ALEXANDRIA, MINN. -- When Ron and Tammy Nelson finally heard their only child say, "Get me a gun," they couldn't have been happier.
This was a couple of years back, when their daughter, KayCee, was about 14.
For most of her young life, KayCee had been a figure skater, winning two state championships and competing in the junior nationals.
But after nearly 10 years of year-round pirouettes, she was worn out. "She said, 'I'm just tired of it,'" her mother recalled.
At the time, KayCee had recently completed a firearms safety class, held at Metro Gun Club in Blaine, and with her Department of Natural Resources hunting certification came a trial membership to the club.
Soon, attempting to break clays on Metro's trap range, KayCee found she liked shooting more than skating.
Which was OK with her parents. "The skating thing was costing us about $1,500 month," Ron said.
In retrospect, the shift from skater to shooter was natural, because KayCee has always enjoyed being outdoors with her dad. When she was just 3, she started accompanying him to the duck marsh or the pheasant field.
"I like everything about hunting, particularly bird hunting," she said, "whether it's for pheasants, ducks, grouse or turkeys."
Now she likes everything about trapshooting, too.
"I just love to pull the trigger," she said.
Doing just that was particularly enjoyable for her Thursday morning at the State Shoot, sponsored by the Minnesota Trapshooting Association (MTA).
About 750 shooters are competing in the weeklong tournament, which concludes Sunday, and which, not incidentally, will pump some $500,000 into the state's economy.
Already crowned the reigning Minnesota state high school trapshooting champion --a title for which boys as well as girls compete -- KayCee on Thursday broke a perfect 100x100 clays, a mark that can elude even some of the nation's best shooters for years -- if not forever.
"When I got to 85 straight, I was shaking," she said.
Once before, this spring, to win the high school title, KayCee busted 99x100. But Thursday was the first time she ever ran 100 in a row.
"My parents have been real supportive in my shooting," she said. "Dad was the one who brought me to the gun club first to see if I could hit anything. Since then, he's taken me around the state to compete, and he reloads my shells, which is important, because this week [in Alexandria], I'll shoot about 1,500 rounds.
"Everyone says I'm the son my dad never had."
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As KayCee spoke, not far away stood Mark Zauhar, a key player in the attempt by thousands of Minnesotans -- some more actively engaged than others -- to ensure that hunting and particularly the shooting sports continue to thrive in the state.
Hailing from a hotbed of national and international trap, skeet and sporting-clays dead-eyes, Minnesota gunners have for generations outshot most other competitors from most other states, most of the time.
Bob Monson, for example, of Howard Lake, last year won the handicap at the Grand American trapshoot in Ohio -- a title to which countless thousands of wingshooters have aspired but rarely achieved.
Zauhar is himself an All-American trapshooter and has a daughter whose aim is to shoot on the U.S. Olympic trapshooting team.
But Zauher's broader charge as the MTA's long-running president is to get kids interested in shooting, an effort that -- with the help of many others -- is bearing fruit.
"This year at the high school meet, we had 243 shooters, and last year there were 141," Zauhar said. "It's catching on."
Some schools have been reluctant to allow students and their parents to organize shooting teams because -- noting the obvious -- guns are involved. Yet most administrations and school boards are won over once the facts are laid out.
"Kids who shoot learn responsibility," Zauhar said. "They also learn how to compete. And they're with adults when they shoot. I've shot all over the country, and the one thing you see about kids who shoot is that they're good kids. They're better in the end for participating."
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KayCee is one of a small number of students at White Bear Lake High School who shoots competitively.
"It doesn't bother me, I've always been a little different," she said. "I've never been a preppy type of girl."
Within a year or so of beginning her new sport, KayCee started to regularly break 20 or more clays in a round of 25. A while longer, and she busted 25x25 consistently.
Not bad for someone who has never attended a shooting clinic, or even been coached by anyone, except her dad.
"He taught me how to hold a gun," she said. "But a lot of this you have to work out for yourself. I watch other people and learn from that. And other shooters offer their help."
KayCee said she can now outshoot her dad in a duck blind or a pheasant field, a declaration Ron Nelson seemed not quite ready to agree with, yet.
Regardless, the two hunt together far and wide. "I've got one turkey -- a Merriam's -- to go to get my grand slam," she said. "And we've hunted pheasants here and in Montana, and I shot an antelope in Wyoming."
By now, mid-afternoon Thursday had come and gone in Alexandria, and KayCee realized she had yet another round of clays to shoot.
"I gotta run," she said, and within minutes was shouldering her Beretta 682, and calling for a bird.
As she said: She loves to pull the trigger.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in getting your son or daughter into competitive shooting? Contact Jim at the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, 763-559-4940. Or go online at mnclaytarget.com.