A February 2015 meeting between representatives from the Gopher Rifle and Revolver Club, North Branch Community Education, students and parents led to the formation of North Branch’s first trap shooting team.
Twenty-four shooters joined that first Viking squad, which ended up placing last in their conference. In 2016, the team grew to include 31 athletes, and finished fourth of six.
This spring, 32 shooters turned out, and the Vikings won their first conference title.
“As the kids are getting more shooting in and more experience, the team has grown,” head coach Kevin Grote said. “This year was a highlight for us.”
In trap shooting, clay targets are launched from a “house” into the air away from the shooter, who takes aim with a shotgun. One round of shooting consists of 25 targets. Boys and girls compete on equal terms.
“This is a great sport because it doesn’t matter if you’re five-foot-two or six-foot-four, you stand at the same line,” Grote said. “If you’re a boy or a girl, you stand at the same line.”
In Minnesota, trap shooting teams compete in a spring and a fall seasons. The spring run is associated with the Minnesota State High School League and culminates in a state tournament. The MSHSL is the first state athletics body to organize a championship event in trap shooting.
Much of the spring season is spent in weekly competitions against conference opponents. For trap shooting, normal conference affiliations are ignored and schools are instead grouped against teams with similar roster sizes, with no regard for geography. In 2017, North Branch was assigned to Class 3A, Conference 4, with Norman County, Cloquet, Lewiston-Altura, Kenyon-Wanamingo and Rochester Century.
This arrangement is possible because teams shoot on their home ranges and submit their scores for comparison. The Vikings’ home venue is the Gopher Rifle and Revolver Club range in Harris; the GRCC provides the range safety officers during competition and offers the use of its range without charging a rental fee.
“The gun club has done a great job of helping us keep the costs down,” Grote said.
Further support for the team has come through donations from groups like the North Branch Relief Association, Pheasants Forever, the Long Spurs of Sunrise River and the Lake Superior Chapter of Safari Club International.
The conference season takes place over five weeks. In 2017, the Vikings put up the best score in four of the five weeks, including the best single-week score (2,636). Their seasonlong total of 12,469.5 points put them more than 400 ahead of runners-up Norman County.
After finishing their conference bouts, the 350 trap teams in Minnesota are invited to Alexandria to compete head-to-head in the Clay Target League championship, billed as “the world’s largest sport shooting event.”
The championship takes place over nine days, with more than 600 shooters in action each day – a testament to the popularity of the sport. North Branch was assigned to the Class 3A competition June 14 and placed 15th of 36 in the varsity standings.
Senior Nathan Schoeberl led the way, finishing 14th after hitting 95 of 100 targets. Sam Peterson hit 93 (41st) and Russell Malterud hit 90 (72nd).
The Alexandria tournament serves as a team qualifier for the MSHSL state championship shoot. Shooters with the highest season averages are also invited to the championship. Schoeberl earned a spot at state that way, on the strength of his team-leading average of 23.7 targets hit per 25 attempts, which placed him within the top 75 in the state out of more than 11,000 total participants.
“(Schoeberl) was with us from the beginning; he just kept getting better and better,” Grote said.
Viking shooters with averages of 20.0 or better earned letters, including Schoeberl, Maltenrud (22.6), Christian Guerin (21.6), Sam Peterson (21.3), Brady Moeller (20.6) Jack Hatton (20.5), Austin Doll (20.3), Brandon O’Donnell (20.2), Adam Pierce (20.1), Braeden Wiss (20.1) and Lucas Nadeau (20.0).
Coming close to letters were Clint Eastman (19.4), Jacob Pierce (19.3), Ben Huberty (19.3) and Alex Carlson (19.2).
Kate Barnes achieved the best average among the Viking girls (18.6). Grace Mohs and Emma Mohs finished within the top-25 in Conference 4.
Throughout the season, five Vikings combined for 13 perfect 25-point rounds: Schoeberl (six), Maltenrud (four), and Peterson, Jake Kozel and Tyler Lorey (one each).
Schoeberl earned the Top Gun Award for his many impressive accomplishments. Carlson was named the Most Improved shooter. Logan Hunter and Grace Mohs earned Sportsmanship Awards.
As the Vikings prepare for their fall season, Grote looks forward to growing the team and expanding opportunities. Although space and safety considerations currently limit the Viking squad to high school students, Grote hopes it will be possible to start a middle school squad in the near future. He would also like to see his team compete in weekend tournaments this year.
“(Tournaments) would give us opportunities to be on the line with other shooters from other schools,” Grote said. “Getting to know shooters at other schools, this is a sport you can do forever, so friendships you make now can be with people you’ll be shooting with 20 years from now.