HERMISTON — Haylee Hamilton has only been shooting trap for two years, but she is a quick learner.
The incoming senior at Hermiston High School is ranked second among the Bulldogs on the squad, and is part of the contingent headed to the USA High School Clay Target League National Championship this weekend in Mason, Michigan.
“I’m very excited to be going,” Hamilton said. “It’s crazy to me to be out there and shooting with the high shots on the team, and getting to go to nationals. I’m excited to see what I can do. I’m not just another pretty face.”
Hamilton will be joined at nationals by teammates Thomas Mabbott, Kaden Smith, Mitchell Pimentel, Tyson Stocker and Trevor Wilson.
All six will compete in the individual portion of the event Saturday. All but Wilson will compete in the team event Friday.
Hermiston had 22 shooters qualify for nationals with their average, but coach Slade Smith said they aren’t quite ready for the competition they will face.
“Last year, the cutoff to make finals was 95 or 96,” Smith said. “They aren’t in a position yet to give themselves a legitimate chance to make the finals.”
Last year’s finals saw a handful of shooters hit all 100 targets in the prelims, and all 100 in the finals, forcing a shoot-off.
The Bulldogs took a team to nationals last year, placing seventh. They were ranked No. 1 going into the finals.
“They weren’t satisfied with that,” Smith said. “It takes a couple of special days to win it. These kids shoot a lot more trap than a lot of kids, and that’s important. I think they are very prepared.”
How it works
The shooters in the individual portion of the tournament had to qualify with their average attained during the six shoots during the regular season. They had to participate in every shoot.
There is no distinction between boys and girls, or wheelchair athletes. Everyone shoots from 16 yards.
“Wheelchair athletes compete with the able-bodied kids,” Smith said. “Everyone is the same. There is a lot of diversity. This is a sport kids can come out for who aren’t cut out for other sports.”
There will be approximately 180 teams and 2,000 individual shooters from around the nation at the event. The top 80 teams and top 1,800 individuals will advance to the finals.
Each shooter brings their own gun (the Hermiston athletes all shoot a Browning trap shotgun) to nationals. Teams let the tournament know what ammunition they would like, and it’s there when they arrive.
The guns are put on the plane with the other luggage. Each gun has to be in a locked gun case and receive a special sticker.
Hermiston will have a practice round Wednesday at MTA Homegrounds (tournament facility), and then will have team activities Thursday.
Hermiston will compete in the first flight of the team shoot at 8 a.m. Friday (50 shots per athlete), with the second flight at 11 a.m.
Individual prelims are Saturday, with finals for both Sunday. Prelim and finals scores are combined.
“One target makes a difference,” coach Smith said. “They shoot their average, they can be top 10 in the nation.”
Mabbott has the high average on the team at 24.25 out of 25. Hamilton follows at 24.12, with Smith, Stocker and Pimentel all at 24.
Mabbott, Kaden Smith and Stocker were on the team that competed last year, while Wilson joined them in the individual event.
“We’ve got a couple of kids who have been there and are comfortable,” coach Smith said.
Mabbott, a recent Hermiston graduate, admits he is more calm heading to nationals than he was last year.
“I was nervous last year,” he said. “After the first round, we were sitting first, then it all sank in. We finished seventh, which is something to be proud of, but we were disappointed at the same time.”
While there are different people on the team this year, Mabbott is confident.
“Our team is looking good,” he said. “It’s all about your mindset. You have to watch what you say to people and what you do the night before.”
And, just like any sport, there is trash talk.
“Some of us have gotten pretty good at it,” Mabbott said. “One of the worst things you can say to get in their head is, ‘The targets are flying funny.’”
Practice makes perfect
While Hamilton has only been shooting for two years, most of the guys on the team have been shooting for many more.
“Some people pick it up pretty quick,” Mabbott said. “I was not one of them. I’ve shot for a long time. I’ve been shooting since seventh grade, but didn’t get heavy into it until my freshman year. Tyson, Kaden and I have been shooting together for a long time. Kaden used to shoot better than all of us — it’s all in his head.”
Hamilton said her dad, Derek, taught her to shoot.
“My dad is a very good shot, and he’s taught me 90 percent of what I know,” she said. “The guys are extremely supportive. They are by my side to make sure I have everything I need. I never feel left out.”
There’s still that one burning question.
“I can beat my dad now, any day of the week,” Hamilton said.
It takes a village
The trap team is a club sport, but it still receives support from the school district, which is covering lodging at nationals.
The Hermiston Gun Club offers support, and the team has a grant from the Blue Mountain Chapter of Friends of the NRA, which supplies the ammo and targets for the team.
There also are private donors, and the team has gotten support from the high school booster club.
The parents still are having to foot part of the bill for the trip to nationals, but they are thankful for the support they have received.
“We are appreciative of everything people have done for us,” coach Smith said.