NEW ULM, Minn. (AP) -- It wasn't that long ago, 10 years or so, when, about this time in summer, Dave Loberg would begin to think of hunting camps he would visit in fall. Alaska, Canada, out west, he traveled widely, sometimes for caribou, sometimes elk, sometimes for bears, both black and grizzly.
Then a funny thing happened.
A couple of Loberg's friends had been after him for a year or two to go shooting, to try sporting clays.
Perhaps he never could quite see the point, perhaps he couldn't find the time.
Either way, he put them off.
Until one day.
''I had never even shot trap or skeet before, never tried them once,'' Loberg, 47, of New Ulm said the other day. ''So sporting clays was something new.''
Sporting clays, a shooting game meant to simulate as closely as possible some of the shots hunters encounter in the field, has grown from infancy to adulthood virtually overnight.
Unlike trap and skeet, which fundamentally hold few surprises for shooters, one range to another, sporting clays courses tend to vary as much as golf courses.
Most are at least difficult.
Some are nearly impossible.
Loberg, who owns an automotive body shop in New Ulm, was immediately drawn to the challenge.
''I shot once, maybe twice with my friends,'' he recalled. ''I was hooked.
''Then I brought Dusty with me.''
Dusty was Loberg's then 13-year-old son.
A veteran of a few big-game forays, Dusty was only vaguely familiar with bird hunting -- and therefore only vaguely familiar with shotguns.
Yet he, too, was quickly attracted to sporting clays, so much so that, with his dad, he soon found himself shooting at courses near and far.
No slouch with a shotgun, the elder Loberg quickly shot on a par with some of his friends, and in the years since he has won numerous state and regional honors.
But it was Dusty who from the outset showed himself to be truly gifted.
Soon he was breaking more clays not only than anyone his age but more clays than anyone of any age.
Case in point:
When Dusty was 14, he won the Minnesota state shoot overall, meaning he was the best at the tournament, bar none.
Then, in 1995 -- and again in 1996 -- he was the Junior (ages 14 to 18) gold medalist at the national sporting clays championship. Additionally in '96, he won the gold medal in the juniors and was silver medalist overall at the world championships in England.
That year he was also named National Sporting Clays Association Shooter of the Year.
Ask the younger Loberg how he manages to shoot so well, particularly under the kind of pressure he and about 1,300 other shooters will face at the U.S. Open Sporting Clays Championship this week in Prior Lake, and he will say that loving to compete is part of it.
That and practice.
''I wasn't that competitive in sports in school,'' he said. ''But it's a thrill to win, and when you win, you want to win more. So you try to win everything.
''In shooting, I'm very competitive.''
This week, as he does in every tournament, Dusty will shoulder an over-and-under 12 gauge Krieghoff with 32-inch barrels.
The long barrels (he hunts ducks and pheasants with 28-inch barrels) reduce the distance he needs to swing the gun when trying to break clays.
Dusty has yet to break 200 clays in a tournament. But he has cracked 199.
Participants in the U.S. Open this week will see 200 targets. Some might break 100 in a row or more before succumbing to the pressure, losing concentration -- and missing a bird.
At Dusty's level, and his father's, too, shooting is as much a head game as a physical one.
''The pressure doesn't bother me too much anymore,'' said Dusty, who now works with his dad in his body shop. ''At first it did. But the more you worry about stuff, the more pressure you put on yourself. At a certain level, you're skilled at putting it aside and you don't notice it anymore.''
In their first years of competitive shooting, Dusty and his dad traveled coast to coast. Usually flying, the two would arrive at an airport, pick up their bags and guns, rent a car and drive to the nearest sporting clays course.
If they shot better than anyone else, they might cover their expenses, perhaps even put a few bucks in their pockets.
Given a chance, some shooters prefer to walk a sporting clays course before a tournament to see how, from perhaps 10 to 15 stands, the clays will be thrown.
Some clays will climb nearly straight up into the sky. Others will be ''report pairs,'' in which the trapper throws a second clay immediately upon hearing the shooter's first shot.
Also there might be ''following pairs,'' in which two singles are thrown as closely upon one another as possible.
Making the tournament more challenging still, clays will vary in size and shape.
''It's never helped me to walk a course before I shoot it, so I don't do it,'' Dusty said. ''When my turn comes, I just shoot.''
Favoring a choke that is more full than modified, Dusty isn't so much worried that his pattern won't be big enough to cover a target. Rather, he is concerned that if his pattern is too wide, it won't hold together tightly enough, or long enough, to break distant clays.
Whatever Dusty's concerns might be, his father has one fewer than he did 10 years ago: No longer does the elder Loberg worry about where in fall he might travel to hunt bear or elk or deer.
He gave that up when he and Dusty began traveling together to shoot sporting clays.
''I still hunt birds a lot,'' Dave Loberg said. ''But you can't do everything. And sporting clays is kind of addicting. When you shoot a little better than you did before, you try to get better still. You try for perfection. But that doesn't happen very often.
''I have broken 98 and 99 out of 100 on various occasions. But I do it not so much to do better than another guy. Instead it's a personal thing between me and the target.
''And when I miss I don't get mad because that's the game. It's designed that way.''
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.