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Clay shooters take aim at state title

Lance Hurd of Le Mars, Iowa, waits for a target Aug. 4 during the Wisconsin Sporting Clay Association’s state tournament at J&H Game Farm near Clintonville. Hurd competed with Jon Giese of Muskego. Greg Seubert Photo

Meet held in Clintonville

By Greg Seubert

Evan Guttormson and Ben Klein don’t know each other, but they have at least one thing in common.

They joined more than 350 other competitors at the Wisconsin Sporting Clay Association’s annual state meet, held Aug. 2-6 at J&H Game Farm near Clintonville.

Guttormson lives in Grafton and is a senior at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, where he competes on the school’s trap shooting team.

“I’m trying to train for the school year,” he said. “I love sporting clays. It’s my favorite of all the shooting disciplines. I started my freshman year at Marquette University High School (in Milwaukee) and didn’t know shotgun sports existed until then. Halfway through my freshman or sophomore year, I finally got to go out and try sporting clays for a practice and a meet. I excelled at that more than I did at trap.”

Sporting clay shooting is different than trap or skeet shooting, in which clay birds are thrown from standardized distances. In sporting clay shooting, targets of different sizes are thrown from any angle or distance.

“It’s very similar to golf,” Klein said. “It’s a lifelong sport and everyone that competes gets a relatively even playing field. You’re actually going from station to station like you go from hole to hole on a golf course.”

“It’s different because it’s reactive,” Guttormson said. “There is no one right way to do it. You can shoot your own way, whatever works for you. The way I shoot might not work for somebody else. It changes every time, so it’s a lot more exciting. No two courses are the same. I’m here doing the main event, but I’m also doing the FITASC event. FITASC is an international version of sporting clays and it’s a little different.”

Guttormson returned to J&H for the first time since competing in an event with Marquette’s trap shooting team. Klein got his start in the sport at J&H while growing up in Oshkosh.

“A friend I went to school with got me into it,” Klein said. “He was quite the shooter at the time and I like hunting and fishing and all that stuff. I got into it that way. They have a youth program here at J&H and that’s where I started. I was in seventh or eighth grade and would come up from Oshkosh.”

J&H has hosted the state meet six times since 1993.

Klein now lives in New Berlin and also competed at last year’s state meet at the Waukesha Gun Club.

“The first day was pretty rusty for me, but I figured it out a little the second day,” he said. “Nothing amazing, but it was better. I’m getting back into it and I’m enjoying the process. I was out of it for a few years with school and work. I finally have a little more free time, so it’s an opportunity to get back into it.”

Although Klein stepped away from the sport for a few years, Guttormson hasn’t stopped since joining Marquette’s trap shooting team.

“It’s changed the course of my life 100%,” Guttormson said. “I went to college for it and changed my degree to business because of the sport. I’ve gotten more into competition shotguns. Hopefully, after college I can find a sales position somehow related to shotguns or even competition shooting.”

“It’s something that allows you to continually get better,” Klein said. “You’re not only competing against others, you’re competing against yourself. It’s a relatively simple sport, but it’s also wildly maddening.

“There’s a lot of a mental game to it,” he added. “You have to pay attention (to the targets) on how they’re set up and things like that. It’s one of those things where you start out and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m kind of good at this.’ When you do that, you start realizing that you can be better. It’s not as simple as just seeing a bird and shooting it. It’s making sure you’re sticking to your routine and making sure that you’re being consistent. The nice thing is sometimes you get paired with groups and folks you don’t know and you get to create potentially lifelong friendships.”

Shooters are divided into classes. The top competitors are in the Master class, followed by AA, A, B, C D and E.

“This is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation,” Guttormson said. “The competition has increased in size and in skill. The size of high school teams from when I was in high school has more than doubled. It’s interesting to see how much it’s growing despite the sport itself, which is starting to get quite expensive. I’m definitely starting to see a lot of young shooters who have $20,000 shotguns. If their parents are getting into it and are shooters themselves, I’m seeing a lot more dedicated families: fathers and sons, fathers and daughters. I’ve seen a couple of different squads where the whole family is shooting.”

Klein and Guttormson plan to stick with the sport for years.

“The only thing that matters is your skill, being safe and having fun,” Guttormson said. “I’ve made a lot of new friends just in the past few weeks coming to these meets. I can walk around and say, ‘Hey, I know this guy.’ It’s a completely different world and you make new friends at every competition. It’s a very tight-knit community.”

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