Kayleigh Janes chambers in another shotgun cartridge, leans toward the clay pigeon release house in front of her and shoos away her “inner squirrel.”
Her “pull” command sends a target swirling through the air like a flying orange clay saucer, which Janes obliterates with the pull of a trigger.
Four years of shooting clay targets on behalf of Logos Public Charter School has taught her the intricacies of breaking clays. But it’s also helped her improve other aspects of daily life.
“Shooting has really taught me how to focus, to keep my mind on one thing at a time,” says Janes, a senior at the Medford school. “Before, like was like, ‘Oooh. Squirrel brain.’ Now, it’s all about concentration.”
This concentration by Janes and other fellow Logos shooters could land them some statewide recognition in the growing field of high school shooting sports competitions.
They are part of close to 1,000 Oregon high schoolers competing this year in the Oregon State High School Clay Target League, where young guns shoot clay pigeons in competitions with other high schoolers throughout the state.
It’s part of a national program that allows kids of all kinds to compete in this shooting sport. It’s governed by a nonprofit corporation and not part of the state interscholastic sports governing bodies.
And in a decade, there’s not been a single injury accident among its thousands of participants – something football teams can’t claim.
Nearly 1,000 kids take part in the Oregon State High School Clay Target League.
There are 53 high school teams in Oregon, including four from Southern Oregon – with North Medford, South Medford and Cascade Christian schools all joining Logos.
The shooters competed locally throughout May. The state championships will be held June 25-26 in Hillsboro. The national championships will be next month in Mason, Michigan.
Since spring, Janes and other club members have traveled to Medford Gun Club on Saturdays to compete virtually against other shooters and teams.
They shoot five clay pigeons from five stations per round at the range, then tally two rounds of scores.
At the state championships, they’ll actually compete head to head.
“I’m really excited to go shoot against some amazing competitors,” Janes says.
The road to the gun club is a varied one for these teenagers, coach Kevin Zimmerer says.
The team first coalesced four years ago when Zimmerer, a former competitive shooter and the spouse of Logos Executive Director Sheryl Zimmerer, was asked to coach the newly christened team.
The participants were a mix of kids, some of whom had grown up with guns in their houses, shot with their parents or at 4-H events “and some who had never picked up a gun before.”
That initial year, then-freshman Ben Christie was one of the more seasoned shooters. He had shot trap for about three years by then, but still started slowly.
“In the beginning, I’d shoot a lot of 10s” out of 25, says Christie, now a senior.
“Now, it’s a lot of 17s and 18s on average days, with some 23s and 24s now and then,” Christie says.
Blocking out the rest of the world to focus on a clay target spinning skyward, swinging that shotgun barrel along its flight path and anticipating where the BBs will cross paths with clay. The sport has created a new skill set Christie can carry throughout life whether he ever pulls a trigger at a gun range again.
“This has taught me how to be patient,” he says. “Patience and slowing yourself down. Those are really important in shooting, especially trap.”
Spending his Saturdays shooting targets is fun and a bit cathartic for Christie after a tough week of being a teenager.
“It’s good to get a little stress out sometimes,” Christie says.
The state championships will bring plenty of stress. But Christie believes he has a legitimate shot at qualifying for the national competition – especially if he wears his lucky bomber hat.
“I’ve been wearing it shooting for six years,” he says. “It keeps me calm, keeps me from being stressed out.
“And it looks cool,” he says.
Mark Freeman covers the outdoors for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.