Trap shooting is newest sport at Etna, Yreka high schools

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By: David Smith

Members of both trap teams have been hard at work each week honing their skills at the Yreka Claybirds shooting range near Hawkinsville. Those taking part have varying backgrounds, from kids who are born and bred Siskiyou hunters to one student in particular who had never even touched a gun.

Both Etna and Yreka high schools have welcomed a new sport this year, and the two schools’ teams have their sights set on a rapidly approaching state tournament.

The sport is trap shooting, and its introduction to the county schools relied on a collaboration between YHS teacher Doug Westbrook and Etna Police Department officer Tony Stacher. The two head coaches were able to put their respective teams together in a short period of time earlier this year, each finding a large amount of interest in the schools.

According to Westbrook, the YHS team was borne out of the school’s newly formed outdoor club, which itself was a student-driven effort to establish an on-campus club focused on outdoor activities – hunting, fishing, and other Siskiyou County staples.

Members of both trap teams have been hard at work each week honing their skills at the Yreka Claybirds shooting range near Hawkinsville. Those taking part have varying backgrounds, from kids who are born and bred Siskiyou hunters to one student in particular who had never even touched a gun.

That student, sophomore Ceiba Cummings, moved to the area with her family last year. In a recent interview, she stated that she has been a cross country runner and track and field participant, but shooting was a wholly unknown sport when she decided that the team sounded fun. “I felt the kick,” she said of her first use of a 20 gauge shotgun, but now she describes hitting a moving target as a satisfying experience. Asked for her advice for others hoping to explore the sport, she said, “It is intimidating at first, but just be confident in yourself and practice – the effort will take you places.”

YHS team captain Kaylie Blanton also provided insight into the sport recently, noting that she grew up hunting deer, elk, and bear in the area. “I like shooting and meeting new people,” she said of the experience, which has been accompanied by her presidency of the YHS Outdoor Club. As for the trap team, Blanton said that she hopes that next year – her senior year – even more students will come out for the team, and that current members will continue to improve their respective scores.

Westbrook stated that each team takes turns on shooting days, with members taking aim in two rounds of 25 targets. Scores are then logged and uploaded to the California State High School Clay Target League website.

Safety plays a big role in the process, according to Westbrook, who said that students must pass a gun safety course before joining the team, and must observe strict rules while at the range – such as never walking around with a chambered round, among others.

Westbrook said that on May 31, each school will send 12 of its shooters to Kingsburg, California, to compete against other schools from around the state.

Although the teams are in their infancy, Westbrook and Etna assistant coach Clint Whitchurch both noted that community support has been the key to getting both off the ground. Westbrook explained that the Yreka Claybirds group was very generous in allowing the use of its shooting range, while Whitchurch noted that the Etna Police Activities League has taken on the crucial role of covering the cost of insuring both teams.

Westbrook added that there have been numerous other community members and groups that have stepped forward to support the teams, and both have worked local events to raise funds and get the word out about the sport.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Whitchurch said of the idea to bring trap shooting to Siskiyou County schools, explaining that it is a sport that fits in with the area’s opportunities and ideals.

Both Westbrook and Whitchurch noted that, even with the successful launch of the teams not far in the past, they are already looking to the future of the sport. Both indicated that, in the next school year, the teams will be looking to expand opportunities for practice at the junior high level, developing youth looking forward to competing at the high school level. Westbrook noted that YHS has already received word of nine junior high students interested in the sport.

In addition to expanding opportunities, Westbrook said that there is a desire to raise funds to acquire guns made specifically for trap shooting; currently, team members bring their personal 12 or 20 gauge field shotguns in order to take part. One difference in a trap shotgun is that the gun is heavier, allowing for more absorption of recoil, a second is that they are typically built to shoot higher – an advantage when tracking rising clay targets.

Westbrook and Whitchurch both expressed excitement about the current season and what the future holds. Whitchurch explained that the students look forward to the shoot each week, and their parents also come out to see how the scores play out. “It’s been a fantastic reception,” he said.

Westbrook, who grew up in the area, said that he feels that the opportunities he had to hunt and fish are becoming more and more restricted, and he wants to see future generations have access to those same opportunities.

“I feel that we’re losing more and more freedom to own and use guns, and to be hunters and fishermen,” he said. “I like seeing these young people coming up to continue those traditions.”

The teams will continue to take part in weekly shoots in preparation for the June 1 state tournament. According to the state’s clay target league website, once the scores are in, top shooters from around the nation will be invited to take part in the national championship in Mason, Michigan from July 12-15.