Shooters fight windy conditions

300 high school students in Marshall for state trap shooting competition

RURAL MARSHALL — The wind likely hurt some scores on Friday, but most participants were just excited for the opportunity to shoot in various events during the 2018 Minnesota State FFA Trap Shoot competition.

Roughly 300 high school students are scheduled to take part in the two-day state competition, including host Marshall High School.

“(Friday) went really well,” MHS FFA adviser Emma Hoversten said. “We hosted a bunch of people. We were very, very busy (Friday) and we’ll be busy again (today). I’m excited about that. And it didn’t rain. It was sprinkling a little bit this morning, but the sun is shining now and it’s a great day.”

MHS FFA adviser Mike Braithwaite said the students came from all across the state.

“There are teams from Ada-Borup, Thief River Falls, Alexandria, and then some others that are local, like Tracy and Canby — they’re coming from all over the place,” Braithwaite said. “We ended up having 16 of our kids participate. We also had a few more just come out to help.”

Most of the schools competed at both Redwood River Sportsmen’s Club and Shooters Sporting Clays.

“We’ve had a lot of schools come through (Friday) and we’ll have a lot more coming (today),” Braithwaite said. “We’ve had some success. It’s a little windy and a little cold, so not as high of scores that we’ve normally seen in the past few years. The wind is blowing everything everywhere, but it’s still going pretty well.”

While she was still working on recording scores, Hoversten said she had a chance to glance at the MHS scores.

“From what I saw, the weather and the wind kind of got the best of them — from what I was hearing, too,” she said. “But briefly looking over their scores, they’re definitely good at competing. They’re going to be competing for the top few places.”

After the two-day competition, the results will be released and the top individuals will be rewarded.

“With their scores here, the top three teams and top individual from the trap shoot, sporting clays and the skeet shoot, will all be recognized at our State FFA Convention in April in the Twin Cities,” Braithwaite said.

Prior to competing on Friday, the MHS students helped out in various capacities at Shooters.

“We had to work right away in the beginning,” MHS sophomore Daniel Lupkes said. “I mostly did the sporting clays. That was pretty fun. I kept score and also pulled for them. Then there was a group from Pipestone that I knew, so I went and shot the duck flurry with them. That’s just where you shoot 75 of them up in the air. You just try to hit as many of them as you can.”

After lunch, the MHS students had some downtown.

“So a bunch of people shot a round,” Lupkes said. “I just did the tactical shoot — that’s where you go through and shoot the steel targets and the clays.”

Sue Nelson followed the three Ada-Borup competitors around throughout the day. Many other would-be participants had a Homecoming football game to play in.

“They shot two rounds of skeet and then they went and shot two rounds of trap at Redwood River,” Nelson said. “Then they started (at Shooters) with sporting clays and now they’re going to do duck flurry, which is where they throw 75 (clay) birds in the air and the kids just shoot, shoot, shoot. I think you can have up to six kids shooting at once. It’s like a shooting gallery.”

While Nelson isn’t the FFA adviser, she does manage the high school shooting program. She’s also her daughter Lia Nelson’s biggest supporter.

“Her first competition was down in Alexandria with 4-H two years ago,” Sue Nelson said. “Then she went to national competition with 4-H. She was the only kid from Ada-Borup who went to nationals in Mason, Michigan this past summer. She made it to the top 400 kids. She was actually ranked the third girl in the nation and came out 28th overall out of 1,400 kids.”

Lia Nelson — whose full name is Julia — wasn’t hooked on shooting sports right away.

“I started in eighth grade,” she said. “I’d been deer hunting with my family for a few years. And my mom kind of pushed me into it. She said, ‘You were into deer hunting, why don’t you try this?’ But I was not having it. I was like, ‘Oh, my. I do not like this. But then after awhile, I kind of got more into it.”

Nelson’s first experience was through 4-H. She recalls shooting a discouraging 4 out of 25 at her first competition at the Alexandria Invitational. Some may have called it quits, but not Nelson.

“It was very disappointing, but I persevered,” she said. “My coach really helped me to get back up and keep trying. I got a new gun — and over-and-under Beretta pigeon 1 sporting with a raised rib — and this past year, I’ve really kind of taken off and done a lot more shooting.”

Along with 4-H Nationals and the national competition at the high school level, Nelson said she’s really taken the time to learn the fundamentals about shooting sports.

“I kind of blossomed from there,” Nelson said.

Now, Nelson shares a passion — to experience and promote shooting sports — with Jim Sable, who sparked the revival of the sport. In his role as youth program director at the Plymouth Gun Club, Sable was instrumental in starting the Minnesota High School Clay Target League, which has become the fastest-growing sport in the state.

“He got it started (in 2008) with three teams,” Sue Nelson said. “There’s now more than 20,000 students involved (615 teams throughout 15 states competed during the 2016-17 school year).”

Lia Nelson had the opportunity to meet Sable twice — first in Alexandria and then at nationals.

“I was just telling him what all I was involved in, like shooting sports and wildlife and 4-H,” she said. “He wanted me to do an interview with him. So now I’ll be published in the Fall Season of the Double Gun Journal. That’s going to be very cool.”

Nelson was inspired to apply to be a Minnesota Shooting Sports and Wildlife Ambassador with 4-H.

“I got it and it’s been so amazing,” Nelson said. “I love it. What I do is help out at Minnesota events, like teach youth and everything.”

But her leadership platform didn’t stop there. After learning about the National Ambassador program, she applied and was accepted to that as well.

“This past June, I went to the Shooting Sports and Wildlife National Ambassador training, in Bozeman, Montana,” Nelson said. “I loved it out there. It’s so nice. That was about four or five days of leadership workshops and training, just learning about the program. Then as a national ambassador, we lead youth, promote our program and then serve at local, state and national events.”

Nelson is also a certified shotgun instructor through 4-H as well. In the near future, she’s advocating for reaching out to other girls and women.

“I’m working on getting a little program started to teach women in my community more about trap shooting, skeet shooting, sporting clays, everything like that,” she said. “I really love sharing my knowledge with others.”

While Nelson is now enjoying her experience at gun ranges, she’s also improved her shot.

“I’m more accurate now,” Nelson said. “I know the chokes and how to properly hold your gun. I was never really taught the exact technique early on, so that’s something I promote now — learning more about the sport and about the little stuff, the basic stuff. But no matter what, it’s still safety first, fun, then marksmanship.”