When it started four years ago, the Stillwater High School clay target team had just 18 shooters. That jumped to 76 the next year, then 84 and this year it was just under 100, where coaches had to cut it off, said co-coach Eric Wahlstrom.
Stillwater won the Class 4A, Conference 3 championship this year.
Providing trapshooting at the high school level "allows kids that aren't … football players or baseball players to have a sport," said Wahlstrom, whose son and daughter are on the team. "It's an activity that you can do all your life. You can shoot all your life. It can be a lifelong hobby as well."
At the Clay Target League's statewide trapshooting championship last week in Alexandria, Cole Wahlstrom finished tied for fifth among varsity male shooters, with a score of 96. He tied for sixth among all shooters. His sister, Alexis Wahlstrom, scored 94, good enough for fourth place among female shooters.
Stillwater also left its mark in the junior varsity competition. Justin Thomas was second overall, and his score of 94 was one of the top five in Stillwater's overall team score. In the novice division, Calvin Doyle was the top scorer for male shooters with a score of 70.
Stillwater ranked sixth as a team with 471 points out of a possible 500, with the score made up of the top five scorers: Cole Wahlstrom, Alexis Wahlstrom, Thomas, Logan Patzner and McKinley Beane.
Though Stillwater did not qualify for the state meet held Saturday in Prior Lake, Cole Wahlstrom qualified individually. The top 100 shooters statewide go to state, based on their yearly average. He also competed at state last year, finishing with a 96 and tying for ninth.
The benefits of being on the Stillwater clay target team can extend away from the shooting range. Jacob Simcik likes that the time commitment isn't extensive, allowing for other spring sports or activities in their schedule.
Alexis Wahlstrom, a three-year team member, spent a year watching her brother shoot before she joined.
"I was always there anyway, may as well shoot," she said.
Previous hunting experience isn't the key factor for trapshooting success. It's more important to have good hand-eye coordination.
"If you don't, you're not going to break targets," Eric Wahlstrom said.
Another element that helps determine success has nothing to do with the physical act of pulling the trigger.
"Most of it's mental," said Simcik, whose father, Matt, is a co-coach. "It's not physical. It's just in your head. You have to actually think differently. That's probably one of the hardest parts."
Teammates agreed that the mental aspect is the toughest. For Cole Wahlstrom, it's hard to keep his mind off hitting all 25 targets in a round. Alexis Wahlstrom said she psyches herself out thinking about it. Hitting all 25 in a round is a tough feat, and the better a shooter gets, the more frustrating the sport can become as well, Matt Simcik said.
It may be tough but not impossible. Cole Wahlstrom has shot 50 consecutive targets three times in the past two years. He also shot 75 in row a couple of weeks ago in a noncompetition situation.
"What helps get higher scores is just getting out there and shooting a lot more targets," said Cole Wahlstrom, who has shot trap since he was about 7.
It's not about aim but rather about instincts of when to pull the trigger, according to the Stillwater shooters.
"I would say just try it," Jacob Simcik said. "It's not hard to catch on."