Sounds of gunfire and the smell of powder filled the air in rural Jackson County on Saturday.
Approximately 450 students worked their way through the course designed for them at the 2017 Wisconsin SCTP State Sporting Clays Championship, knocking down targets in the air, on the ground, and even off a trampoline.
It's the latest sign of growth for clay target shooting in Wisconsin, a sport that is teaching young sportsmen the rules of gun safety and providing the competition of varsity athletics.
"It just amazes me to see all these youth out here shooting safely, firearm safety, and breaking targets," Black River Falls head coach Scott Goetzka said. "There's nothing more exciting than to finally break that first target and then break a lot of them in a row."
The Tigers shooting team started six years ago with less than 10 athletes. This year, that number has climbed to 43, Goetzka said, and students are able to participate in trap, skeet, and sporting clays. On Saturday, they shot 100 targets at 16 stations throughout the Woods & Meadow Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays outside Warrens.
Next week, the Tigers will join a group of nearly 1,600 students at the state trap shoot meet in Rome, Wisconsin. There's even talk of expanding the postseason to include sectional tournaments in order to control the number of participants in the championships.
"We're having our own conferences now, invitationals around the state. It's growing by leaps and bounds," Goetzka said.
Teams compete as part of the Scholastic Clay Target Program, the largest organized youth program in the country. The Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation serves as a gateway to USA Shooting and the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team.
"There's close to 6,000 kids in the state shooting, involved in some kind of program with the schools, whether it be lettering or club sports," Goetzka said. "It's the fastest-growing sport in the state right now."
The SCTP state championship will continue Sunday at Woods & Meadow.
Bryant leads Central/Logan to 18th at state meet
The La Crosse Central/Logan trap shoot team finished 18th at the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League state tournament on June 10.
Gabe Bryant finished second individually in the male varsity division with a score of 97. Hunter Strenke of Clayton High School won the title with a 99.