U.S. High Schools Embrace Shooting as Hot New Sport

U.S. High Schools Embrace Shooting as Hot New Sport

High School Shootings

The giddy 13-year-old boys oohed and aahed as they stared down the black shotgun barrels and aimed at clay targets they imagined whizzing through the air.

“You guys are welcome to test any of these out,” said Dusty Minke, a sales agent for Browning, as the teens elbowed each other for spots at his kiosk. “We’ve actually had a couple of kids who did so good on the test range that they were like, ‘Can I use this for my rounds?’ We let ‘em, and their scores went up -- and they’ll hopefully go and buy one.”

It was day six of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League championship, the world’s biggest shooting-sport event. Minke could see potential customers in every direction, kids as young as 11 who’d tumbled out of their parents’ cars in camouflage T-shirts beginning at 7 a.m.

In 2009, the contest’s first year, it drew 30 shooters. In June there were 5,134, more than 20,000 spectators and sponsors including Benelli Armi SpA and SKB Shotguns. Trap shooting is the fastest-growing sport in Minnesota high schools, and was recently introduced in neighboring Wisconsin and North Dakota. While it may make anti-gun activists uneasy, it’s a boon for manufacturers and retailers that have stoked its growth.

“This is the best thing to happen to the shooting sports in 50 years,” said Dennis Knudson, a 74-year-old lifelong trap shooter, after watching his grandson compete. “It’s so fun to see the youngsters stepping up. It will preserve the sport, and they’ll do it for the rest of their lives.”

Therein lies the appeal for the industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates the average 16-year-old competitor will spend $75,000 over his or her lifetime.

U.S. gun sales have begun to level after a spike caused by fears that mass shootings, including the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, would lead to restrictions. High-school trap offers a wholesome marketing opportunity for gunmakers and retailers like Cabela’s Inc., which underwrite events and donate to teams. Manufacturers tailor products for smaller bodies and budgets, such as the lightweight $480 SXP Trap by Winchester Repeating Arms. The league estimates teams’ spending will top $5 million this year.

Competitive musketry dates to 16th century England and has been an Olympic sport since 1896. Today trap, a cousin of skeet and sporting clays, is as popular with Minnesota’s urban boys and girls as it is with their counterparts in rural areas, where hunting’s in the DNA. “It’s just cool, because I get to use a gun,” said Stephanie Petsilis, 17, who shoots for Wayzata High School outside Minneapolis with a $1,430 Browning BT-99 Micro.