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For Spokane-area sport shooters, 100-year-old trapshoot competition a fixture in a changing sport

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 8, 2018, 11:26 a.m.

A lot has changed in the Spokane Gun Club’s 125-year history.

A new clubhouse. Changing gun technology. And a demographic of shooters that include more women and youth.

But, one thing has remained consistent for nearly the entirety of the club’s existence.

The Spokesman Review’s Inland Northwest Trapshoot competition.

In its 100th year, the eight-week shoot pits shooters from around the Northwest against one another.

For eight Sundays in January, February and March men, women and children will try and blow clay pigeons out of the sky. Their scores will be published online by the Spokesman-Review, which sponsors the competition.

“It’s all about bragging rights,” said John Cushman, the vice president of the Spokane Gun Club. “You’re not going to get rich at this. In fact, you’re going to go broke.”

The goal of trapshooting is to shoot clay pigeons out of the air with a shotgun. Each target is 4-inches in diameter. The targets are shot out of a machine in any one of 72 different angles and travel between 42 and 43 mph.

Quick reflexes and sharp eyesight help, said Cushman. But it’s a sport anyone can play.

On Wednesday, Forrest Springer demonstrated that. He shot round after round sitting in a wheelchair. The Spokane Gun Club’s shooting range is ADA accessible. Springer has competed in the annual competition for 20 years, he said.

Two months ago Springer started using a wheelchair because of a bad back. He’s still adjusting to the different angle, he said. And, while shooting from a chair eases some of the discomfort, winter trapshooting is still no walk in the park.

The weather can test the endurance of even the most grizzled outdoor enthusiast.

The wind and cold can numb a shooter’s fingers and face to the point of immobility. John Bergman remembers once in the 1960s when his brother’s finger froze to the trigger.

“Oh, weather, weather, weather,” Bergman said. Sitting around the clubhouse in between shooting, old-timers recall the epic snow, wind, ice and water that are a near constants during the Review shoot.

“Last year we came out here and we couldn’t shoot because there was so much water,” Cushman said. “You had to have hip waders to shoot.”

In the winter of 1968-69 – a year when Spokane was shellacked by Father Winter – trapshooters shoveled waist-deep snow off the walkways between shooting stations. The snow was so deep shooters couldn’t track the flying clay pigeons without brushing their elbows into snowdrifts. Chuck Lobdell remembered that winter in an interview with the Spokesman-Review in 1984. A dedicated trap shooter, at the time Lobdell hadn’t missed a Sunday of shooting in 24 years. Lobdell, a longtime member of the Spokane Gun Club and its president three different times, died in 2015.

The allure of trapshooting seems to lie in the simplicity of the game’s goal, married with the difficulty of hitting a flying target from anywhere between 16 and 27 yards away.

When I shot trap for the first time a week ago the initial frustration of missing bird after bird was quickly replaced by the thrill of watching the clay disc explode after a successful shot.

“It’s a competition against yourself and it’s just fun,” Vern Johnson said.

Johnson said he started shooting trap about six years ago when a friend of his introduced him to the sport.

“I bought a gun and it’s all been downhill from there,” Johnson said.

Plus, it’s a social event. In between rounds participants warm up in the club house, drinking coffee and sharing stories. Trophies, photos and plaques commemorating the club and the region’s rich shooting history adorn the walls. There are 400 lifetime members of the Spokane Gun Club, Cushman said.

“You meet some of the nicest people,” said a man longtime club members call Cupcake.

Before Cupcake retired he drove Hostess trucks all over the Northwest.

As enjoyable as shooting trap can be, participation is down compared to prior years, said Cushman, the club’s vice president. In its heyday there would be between 150 and 175 people competing in the weekly competition at the Spokane Gun Club. Now, he said the club has between 50 and 70 participants.

“When I shot down in Spangle in the late ’70s or ’80s we’d have between 50 and 60 people down there,” Cushman said. “They will be lucky to have 20-25.”

“Oh yeah, it used to be huge,” Bergman said. “(There are) so many things you can do nowadays. Sundays didn’t have football back in the day.”

Cushman said they’re actively trying to recruit and interest new shooters. They have a youth program and offer Groupon deals.

“There are some kids who are just phenomenal,” he said.

While participation in the Inland Northwest Trapshoot competition might be down, state and national participation in shooting sports is up.

Participation in target shooting increased 28 percent between 2001 and 2015, said Michael Bazinet the director of Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Over that same time-frame male participation increased 19 percent while female participation grew by 64 percent.

Participation in shotgun target shooting sports increased 69 percent over the past 15 years. Male participation went up 63 percent while the number of female shooters increased 95 percent, according to the 2016 National Sporting Goods Association Annual participation report.

“The shooting sports are changing as America changes,” said Bazinet. “We have (more) younger people. We have a more ethnically diverse (group).”

That doesn’t mean that participation in certain areas of the country might not be down, Bazinet said. But, nationwide they’re up. In fact, in the upper Midwest, and particularly in Minnesota, the fastest growing high school sport is trapshooting, he said.

“One of the things about the shooting sports, and one of the things that is most attractive to high school students, is you don’t have to be physically the strongest,” he said.

On Wednesday, Rebecca Klaeui and her family were shooting trap for the first time.

“I got them a Groupon,” Klaeui said of her family. “And they made me come.”

Klaeui, her husband and daughter looked a bit awkward shooting. But, they said they were enjoying themselves.

Which, sums up the mentality most amateur trapshooters seem to have.

“If you take yourself too seriously you won’t have any fun,” Johnson said.