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by Tom Hanlon
For the Los Alamos Young Guns shooting team, the “bang” followed by the explosion of a clay target at a trap shooting match is exciting.
At the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club, teens participate in shooting trap, skeet and Olympic trap.
Trap involves one clay target being launched into the air away from the shooter at 40 to 50 mph.
The clay target is an inverted saucer shape, 4.25 inches in diameter, made of a mixture of pitch and pulverized limestone.
In skeet shooting, targets are launched from the right or left, either one at a time, or at the same time at 50 to 60 mph.
Olympic trap is a more difficult version of trap, in which the targets are launched in multiple directions at varying speeds of 70 to 80 mph.
The Young Guns shooting team was started in 2010 at a time when there were no shotgun instructors in the state of New Mexico.
Coach Mike O’Neill took a course put on by the National Rifle Association to become a certified shotgun instructor and then helped start the team.
“It was started because we weren’t seeing any young people out shooting,” O’Neill said. Almost anyone under the age of 18 can participate.
O’Neill explained that anyone who is mature and responsible enough to handle a firearm can join. Athletes are required to take the National Rifle Association basic shotgun course before they start shooting with the team.
The course teaches the participant how to safely handle and clean the firearm. O’Neill also said that the kids need to have the upper body strength to handle a shotgun. Los Alamos High School Freshman Kes Luchini has been with Young Guns for three years.
“My dad really wanted me to join and at the beginning I really didn’t like it. But then I got into it after I started getting good scores,” Luchini said.
JoAnna O’Neill has been with the team since the beginning. She describes the sport as extremely satisfying.
“First of all, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a great stress reliever.” She said it is very challenging to hit a fast-moving target.
“This sport is a lot more mental than physical. You have to stay focused and if you do something wrong, you can’t let it get to you because every shot is different,” JoAnna said.
She also likes the fact that there’s competition, giving the team members a chance to take all the things they’ve learned from the coaches plus the hours of practice, and apply them for a chance to win at tournaments.
For the third year in a row, LAYG will host the state shooting competition, which gives an opportunity to compete against other teams from across New Mexico.
The team also hosted the Junior Olympic Qualifier for the first time this year.
Many of the athletes said that shooting the gun is fun and thrilling. They also like to feel the recoil of the gun when discharged.
“The kick is really intense and it feels cool. It also helps relieve stress,” eighth grader Mackenzie Alexander said.
When asked what the athletes like about being on the team, they all agreed that it was friendship.
LAHS freshman Sam Stringfield joined because his friend, fellow freshman Josh Smith, asked him to. hey said that shooting with friends is one of their favorite parts of being with Young Guns.
Coach Rex Crook also helped establish Young Guns because he said he likes working with kids in sports. He explained that going out to shoot teaches kids self-control, concentration and lot of skills people use in everyday life. He also talked about the rights given to us by the United States Constitution.
“In the gun sports, it’s important for people to understand that they have rights afforded to them by the Constitution and this is a freedom that no one can take away,” Crook said. “And I think it’s important that young people understand and learn about it.”
The Young Guns team season runs from March through October. The shotguns are provided, but members provide their own ammunition and pay a small annual fee. JoAnna said that a lot of people haven’t tried the sport, but she feels that as soon as they try it, they would love it.
“It’s not just the active process of pulling the trigger and watching the clay explode, but more of the whole picture, the learning, the improving, being able to compete … all of it is just worthwhile,” she said.