RAINIER, Ore. — Tucker Simpson shouldered his shotgun, called for the “bird” and a second or so later the clay target was pulverized into dust.
It was practice night at the Rainier Rod and Gun Club, where members of the Woodland High School’s Trap Club congregate twice a month, shooting 100 or more targets.
That’s correct: The high school has a trap-shooting club.
Officially, there are 37 team members, with about 20 to 25 regularly shooting in the program.
It’s the third largest sport at Woodland High School, behind football and track, said volunteer coach Ben Musgrove, a La Center resident whose son attends Woodland.
Practice starts about 5 p.m. at the Rainier shooting facility, which put up $9,000 for shotgun shells to get the program started and gives the high school club a break on shells and targets.
“These kids will shoot until 9 p.m.,” said Musgrove. “I pretty much have to make them go home.”
Musgrove, a semi-serious recreational trapshooter, said the club was the idea of Woodland athletic director Paul Huddleston to get more students involved in activities.
“It’s been a really good way to get kids opportunities to shine who might not be ‘mainstream’ athletes,” Huddleston said. “I was really happy that our school board allowed us to try and make this happen.”
No school district money is spent on the program, which has been the beneficiary of donations and fundraisers.
Transportation is not provided.
“It’s given the kids a strong sense of self worth and self respect,” Musgrove said. “They’re still kids, but out here it’s all business. It’s helping them grow up.”
Simpson, 17, a junior, is one of the top shooters. He averages 72 hits per 100 targets shooting from 16 yards behind the trap house.
He finished second in the Oregon Junior Olympics international trap competition in March. Simpson tied for first, then lost in a shoot-off.
“I like being independent,” Simpson said. “I don’t have my mistakes reflect on the whole team.”
Simpson, a left-hander, has been shooting a Remington 1187, a gun for a right-hander. He bought a Perazzi MT6 Olympic over-and-under, a $5,500 gun, for $3,000 recently.
A single-barrel shotgun has only one choke, the restriction at the muzzle that determines how quickly the pattern opens.
Simpson’s Perazzi has improved-modified and full chokes. He can use the more-open improved-modified choke at corner stations No. 1 and No. 5, and the tighter full choke at the middle three stations.
Trapshooting is a mental game as much as physical, a distinction often only shooters truly grasp.
“I would say it’s 100 percent mental,” Simpson said. “If you focus on the bird you must missed, it’s a guarantee three more birds will be missed.”
The team has Woodland High School caps, shirts, sweatshirts and vests. To earn a varsity letter, shooters must meet two of these three requirements:
• Average 18 birds or better per 25 targets. A standard trap round is five shots from five stations.
• Shoot on the varsity team for two or more competitions.
• Shoot at 75 percent of all practices.
This is the third year of the program, which is sanctioned by the Scholastic Clay Target Program. Cathlamet, Castle Rock and Mossyrock have fledgling teams, but not nearly as many shooters as Woodland.
There are 28 teams in Washington, with about 75 percent east of the Cascades. Woodland’s schedule includes competitions in Selah, Walla Walla and Spokane among other places.
The state tournament is at Ravensdale, outside of Auburn.
Practice shooting begins in September with the state tournament the first weekend in May.
The competitive season is in March, April and May.
“In December, it’s cold up here and maybe there’s 6 inches of snow on the ground or it’s raining sideways,” Musgrove said. “Those are days other people don’t shoot.”
Musgrove’s son, Jordan, a junior, currently leads the team with an average of 77 out of 100. Nick Harry, a junior, averages 70 per 100.
Jessica Blessing, a freshman, is one of four girls on the team.
“I love to shoot,” Blessing said. “I’ve been hunting since I was old enough to get my hunter safety education. I hope to letter all four years.”
Team members are required to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average.
“If we have an alcohol infraction or drugs, you’re off the team,” said Musgrove, a commercial photographer.
He noted that Woodland is about a half rural, half city school district.
“Initially, there were some raised eyebrows about this, in a curious way,” Musgrove said. “The media doesn’t portray that youth should be near firearms.”
Huddleston lauded Musgrove’s effort taking an idea and making it one of the largest high school trap clubs in the Northwest.
“That is a direct result of the countless hours he has volunteered running practices, attending and hosting shoots and fundraising,” Huddleston said.
Simpson said other students in school periodically ask him about the program.
“Shooting, in general, is fun,” he said.