COLUMBIA, Mo.– This summer, 20 FFA and 4-H youth came to Columbia to hone their shooting skills at the first Mizzou Trap Academy. During the three-day camp, the participants, all juniors and seniors in high school, shot 300 rounds and received instruction from expert shooters.
But it’s about a lot more than shooting, says David Vaught, chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Missouri.
“There are a lot of things going on beside the shooting itself,” Vaught says. “When they’re out here they’re learning teamwork. They’re learning leadership. They’re learning focus and concentration, and skills like goal-setting.”
Vaught says the Mizzou Trap Academy is also designed to encourage students to attend college, whether at MU or some other institution, and for students to learn about their personal strengths and interests and how these might guide career choices.
It also teaches patience. The first day at camp takes place on the MU campus, where participants engage in team-building exercises, socializing and activities providing physical and mental challenges.
Campers have to wait until after lunch on the second day to begin shooting at Prairie Grove Shotgun Sports, a shooting range and gun club several miles east of Columbia. Then it starts raining, so campers have to wait even longer, but the rain tapers off before too long and it’s finally time to shoot.
Trap shooting is a form of clay target shooting similar to skeet shooting. The airborne targets are ceramic discs, about 4 1/4 inches in diameter and typically painted bright orange. From within a low, concrete-block structure, a device called a trap machine launches the targets at about 50 mph. The machine rotates back and forth, sort of like an oscillating fan, so shooters can’t predict the exact course of their target.
The train has stopped but erratic winds make the shooting more difficult.
“The wind is a good challenge,” Vaught says. “Any good shooter would struggle in this wind.”
“It’s very challenging, but it’s fine. It makes it fun,” says Breeann Vieth, a senior from Washington, Missouri.
Vieth—aka “Breeann Jean the Shooting Machine”—shoots for an American Legion team in Franklin County.
“I couldn’t do other sports because I have bad knees,” she says. “But my dad said I had to pick a sport, so I tried trap shooting. The first time I picked up the gun I got 14 out of 25.”
In basic trap shooting, the shooters stand 16 yards behind the trap house. When you’re ready, you call out “Pull!” and one of the instructors uses a remote control to launch a target. If you hit the target, the clay disc is pronounced “dead.”
Trap shooting appears to be as much a mental discipline as a physical skill.
“We’re trying to get the kids to think about what they’ve got to do,” says Vaught. “We want them to not think about things around them, not be distracted, not let anything around them influence their ability to do what they know they can do, and that is hit the target.”
Missing the target can be frustrating, but getting frustrated will only make you even more likely to miss.
“Don’t be negative,” Vaught tells one group of campers as they get ready to shoot. “If you miss, don't think about it. Move on. Dial everything out.”
The names of most legendary trap shooters aren’t household words. An exception is John Philip Sousa, famed composer of military marches. In the early 1900s Sousa founded the American Trapshooting Association, which continues today as the Amateur Trapshooting Association.
For Sousa, to “dial everything out” meant even banishing music from his head. “I learned to leave my music at home,” he has been quoted as saying. “Let me say that just about the sweetest music to me is when I call ‘pull,’ the old gun barks, and the referee, in perfect key, announces ‘dead.’”
Vieth says she experiences similar feelings when she’s shooting well. “Butterflies in your tummy. You get all smiley and you just feel like, ‘You did it! You dared yourself to do it and you did it.’ It’s just overwhelming.”
The Mizzou Trap Academy is sponsored by a grant from the MidwayUSA Foundation, which supports education in shooting, hunting, firearms safety and outdoor skills through endowment funding. Additional support was provided by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the MU School of Natural Resources, and Prairie Grove Shotgun Sports.
In addition to Vaught, coaches and presenters at the Mizzou Trap Academy included Terri DeWitt, a veteran of the U.S. trap shooting team at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta; Mark Brownlee, an internationally known shooting coach and consultant on mental and physical skills development; and Brian Thompson, who as an MU undergraduate in 2005 was an intercollegiate clay target shooting champion.