Teens on Target
Coach Robert Wallace builds a competitive trap-shooting team in Dufur
By Kathy Ursprung
Once a week from April through June, life is a little less placid for the cattle in one pasture south of Dufur.
The cows have to make way for teens with shotguns competing for Dufur High School in the Oregon State High School Clay Target League. This is Dufur’s second year of league competition.
While the national league has been around since 2000, Oregon’s league has existed for only three years. Its participation has steadily grown. In 2017, the league had 194 students on 14 teams. This year, about 450 students participated on 25 teams.
Robert Wallace—longtime Dufur resident, school board member and former mayor—started the team because it was something he could do with his own children.
“I talked to a couple of guys I know who are into competitive skeet shooting and trap shooting,” Robert says. “They encouraged it. They said, ‘You’ll have more fun than the kids do.’ It’s a lot of fun for me, and this is a great group of kids and parents.”
Robert’s 15-year-old son, Parker, has participated since the program started. This was his second year of competition.
His daughter, 11-year-old Peyton, has helped with practices and the events, but is not old enough to compete yet.
“She is waiting to get her turn,” Robert says. “She’s a very competitive girl and is looking forward to officially joining the Dufur Trap Team.”
Robert says Skip Zapffe—a professional-level shooter—supported him as the team formed. The two took the idea to the school board last year and gained approval to form a team as a pilot project.
Students in grades six through 12 can compete, but Robert decided to limit participation to grades eight through 12.
“I was concerned about the younger kids, not knowing who would help them,” Robert says.
Last year, the team had 11 members, boys and girls. This year, it grew to 13. “All the kids came back who could,” Robert says. “A couple graduated and a couple moved out of district.”
In a small school such as Dufur, one of the things that makes trap shooting attractive is that team members can compete in other sports, too.
Louis Red Cloud, for example, competes in football, skiing and baseball. During the spring, he practices for Dufur’s baseball team, then heads over to the pasture afterward to compete on the trap-shooting team. Louis is the son of Gabe Red Cloud, Northern Wasco County PUD lineman.
“I’ve been on the team since it started last year,” Louis says. “I did shooting prior to that for fun and in different competitions.”
He always looks forward to the state tournament in Hillsboro in late June.
“It’s super fun,” he says. “We get to see tons of people down there—400-some kids. My family went the night before, and a few other kids from the team brought campers and spent the night.”
Louis, a senior this fall, hopes to improve his skills for next year.
“My dad and I are going to try to build a clay target range at our house,” he says.
As a sophomore next year, Karl Wilson has a few more seasons ahead of him. The son of PUD lineman Jim Wilson, Karl enjoyed shooting before he started with the team.
“I’m an outdoorsy type,” he says, “but I’d never shot a shotgun before I started on the team. I wanted to experience something new.”
Like all team members, Karl and Louis had to take either a hunter safety course or an online firearm safety course before joining the team.
Karl served as squad leader for a set of five competitors at the state tourney. “When you get up and shoot, five people stand in a row behind the trap throwers,” he says. “The squad leader is the first one to call the trap and to make sure the group is ready.”
Robert says the competition in Hillsboro is quite a different experience from home, considering the aforementioned cow pasture. Most teams practice at trap clubs with permanently placed throwers.
“It’s a little hillbilly, but it kind of fits us,” Robert says with a laugh. “It’s not uncommon when we get there to have to move cows out of the field where we’re shooting. We trailer everything in and set up the thrower. We have it marked out where we stand and where the thrower goes.”
Parents are regular participants, often bringing food for the gathering.
“Almost every night a different parent has taken it on themselves,” Robert says. “They’ve brought in sandwiches, or some work in town and stop by McDonald’s on the way out. It’s kind of cool to see.”
Each year, just before the end of the season, the team has a fun night and invites the community. This year, Wasco County Commissioner Steve Kramer and Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill attended.
One of the advantages of this particular sport for the school is that travel costs are minimal. Each team competes from its home location. While the teams are grouped into different conferences, the competitors don’t come together until the state meet at the end of the season.
At home, the team shoots a practice round and a scoring round.
“Each night, the kids shoot two groups of 25 targets and their score is the best of 50 for the night,” Robert says.
Team members can shoot with either a 12-gauge or a 20-gauge shotgun. The shells are specially designed for clay targets.
“They’re a light-load shell with not a lot of power behind it—just enough to break the target,” Robert says. “Each week, the kids shoot 50 targets for scoring and another 25 for practice. Higher-power ammo is going to wear you out. I try to get the kids to buy the lightest load they can find.”
Robert says safety is the top concern.
“We’re making sure they are safe,” he says. “We’re making sure they know what the rules are, the shooting sequence and the guns they are shooting, which range from a gun Grandpa had to the new guns some of the kids bought this year.”