The trap field at South St. Paul Rod & Gun seems like it is covered in fluorescent orange snow.
Only on closer examination is it apparent it’s not snow. It’s actually clay pigeons.
Some of them are in pieces after being hit by members of the South St. Paul Packer trap team and the Simley High School trap team.
What is trap shooting?
In trap shooting, participants use a shotgun to attempt to shoot 25 targets, often referred to as clay pigeons. Competitions consist of five targets shot at from five different spots.
Each station or spot requires a different plan and approach.
According to the Minnesota State High School League, trapshooting is a sport of movement, action, and split-second timing. It requires the skill to repeatedly point, fire and break 4 1/4 – inch discs that are tossed through the air at a speed of 41 miles per hour.
The activity is all-inclusive and participants may be male, female or physically challenged. All participants are required to obtain a state Firearms Safety Training Certificate.
This activity also involves many different facets beyond the gun, shells and targets. Stan Koich, coach of the Packer team, says he overhears the trap shooters at the gun club talking about geometry, physics, ballistics and wind.
“It just goes on and on and on. But at the same time, it’s the same game that our kids can come out and just play and have a good time,” Koich says.
Part of a growing trend
In the 2009-2010 school year, Doug Renner started the Simley trap team because his son and son’s friends were showing interest in the sport. That first year there were about nine members.
Paul Tinucci, current head coach for the Simley team, says the Spartans are expecting 75 to 80 students in the team’s sixth season.
Stan Koich formed the South St. Paul Packer trap team in 2013.
“The time was right. There were some school board changes and I was confident that if I asked, the school board would allow it,” Koich says.
Now two full seasons in, Koich says there has always been interest from kids. While numbers have fluctuated on the Packer team, there are those kids who keep coming back every spring.
The sport in general is growing in high schools, not only in Minnesota but the country. Tinucci says over 330 teams are expected to be in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League for the 2016 season.
A different kind of competition
The trap-shooting season is made up of eight weeks: two practice weeks, one reserve week and five weeks of competition.
Teams are placed into a division based on the number of participants, and they accumulate points based on team size.
“So in our division, we might have 70 kids on our team, but the true team scoring is used so that you’ll have about 50 athletes contributing each week to the team score,” Tinucci says.
Unlike most competitions, there is no head-to-head battle of two teams on the field at once.
Teams shoot at a gun range on specific days and those scores for the day are uploaded to a website. At the end of the five weeks, teams will be given a ranking within their division, Tinucci says.
There is an element of individual averages as well.
At the end of the season, the teams head to Alexandria for the state Trap Shooting Championship, which according to the website is the world’s largest shooting sport event. For eight days, more than 7,000 participants are anticipated to be shooting.
After the Alexandria tournament, there is the Minnesota State High School League tournament where roughly the top 100 shooters compete.
For many shooters, these two tournaments are the highlight of the competition season.
“The state tournament is pretty fun to see a mile of trap houses in a line. That’s the real deal. You’re around 6,000 people that love shooting,” says Packer senior Noah Hazard.
The support of the community
Both the South St. Paul and Simley high school teams are classified an “activity” so they rely on the support of the community to help fund each season. By the end of school year, the teams have used up their stock of shells, targets and other disposable parts of the game. So each season, they have to start all over.
Local groups and businesses donate money or supplies to the teams.
“The Lions Club helped us with jerseys, and we’re quite proud of these jerseys,” Koich says.
Hats for the Packer team were paid for by the Croatian Hall, the same location the team hosts their big fundraiser at.
Shawn Ockwig, manager of the Simley team, says the community has always been supportive. One of the Simley team’s fundraisers is bagging groceries at the local Cub Foods. Often the students and volunteers have to explain what the money is being donated to and what it will be used for.
He says there have never been negative comments about it being a shooting sport for kids.
The Minnesota State High School League says trap shooting is the safest sport for kids to be involved in, Tinucci says.
Shawn Ockwig, manager for the Simley teams, says he feels safer having his daughter shooting on the field than he does watching her play goalkeeper in soccer. Out on the trap field, everybody knows what is going on. Any goofing off and kids are not allowed to participate, he says.
“The key value for the league — and it has always been that way — is safety first, fun second and marksmanship third,” Paul Tinucci says.
Learning and growing
For Stan Koich, coaching the Packer teams means he gets to see kids grow, learn and advance.
“They can get a little bit better just by practicing and shooting a lot. But to get passionate and go home and say “Mom and Dad, can we go down one more time? I want to shoot again,’ that’s when I know they are really into it,” Koich says.
Tinucci and Ockwig both echo those sentiments. Their favorite part about being the Simley coach and manager is seeing kids make improvements.
All join for different reasons
Caitlyn Ockwig was wandering around Inver Grove Heights Days one year with her dad, Shawn, when they walked by the trap-shooting booth. She told him she wanted to give it a try.
Sydney Blaeser of South St. Paul joined the team because it seemed like a fun activity that she could do with her family.
For Ben Tinucci of the Simley team and Michael Koich of South St. Paul, shooting was something they had been doing for a while, but they had never shot trap before.
Hazard had gone waterfowl hunting, but he, too, hadn’t tried trap shooting. When he found out he could shoot competitively and with his friends, he decided to give it a chance.
The kids favorite parts of the sport are all different as well: one enjoys “blowing stuff up,” another likes the camaraderie on the shooting range, and others enjoy making new friends while doing something that’s fun.
Throughout their years on the teams, all five students say they have learned something about themselves.
Blaeser says she has learned that while it is a competition, not everything is about winning. A lot of what the sport is about is just doing your best and trying to improve, she says.
All of them agree that they have learned from their mistakes. Shooting also takes a certain level of patience.
“When you start shooting, it never starts really well. It takes awhile to get better,” Michael Koich says.
If young people are interested in trap shooting, the kids recommend they give it a shot.
“Dip your feel in the water and see if you like it. If you do, keep going with it,” Ben Tinucci says.