At a speed of 60 miles per hour, with an incline of 115 degrees, a 4-inch disc flies into the air. The window of time to react is slim.
Decisions need to be made quickly, usually in less than a second, and with a little luck and a lot of practice, the bullet hits the bullseye.
Luke Beckman, Lucas Christensen, Cooper Koeppen, Karter Kopecky, and Colt Reiling know what it’s like to work under pressure and make split-second decisions. They’ve been working to excel in that.
For the last three years they’ve been sharpening their aim under the guidance of instructor Darwin Eucker, with the exception of Kopecky, who’s been on the squad for two years.
All five 14-year-old boys are part of a junior trap shoot squad from Malcolm. In May, they headed to Doniphan to compete in the 50th Annual Cornusker Trapshoot contest. The squad placed third, moving up five places from its previous eighth place.
And with a nearly perfect score of 98/100, Beckman took the first place individual trophy for junior high competitors.
“It was surreal. I couldn’t believe I shot a 98,” Beckman said.
For Kopecky, the team’s higher score was also a reflection of analyzing and improving from the previous year.
“The stuff that I did wrong and how I missed the rocks was the stuff I studied and I learned why,” Kopecky said. “I used that this year.”
Reiling said he works on his memory.
“I try not forgetting to pull the trigger,” Reiling said.
He explained how he’d sometimes watch the disc fly and often pull the trigger at the last minute.
Along with the regular shooting competition, there was an additional raffle competition.
Shooters who had a 1 at the end of their score had a chance to win a gun.
Christensen shot a 91 and got a chance to compete, along with 40 other individuals, for the grand prize, but for every shot he made, he had to take a step back two yards, increasing his handicap.
“I got all the way to the last one (24 yards) and then I missed it and there was only one other person. He got the gun,” Christensen said.
But he didn’t walk away empty handed. He received a $200 certificate for chokes, which is a modification shooters install on their guns to change how the bullet exits the gun.
During a typical meet, each shooter gets 50 discs, but at the state competition the number of discs doubled. Each shooter’s score is combined to determine the squad’s score and winning individual shooter.
While target practice helps shooters improve their aim, the squad said it’s also about maintaining focus and not letting emotions get in the way.
“If you miss one, it gets in your head,” Koeppen said. “I try not to get mad because when you get mad you lose.”
Eucker got involved with the trap team when his son started participating, nearly 10 years ago, but said this will be his final year. During his time, he’s taught his students that shooting is as much a mental sport as it is physical, Eucker said.
“These guys did really well playing the mental game,” he said.
From a parent’s perspective, Evon Koeppen, Cooper’s mom, said: “It’s absolutely fabulous to watch them shooting and they’re such a good team. They root each other on and if somebody’s having a bad day they help them shake it off.”
Stacy Kopecky, Carter’s mom, said the trap team has brought the squad members’ families together and when it comes to gun safety, she doesn’t worry because they’ve all taken gun safety courses and take the sport seriously.
During a meet, the squad will spend time observing other shooters who go before them to gauge the wind.
When they weren’t competing, the squad practiced twice a week for 30 minutes.
As the squad prepares to enter high school in the fall, they’ll have one new challenge to face during competition, shooting from further away. While they’ll start at the typical 16 yards they’re used to for the first 50 rocks, their score for a certain portion of the competition will be used to determine how much further away they’ll have to stand for the remaining 50.
While competition has its highlights, for the squad, the most fun part is their post-meet tradition.
“Playing cards every single time, after every meet. We play up and down the river, spoons, BS and shotgun shells,” Christensen said.
“And we get breakfast burritos too,” Koeppen said.
Although Eucker plans to retire this year, he said watching his team improve has been one of the main reasons why he coached.
“I coach because I want the kids to shoot and shoot well,” he said. “When they start pulling medals, it gives them and the whole team bragging rights and that helps me know that at least I’ve done something right.”