Ready, aim, fire!

by Jeremy Weber
| June 24, 2020 5:00 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic may have cut their season short, but the members of the Bigfork Scholastic Clay Target Program team are back in action at the Bigfork Gun Club.

Administered under the national umbrella of the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, the Scholastic Clay Target Program was created to give school-aged children the opportunity to participate in shooting sports safely under the guidance of an adult coach.

While this summer’s Bigfork team has only six members, the organization is coming off a string of successful seasons after finishing third at both the state and regional levels last year and second at state in 2018.

Now in his second season as the team’s head coach, Robert Henneman says he is excited to be involved in a sport that brings the excitement of shooting to children in elementary school through college.

“You know boys, they like things that go bang. When you can do it in a controlled environment it makes it more safe and more fun,” he said. “This is really a sport for all kids, though. Any kid can participate as long as they have vision, the motor skills to pull a trigger and the strength to hold the gun up.”

In fact, that equal-opportunity aspect of the sport is one of Henneman’s favorite things about clay target shooting.

“It’s a sport with a level playing field. There are no different rules for boys and girls or different ages. It all comes down to your skills against someone else’s,” he said.

Established by Jim Browne and Wayne Hylton in 2013, the Bigfork team shoots primarily trap (where targets are launched from a single “house” or machine) and skeet (where targets are launched from two “houses” in somewhat sideways paths that intersect in front of the shooter). The program provides targets and shells for its members in return for a registration fee while competition entry fees and travel costs must be paid by the competitor.

As a feeder program for both the Junior Olympics and the Olympics, the Scholastic Clay Target Program also gives shooters the opportunity to earn college scholarships — something that has already been taken advantage of by several Bigfork shooters. Original 2013 team member Luke Comstock, who graduated from Concordia University in 2019, earned a scholarship through the program before going on to earn the SCTP collegiate all-around state championship in 2018.

The team’s season usually runs from April through July, but has been cut short this year with the team being forced to miss the regional meet in Cody, Wyoming this weekend.

The team will be able to participate in the national championship this year, as the SCTP has arranged for remote special competition for teams across the country that cannot or are uncomfortable with making the trip to Marengo, Ohio. The virtual competition will consist of five events of trap and skeet and will be run in conjunction with in-person national events, but will have separate prizes and awards.

While the numbers may be down this season, Henneman is hoping that more kids will come out to take advantage of the program moving forward.

“We really want kids to pick up hand-eye coordination to improve their skills while maintaining safe habits. Kids can have a lot of fun while picking up valuable skills,” he said.

For more information, visit the Bigfork Gun Club website at www.bigforkgunclub.com or call Henneman at (608) 332-5666. ■

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Ethan Kauffman (11) takes aim while his brother Nathan (15) looks on during clay target practice at the Bigfork Gun Club Thursday. (Jeremy Weber/Bigfork Eagle)

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Nathan Kauffman (15) takes his shot during clay target practice at the Bigfork Gun Club Thursday. (Jeremy Weber/Bigfork Eagle)

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Coach Robert Henneman gives instruction to shooter Gabe Kauffman during practice of the Bigfork Scholastic Clay Shooting Team last Thursday.

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Coach Robert Henneman looks on as Nathan Kauffman takes aim Thursday. (Jeremy Weber/Bigfork Eagle)

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Coach Robert Henneman looks on as Nathan Kauffman takes his shot Thursday. (Jeremy Weber/Bigfork Eagle)