On a recent pleasant late summer day where temperatures hovered in the low 80s and a gentle breeze drifted across the plains, multiple gunshots rang out just outside Mitchell.
That sound was accompanied by friendly, competitive chatter, judging officials making announcements and competitors shouting “Pull!”
It was all part of the 2021 Fall State 4-H Shoot at the Mitchell Trap Club Saturday, where more than 200 youth from over 40 counties were expected to converge to take part in shotgun and muzzleloader events. Competition was divided into several categories, including trap, sporting clays and skeet.
The annual event was held at the Mitchell Trap Club, where over the course of Saturday and Sunday, competitors displayed their skills with their firearms, taking part in numerous different styles of shooting. Youth competing in the event and family, friends and supporters all mingled to watch and support each other as participants tracked clay pigeons across the horizon and dispatched them with a pull of the trigger.
Jerry Opbroek, manager of the Mitchell Trap Club and a shooting coach, said shooting trap and competing in events like this one is a great way for youth to expand their horizons, enjoy the outdoors, learn firearm safety and even qualify for national shooting teams.
“We’ve got some darn good trap shooters, and we have some that proverbially couldn’t hit the side of a barn,” Opbroek told the Mitchell Republic over the weekend. “It’s fun to work with them and all of a sudden, they hit a few. And then they hit a few more. And pretty soon they just can’t wait to get back and shoot some more.”
The event was held under the auspices of the 4-H Shooting Sports program, which develops safe shooting habits in youth ages 8 to 19, according to the program website. Students practice under the guidance of certified instructors and coaches who have received over 15 hours of training in the areas of safety, techniques, coaching and youth development.
Opbroek said this particular event brings in competitors of all skill levels, and the slightly overcast skies Saturday kept any particularly hot sun off the backs of those taking parts. Also favorably for competitors: the winds, which can be a factor in competition, were lighter than expected.
That’s good, as there was a lot of competition to get through, with many of the trap club shooting areas full in order to accommodate the number of people.
“It has been a great day so far. They predicted much higher winds, so we’re fortunate that didn’t happen,” Opbroek said. “Right now they’re shooting senior sporting clays on the east end and junior sporting clays on the west end. And, of course, skeet is in between. They are still going and will for quite a while.”
The appeal of competition certainly is strong, Opbroek said, but there are many facets to shooting sports that can be seen at an event like this. There is a social aspect to it, which could be seen among youth taking part as they chatted with each other between rounds. The event also allows for a chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors, something that will be cherished as the weeks creep closer to the bone-chilling South Dakota winter.
But one of the most underlined aspects of the program is an emphasis on safety. The importance of firearm safety is naturally built into the competition, said John Keimig, South Dakota State University Extension youth safety field specialist, and program instructors take it seriously.
“The biggest thing behind the youth sports is that we teach them safety. Safety is our priority,” Keimig said. “But we also give (competitors) an opportunity to compete. For the seniors, it’s an opportunity in muzzleloader and shotgun to compete to be on our national team, which represents us each year down in Grand Island, Nebraska.”
Opbroek agreed, noting that the positive characteristics of the Fall State 4-H Shoot -- like that emphasis on safety -- can be found in shooting sports in general. It’s something that he sees regularly at the Mitchell Trap Club, where people of all stripes come to enjoy squeezing off a few rounds in an environment specifically designed to accommodate them and to minimize disturbing close neighbors.
He noted one local hunting service brings pheasant hunters to the range before every hunt to make sure they are ready to enter the field safely.
“They bring about 18 hunters each time. They bring them out each time prior to their first hunt to let them shoot trap to make sure everyone is on the same page as far as safety goes. It lets them get their feet wet before they go out and try to shoot pheasant,” Opbroek said.
And there are other youth programs taking aim at the Mitchell Trap Club. Opbroek is one of the coaches of the high school and middle school trap shooting teams, which are part of the USA Clay Target League, a separate organization from those organizing the weekend event in Mitchell. Despite holding the status similar to that of a school club sport, the school trap shooting teams must adhere to the standard rules and regulations that apply to athletes in traditionally school-sponsored athletics.
The Mitchell program is in its fifth year, and has only seen interest grow, with participation more than tripling since the program’s inception.
“We had 52 students participate in the spring league, and 44 in the fall league. So it has really grown from the 16 kids our first year up to where we are now,” Opbroek said.
The growth is a testament to the appeal of shooting sports in general, he said. South Dakota and shooting sports is a natural combination, seeing as game hunting has been a part of state tradition since settlers first moved across the continent. Having a location like the Mitchell Trap Club, which can accommodate competitions as well as its many members, can only contribute to the positives that come from the shooting sports, he said.
“South Dakota is a state where hunting and shooting has been a tradition since time began. And a trap club is a place where you can go and shoot,” Opbroek said. “Years ago you could go out your backdoor and shoot wherever you wanted to. Those days are kind of gone. You have to be a little careful where you shoot. This offers the opportunity.”
Opbroek encouraged anyone interested in seeing what the Mitchell Trap Club has to offer to visit the club Facebook page for more information. Keimig also said that parents interested in having their children participate in competitive shooting sports should contact their local county 4-H office for more information.
“Reach out to your county office. Most counties have a shooting sports program. If you are a parent who is interested in becoming a leader or a coach, there are training opportunities generally from October through January,” Keimig said.
Results of the weekend competition will be available in the upcoming week at the 4-H Shooting Sports website, Keimig said.