Trapshooting: sport, hunting practice and competition between friends

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- Mitch Larsson has not hunted since 1982. But he still carries a gun.

''When I'm not shooting in ATA shoots, I'm shooting here,'' Larsson said from the Ogden Gun Club.

Trapshooting isn't just a tune up, it's everything for some.

Larsson attends several ATA -- Amateur Trapshooters Association -- shoots a year, many out of state, he won the 1998 state handicap championship -- where the distance is determined by each shooter's handicap. The schedule leaves most Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings free for a very loud, but quite relaxing visit with the club's clay birds.

Shooters line up behind the trap house five at a time. Each shooter gets five shots at each station, a total of 25. The ritual is almost hypnotic.

''hoh.''

''PWAaahh.''

''HAH!''

''puh.''

''puuulll.''

No matter how you say it, the request for a bird is followed by the soft swishing of the clay pigeon from the house and the loud CRACK! of the gun. More often than not, especially with these regulars, the pigeon shatters before it hits the ground.

Some of Larsson's earliest memories are of watching his father shoot in contests around Utah.

In 1959, Larsson took up the sport, shooting at the Ogden Gun Club when it was on 31st Street. A few years later, 1964, the facility was moved to its current location west of Willard.

''A lot of clay birds have been shot outside of here,'' Larsson said.

Larsson, 57, stopped hunting after the 1983 flood decimated the duck population. By the time the ducks came back, he'd lost interest in long hikes and cold, wet days.

''The older I got, the more content I got with hunting, and I started trapshooting instead,'' Larsson said.

Hunters generally show up a few weeks before the duck season to tune up their senses and their weapons before heading out into the field. Most of the regulars are hunters as well. But even they say trapshooting can stand on its own.

Roy Ziegenhirt, a volunteer director at the club, says the sport has taught him more about his shotgun than all his hunts.

''It teaches you to pick up your target faster, get on the aim quicker,'' he said. ''It really helps you understand the performance of a shotgun and what it's capable of.''

And after you've learned all that, you can get down to some serious fun.

''We stay out here 'til midnight like a bunch of idiots,'' Linda Gibson said. ''It's better when the sun goes down.''

That's when it gets crazy. Big Crazy to be exact. That's the name of the ''fun shoot'' where four shooters line up on a bench 40 yards from the target and attempt to oust the others for the contents of the pot.

The antes take on several variations. The one-at-a-time shots, even the double traps, seem boring in hindsight as a group of 10 lines up from 34 yards back for the ante.

Contestants in this game can be eliminated if a target they miss is picked off by someone else. For instance, if three miss, and the fourth hits the target on its descending arc, the first three sit down.

Each one has contributed $3 to the pot. The winner, after the cost of the targets is removed, takes home the rest. Is it about the money?

''Nope. The important thing is who wins. Just like any sport. And this is a sport. It's a competition, and it can be intense,'' Rob Cowperthwaite said.

For the record, that all-important winner turned out to be not Rob Cowperthwaite but Cameron Cowperthwaite, Rob's 14-year-old son.

The evening invariably concludes with one final contest, shots from the front porch. Everyone who enters gets five shots from the porch, about 50 yards back, and the winner takes the pot. Rob admits that's tough.

''I can't hit 'em. Cameron can pop 'em off, but I can't do it,'' Rob Cowperthwaite said.

All it takes is a lot of practice and a lot of talent, and you, too, can compete with the big boys.

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On the Net:

Utah Trapshooting: http://www.Utahtrap.com



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