More than 170 students, grades 6-12, were having a blast last weekend at Double Barrel Ranch south of Spokane.
About 20 teams from across the state were applying their year of training and practice in the fifth annual Washington Youth Education in Shooting Sports (WAYESS) state clay target event.
In two days most competitors fired 100 shotgun rounds on each of three ranges: trap, skeet and sporting clays.
Nathan Tarron of Spokane had a two-day score of 282 out of 300, tying for first place overall with Max Jester of Wenatchee.
Among the other top individual performances were Tarron and Tommy Hartman of Spokane shooting 99s in skeet and Colton Call of Spokane firing a 99 in trap.
“Interest is growing at clubs and high schools every year,” said Eric Nikkola of Spokane, vice president of WAYESS.
Local shooting clubs, such as the Spokane Gun Club, often sponsor youth clay target shooting teams as well as Future Farmers of America and 4H programs in schools, Nikkola said.
A nonprofit national program, USAYESS, forms the foundation for local teams across the country to introduce, grow, support and educate youth and their families on firearm safety, shooting sports and wildlife conservation and habitat.
“We want shooting sports to be thought of the same way as other athletic sports,” Nikkola said.
Abbi Denmark, 18, of Spokane is doing her part in that respect.
The Freeman High School senior was the top female shooter in last weekend’s competition and fourth overall with 276. But that was just the latest stop on her journey.
“I picked up a shotgun for the first time when I was a freshman,” she said. “I placed dead last in my first competition, breaking only one target out of 50.”
After six months of determined practice with the Spokane Gun Club youth team, she finished fourth in the state girls competition. She’s gone on to win regional and state titles through her high school career and finished third in national competitions last year.
“It’s paid off,” she said. “I have a shooting scholarship and will be going to Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska.”
Adults with deep roots in the shooting sports step up for the kids, Nikkola said.
“We had about 40 adult volunteers out there, including two at each of the 16 sporting clays stations,” he said. “These are people who want their sports to grow and we’re being successful in many ways.
“Although we lose our seniors every year, the overall number of participants is increasing. And last year, the Colville team went on to win the combo of all three events in the San Antonio national shoot.”
Several students competed at a high level at Double Barrel.
“There were no perfect scores but several 99 out of 100 scores,” Nikkola said. “That’s incredible. One of the shooters on my (Spokane) team shot 98 of 100 in trap and placed fourth.”