NRHEG clay target team enjoying success, growth as fall season finishes

Far from the lights that their fall sports brethren compete under, members of one of the state’s fastest-growing activities are making plenty of noise — literally.

The crack of shotgun fire fills the air at the Owatonna Gun Club in Hope Oct. 22, as the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva clay target team competed in its final shoot of the fall season. Clad in T-shirts that read, “If it ain’t dusted, it ain’t busted,” the team tried to keep its slim conference lead over second-place Hermantown.

NRHEG senior Frank Altrichter shot well, finishing the season with an average of 23.7 targets hit per round of 25, good enough for tops in Conference 6 and fifth in the state. Overall, the team struggled, and a great week by Hermantown resulted in a 400-target swing and the conference title going north.

“It was kind of scary watching that,” coach Dan Sorum said. “I knew it was going to be close. And then Hermantown came in with a phenomenal week. If we had shot our best, it would have been close. But since we didn’t shoot our best, it wasn’t even close.”

An emerging activity

NRHEG’s team — made up not only of Panthers, but students from Waseca and Albert Lea as well — has been around since 2011, the first year the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League had a fall season.

Altrichter was the team’s top shooter, but many of his teammates enjoyed good fall sessions as well. Waseca’s Sam Bartz was fourth in the conference, with Collin Christenson fifth, Tyler Raimann seventh, Zach Eustice ninth, Colton Hagen 15th, Dylan Mosher 17th and Tory Christenson 25th. That gave NRHEG eight of the top 25 shooters in the eight-team Conference 6.

Part of what Sorum likes about the sport is the true team style of scoring, where 80 percent of individual scores count toward the overall team total. That means, in Sorum’s words, there are no bench players. Sometimes that helps. This final week, it hurt.

“But it’s still, in my opinion, an important part of the league, that there are no bench players; that we don’t get to choose our top five shooters, they just have to be the top five,” Sorum said.

The MSHSCTL has both a fall and spring league, with the spring league being larger. The spring season also culminates with a state competition, and this past year, the Minnesota State High School League got involved, so the MSHSCTL state shoot served as a qualifier for the MSHSL state tournament. It was the first year the MSHSL sponsored a clay target state tournament. NRHEG finished 11th.

“It was really neat. It was unique, and it was a lot of fun,” Altrichter said. “It was just a neat experience altogether.”

“I hope 25 years from now they can look back and say, ‘I was a part of that,’” Sorum said.

Although there’s no state tournament for the fall league, there are still conference titles on the line. So even if the spring season has added importance because of state, the fall league still offers a competitive atmosphere.

“It is nice, because then you have something to go for,” Altrichter said. “It’s not just, ‘We’re going out to shoot for the fun of it.’ Yeah, it is the fun of it, but it is competitive at the same time.”

A unique sport

Somewhat unique to the sport is the fact the participants are competing against other teams who aren’t right there. There aren’t head-to-head competitions, so that in theory, makes it easier for each shooter to concentrate on just what they’re doing. Sorum said other teams have shot with NRHEG, but were from other conferences, so they weren’t shooting against them.

“It does however kind of take away some of the fun part of competition with another team,” Sorum said. “There’s something to be said about shaking the other guy’s hand, the other gal’s hand, and telling them ‘Good job,’ even though they just beat you. There’s that sportsmanship that we don’t get to see because we’re not right there with them. There’s kind of give and take on that.”

And unlike most sports, clay target shooting has two easily accessible competitive seasons in a given school year.

“I think it’s really cool,” Sorum said. “It’s true, no other sport really gets to have two seasons in the same year. That’s kind of nice from that standpoint. It gives kids a chance to shoot that maybe can’t shoot during the other part of the year. There’s kids for example, who play football and hunt, and they probably can’t do trap shooting also, so at least they can shoot in the spring. The kids who are baseball players, now they can shoot in the fall. So they get the opportunity to do one or the other, or do both.”

For many of the kids though, shooting is their one sport. And as the activity has grown in the state — around 6,000 kids participate in the spring season — it’s also seen growth right here. Sorum said the first spring, they had 14 kids. By this past spring it was 35, and he expects 50 this coming April. Boys and girls at least 12 years of age who have their gun safety certification are welcome, and the sport is gaining support.

“A lot of these kids don’t do other sports,” Sorum said. “There are some kids that do other sports, they shoot trap as well. But a lot of these kids, this is the sport that they want to do. It’s so exciting for them, and the parents love to see their kids want to do something.”

Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 3:49 pm | Updated: 3:32 pm, Thu Oct 30, 2014.