Kyler Blackham raised a shotgun through a large open window at a shooting range outside of Blackfoot.
“Pull!” the eighth-grader yelled, signaling the release of a clay pigeon that hurled through the air over a field outside. Blackham locked in on the orange disc and — pop — shattered it into a burst of shards that fell to the ground with countless others.
Blasting clay pigeons has become a favorite pastime for Blackham and over a dozen other members of Snake River High School’s trap shooting team.
Each week, the group and its coaches drive out a long dirt road to Cedar Hills Gun Club, where they fire away at a shooting range wedged between farmland and a sea of lava rock. Students take turns shooting through one of five large open windows at the range’s indoor shooting facility. The clay pigeons spring up from one of eight electronic throwers rigged up in different parts of the field.
Whoever hits the most of a limited number of pigeons wins.
Blasting airborne discs gives the kids a chance to compete against each other and meet up over a shared interest, kind of like a school club. But the team is aiming for more.
Coach and Snake River High School government teacher James Carter hopes other area high schools will form teams — and set the stage for a trap shooting league in southeast Idaho.
“I’m only aware of one other group like ours in the state,” said Carter, referencing a team in Burley.
That’s where Carter picked up the idea to start a team at Snake River High. He floated a plan to the school board a few years ago, gained approval, and students started showing up.
Senior Jackson Muir has earned a place on the gun club’s wall of high scores. Being able to shoot regularly has honed his skill and love for the sport, but there’s also something refreshing about blowing moving targets into oblivion after a long day in class.
“It’s just good to do something different afterwards,” he said.
Blackham agreed. He received special permission to join up as a middle schooler, as long as his dad, a longtime shooter, comes along.
“It also gives you some of the experience of hunting,” said Blackham.
Carter’s enjoyed watching students develop their skills and practice gun safety, pointing to extra help he receives from the school’s resource officer and fellow coach, Drew Lusk. Carter also touted support from Snake River superintendent Mark Kress, high school principal Ray Carter and fellow coach Larry Seymour.
But running a team has its challenges. The price tag for shotguns, ammo, eye and ear protection add up fast, so anyone thinking about starting a team will have to consider ways to cover the cost.
For Snake River, that’s meant applying for grants from the National Rifle Association, which bankrolled for the team 12 shotguns, 90 cases of shotgun shells, $2,000 for cases of clay pigeons and a large safe, which the group keeps stocked and locked up at the gun club.
Similar grants have helped shooting teams pop up across the country, Time reported in 2019.
Then there can be the political hurdles. Carter acknowledged that local sentiment about guns can shape the likelihood of teams starting up in different communities.
Snake River’s been “pretty fortunate” to make it happen there, but Carter would love to see more schools pursue it.