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Aim sky-high

Hunter Finnili takes aim at the orange target during the after-school trap shoot at the Big Lake Gun Range earlier this week. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 3
Devin Drake, Colby Beaulieu, Sam Godbout, Noah Unkelhaeuser, Mitchel Moehrke, Morgan Langhorst, Mollie Horton and Brandon Nelson pose for a quick photograph after finishing practice. Not pictured: Devon Jones, Dylan Wallace and Dawson Sample. The Barnum students take part in trapshooting at the Big Lake Gun Club as a school-sanctioned sport. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 3
Esko trapshooting team members, from left, Cullen Tranah, sixth-grader Gwendolyn Lilly, Gavin Sordelet, Trevor Lahti and Jaden Haavisto, take turns shooting at a flying target while the others watch during a recent trapshooting practice. There are 23 students on the Esko team. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 3

Young voices yelling "Pull!" can be heard from a distance, followed by the sound of a rifle shot skyward.

Two afternoons a week, local students meet at the Big Lake Gun Club to practice trapshooting, which is a school-sanctioned sport. The club is located behind the Big Lake Golf Course on a little dirt road.

Students from several schools stood in arcing rows as they held their guns during a sunny afternoon in rural Cloquet.

Trapshooting involves shooting at a fast-moving orange clay target — also called a pigeon — that measures 4 inches across and 1 inch tall, that has been launched into the air by a machine in random directions in front of the students.

All students are required to have completed gun safety class before signing up for trapshooting.

Trapshooting begins the first week of April and lasts nine weeks. Students sign up with the athletic director in their school.

Cloquet Junior, Sierah Watkins enjoys the sport, much to the surprise of her friends.

"They say you don't seem like the type of person to shoot trap," Watkins said with a laugh. Like the majority of students, Watkins also enjoys hunting. She accompanies her boyfriend's family deer and pheasant hunting.

Watkins encourages girls to give the sport a shot.

"It's different," Watkins said. "It's not just a man's sport."

Watkins average score for the season is 15-18 out of 25.

Esko coach Curt Tranah is excited about the progress the sport has made in the four years he has been coaching.

At the urging of his son, Tranah talked to Esko Athletic Director Chad Stoskopf about bringing the sport to the school.

The first year, four students signed up. This year, 23 students, including a ninth-grade girl and a sixth-grade girl, signed up for trapshooting.

"The students learn sportsmanship and confidence," Tranah said. "It's also an adaptive sport. Kids in wheelchairs can also compete."

Barnum and Cloquet joined three years ago. Both have also experienced growth over the last few years.

All of the coaches are also lifelong hunters.

Barnum coach Mike Casey has been practicing at the gun range since 1992. He does not have kids on the team, but enjoys teaching just the same.

Several students on the teams also join an adult league and can hold their own against their elders.

"The adults wish they could shoot like the students do," Casey said with a chuckle.

He is also impressed by the positive reinforcement and encouragement students give each other.

Gun club volunteer Sue Souminen agrees.

"It has really been a positive thing for the kids, both boys and girls," Souminen said. "I never saw that coming (when the classes first started)."

Cameron Linder is a trap coach and a technology teacher at Cloquet. His adventure into trap came about after his students asked him to become a coach.

He notes that a wide variety of students are attracted to the sport. There are multi-sport athletes as well as students who only participate in trap.

"It's a great program and well-organized," Linder said. "Anyone can participate."

He explained in other sports students travel to different locations to compete in person but not in trap. Instead they have virtual competitions. Students go online to see how their scores compare to other students and how they rank.

Linder advises students who may be interested to visit the club on their own time and try a few shoots.

According to Tranah, the biggest challenge is the learning process. New students are put together in a group until they learn the basics. There he teaches them the fundamentals, such as following through and keeping their cheek down.

Tranah is impressed with how supportive the gun club has been, especially this year with the never ending winter.

"We are very thankful to the gun club," Tranah said. "They snowblowed paths for us after the late snowstorm. They are also a great help with the students."

If the coaches need an idea to help a student, gun club members are willing to help.

The two most important things Tranah wants students to remember is "safety first" and to "have fun."

Barnum student Sam Godbout has been a member for several years.

"It is a fun recreation sport," Godbout said.

"It's nice to practice shooting in the summer," fellow student Mitchel Moehrke added.

Noah Unkelhaeuser professed that while he is an avid duck hunter, he is better at shooting clay pigeons. The boys laughed and nodded in agreement.

Junior Morgan Langhorst just joined the team this year.

"It's so different and kind of fun," Langhorst said. She added that she has improved since the beginning of the season. Fellow student Mollie Horton nodded in agreement as the students all laughed.

All three of the schools participate in the state conference against hundreds of other students. The top three students of novice, junior varsity and varsity go on to the championship. None of the local teams have made it yet.

Trapshooting can help students improve their hunting skills and their hand eye coordination.

"It's a lifelong sport," Casey said. "The students can take it as far as they want to, depending on their abilities."