Jeff Journigan, head coach of Wallowa County Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association High School Trap team, is amazed at the caliber of students in the program.
Wallowa School Board approved the high school shooting club for 2017-18.
Starting with no shotguns, no supplies and no funding, the club has staffed, supplied, organized, and attracted 13 members. Ten of those will compete at the Oregon State Trap Shooting Association in Hillsboro June 16.
Wallowa County shooters Lane Tanzey, 14, and Ruben Hunt, 14, are already qualified to go on to the High School Clay Target League 2018 National Championship in Mason, Mich., in July, where they will compete against 2,000 other top shooters from across the U.S.
Tanzey and Hunt will have to up their game, as they are currently hitting their “birds” with 23 out of 25 shots. That’s impressive, but the current top state average is 24.90 out of 25.
“In Wallowa County, this is what the kids do,” Journigan said, explaining the extraordinary early talent of club members. “They hunt. We just provided them an opportunity.”
This is not to say that all members of the youth club are already experienced shooters.
“We have some kids who were not very athletic, and we finally found a niche for them where the kids are doing fantastic,” said club coach Scott West.
Providing the opportunity for experienced youth shooters and newcomers required a leap of faith, but provisions poured in, beginning with the Wallowa Rod and Gun Club allowing the club to “start a tab,” Journigan said.
The club was soon solvent as supporters across the county got on board, wanting to see youth learning discipline, responsibility and gun safety in a setting that also allowed them to have a lot of fun.
That growth of interest and outpouring of support is not an experience unique to Wallowa County. According to national organization records, youth gun clubs are growing by leaps and bounds.
State youth club membership numbers have zoomed from hundreds to thousands in several states. That infusion of shooting interest is saving some gun clubs where enrollment was dwindling due to the age of the members.
The establishment of a youth shooting program in Wallowa was almost destined to happen. Interest has always been high with Wallowa County providing multiple adult State Champions and three Oregon Hall of Fame shooters over the years.
Last Sunday, Ken Shelton of the Wallowa/Union Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association boosted the youth club by presenting a check of $2,500 during a club barbeque at the Wallowa Rod and Gun Club northeast of Wallowa.
Shelton, who has Wallowa County connections, remembered his own youth as he made the presentation.
“I so wished they could have had a club like this when I was a kid,” he said. “When the Wallowa club approached us about funding we said, ‘it’s time.’”
Students will compete at state by shooting four rounds each. A round is 25 shots or a box of shells. All shotguns are 12 gauge.
The nationals takes place over five days, beginning with a practice day and then narrowing down the competitors into single and team categories over the next four days.