand, state program director for the SCTP and head coach of the Las Vegas team, the Silver State Clay Breakers.
No special skill set is needed to get involved in the SCTP.
"We take all children. It doesn't matter whether they have any skill or not. The youngest shooter we've had is third grade, and they can shoot through college until they are 24 years old," Hand said. "As coaches, we get as much out of it as the kids do. We wouldn't do it if it didn't put a smile on our faces."
The Silver State Clay Breakers offer loaner equipment for youth who are just getting started and provide the necessary shooting instruction and safety training. New team members begin with individual instruction until they can demonstrate firearm responsibility and develop the needed skill level. To learn more, contact Hand at 565-1047 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at email@example.com.