Since 2009, the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League championship has been held. The first year there were 30 shooters. In June of this year, there were 5,134 shooters, 20,000 spectators, and sponsors that included Benelli Armi SpA and SKB Shotguns.
EsmÃ© E. Deprez, writing for Bloomberg, says this is the world's biggest shooting sport event, and vendors like Dusty Minke, a sales agent for Browning, can see potential customers everywhere he looks.
Shooting trap is the fastest-growing sport in Minnesota high schools, and has recently caught on in nearby Wisconsin and North Dakota. Anti-gun advocates are probably uneasy when hearing this news, but gun manufacturers and retailers are pleased. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the average 16-year-old who competes will spend $75,000 on the hobby over his lifetime.
US gun sales spiked after mass shootings, including the 2012 Newton, Connecticut elementary school massacre, because of fears that sales might become restricted. Sales have evened out somewhat, but marketers were quick to see that high school trap shooting offers a wholesome opportunity for gunmakers and retailers like Cabela's, Inc., one of the underwriters of the trap shooting events and a donor to the teams.
Also, young people who are getting into the sport open up an important new constituency for the National Rifle Association.
"These kids are going to be future legislators, and they're going to get in there and know the truth about weapons," said Dennis Taylor, an NRA member and an operations manager at the Wisconsin Trapshooting Association.
The debate over gun rights came back into the spotlight after the June 17 shooting deaths in a Charleston, South Carolina church. But, Jim Sable, 76, a Minneapolis advertising executive, simply started the USA State High School Clay Target League because he felt the sport was dying and he saw competitive shooting as an extracurricular activity could be a solution. There has been no backlash from gun-control advocates, but they do not agree that learning to use a gun properly will lead to a reduction in gun accidents. They cite data that show gun-owning households are at a higher risk of homicide and suicides by firearms.
Stephanie Petsili, 17, says the reason she likes the sport is, "It's just cool because I get to use a gun." And, 15-year-old Zac Olson says the sport teaches him self-control. He adds that all kinds of people can participate in this sport as long as they have the discipline to practice, writes Awr Hawkins of Breitbart.
The fact that Minnesota is a hunting state makes it a good fit for trapshooting competitions. Erin Flaig says she has hunted with her family, so she is comfortable handling guns. She got interested in trapshooting from her sister who joined the Hermantown team years ago. Other Hermantown shooters came to the sport the same way, says the Associated Press' Dan Kraker.
Students use their own guns, which they are not allowed to bring to school. They also pay for their own ammunition, participation fees, and access to the shooting range. All students are welcome after they complete a Department of Natural Resources-sponsored gun safety course. The participants are then divided into tiers based on their skill level.
"It fits the niche of a different kid," John Nelson, the high school league's vice president said. "Most of our kids, there's 45 on our team this year, and I think there's about 28, 29 of them that don't play another sport, they're not in band, choir, drama, this is their thing. And you don't have to be 6 foot 2 and 220 pounds to be effective at it."
Nelson has received inquiries from school officials in more than 30 states interested in Minnesota's trapshooting model. Kids in Minnesota have been turned away because of the limited capacity at local gun ranges. In the spring, Nelson estimates that 2,000 kids were left out.