And to my surprise, there doesn’t appear to be any controversy or protests surrounding the opening rounds of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League’s championship event, which runs for nine days and features about 7,900 high schoolers from 329 teams across the state.
Not there should be anything controversial about the championships, mind you, but with gun control activists trying to shut down anything and everything gun-related these days, I would have figured they would have lost their minds over the thought of thousands of high schoolers with shotguns. Even more surprising was the positive coverage of the event on the part of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which focused on the Lake of the Woods trap team from the small town of Baudette, Minnesota.
There’s no tryouts, per se, and kids sign up as early as sixth grade. But to join the team, they must strive to be the best.
The two other requirements for making the club are passing a gun safety course and paying the $210 annual activity fee — a sum that hasn’t gone up since the team was created 11 years ago with welcoming arms from the local rod and gun club.
“Our kids are hypercompetitive and their coaches are, too,” said Bob Laine, the Bears’ head coach.
… The Bears will be worth watching. For the first time in team history, five athletes made the all-state team by ranking in the top 100 shooters in the state. That puts them in the 99.8th percentile of their peer group. The most accurate of the Bears’ sharpshooters is a freshman, Andrew Higgins, who won “high gun” honors en route to the Bears’ conference title this year. Johanna Birchem, one of the Bears’ five all-staters, won “high gun” honors among girls in the conference.
In the past four years, the team from Baudette achieved two first-place finishes in conference play and two second-place finishes. They hail from a part of the state, along the Canadian border, where kids are intense about high school trap shooting and communities deliver broad support.
“This has been a wonderful thing for our kids and it’s probably kept our gun range open,” Laine said. “The kids work hard and our community support for them is crazy.”
Support is so strong, in fact, that the county sheriff’s department is helping to fund the trap shooting team’s trip to Alexandria, Minnesota with money from their concealed carry application fees. The Lake of the Woods County government has also financially supported the team, but plenty of individuals have gladly lent a hand and opened their wallets to help the teens on the team as well.
“All you hear is negative stuff, and this is actually positive,” said Greg Mortenson, owner of Outdoors Again, a hunting and fishing retail store on Main Street in Baudette. “It kind of brings the whole community together.”
Mortenson supplies the Bears with shotgun shells, clay targets, and shotguns at or below cost. The target loads have been scarce, so he sets aside shipments for the team a year in advance to safeguard a supply.
“Those kids are our future and this sport teaches them responsibility and respect,” Mortenson said. “It’s just a super organization.”
High school trap teams have exploded in popularity across the state over Minnesota over the past decade for a number of reasons; every student-athlete gets a chance to compete instead of riding the bench or getting stuck on the JV squad, it’s the safest high school sport around in terms of injuries or accidents, and it’s a lot of fun for the competitors involved.
Roseau coach Troy Weiland, whose team won a national trap shooting title in 2019, said the four trap teams from the northern border certainly look at each others’ scores during the year, especially when qualifying for bids to Prior Lake. But there’s also some fellowship in terms of “bringing the hardware home to the north,” he said.
“We shoot and shoot and shoot,” Weiland said. “As long as they want to shoot, we are there providing the time.”
It’s been gratifying for him as a coach to see alumni return to Roseau’s trap range to help team members hone their skills. The Rams have been known to start practice at 4 p.m. and blast clay “birds” until dark. The Rams take a lot of pride in traveling to shoot in tournaments, Weiland said. At Alexandria, the team roster is flush with 32 entrants.
How much more wholesome can you get here? At a time when more Americans than ever before say we as a nation have poor moral values, I’d love to see more of this; communities working together to help their teenagers become well-rounded, happy, responsible adults in the not-too-distant future. Minnesota’s high school trap shooting program should serve as a model and a goal for all of us concerned not just about the future of our Second Amendment rights, but a new generation of responsible gun owners and citizens.