HORACE, N.D.-Oakes' Landon Hill has been handling guns since he could walk, and is now a high school trap shooting state champion.
Hill missed only one clay target on Friday at Session 1 of the North Dakota Class 1A state tournament at The Shooting Park of Horace, scoring a 99 and helping to lead Oakes to a second-place finish. He had never experienced a hot-streak like this before, but hit his shots when it counted most.
"It's pretty crazy," Hill said. "I hadn't even shot a 25 before state, then I got here and shot like 78 in a row so I was pretty surprised."
Shooting has been a big part of Hill's life for as long as he can remember.
"I pretty much shot a BB gun with my dad the moment I could walk," Hill said. "So then I just moved on from there and just shot deer and anything else I could."
The weather throughout the season limited how much and the quality of practice Hill got, but he made the most of it and wound up a state champ.
Jacob Schempp of Larimore was the boy's state runner-up, with a total score of 98 and reverse run of 67. Jackson Novacek of West Fargo took third place with a total score of 98 and reverse run of 32.
Kyla Radomski of Rugby won the girls' state championship with a score of 95. Kelsey Stumvoll of Garrison took second with a total of 88 and reverse run of 11, while Wahpeton's Joncy Mastel placed third with a score of 88 and reverse run of two.
Rugby totaled 477 to earn the team state title, led by Seth Jaeger's 98, Blair Kuhnhenn's 96 and Radomski's 95.
Oakes held a tie with West Fargo for the second-highest team total (468), but Hill's near-perfect score of 99 edged West Fargo's high shooter, Novacek, by one target.
Packers head coach Mark Sahli was proud of his team's effort, especially after last year's tournament.
"(We were) much better than last year," Sahli said. "Everybody that came, came to shoot today. It was a good performance; we needed for sure top five or five good scores and we got that today."
The Packers had an up-and-down 2017 season which resulted in an 11th-place finish at the state tournament. This year, West Fargo won the Class 1A, Conference 5 title and finished third at state with a score of 468, a 133-point improvement from last season.
A big part of the Packers' success at this year's state tourney was the jump Logan Braun made from his sophomore year to this year's junior campaign. He tied for 54th last year with a score of 66. Braun hit 30 more targets this year, giving him the second-highest mark on the team and tying for seventh-highest overall.
An important aspect of trap shooting for Braun is gaining familiarity with his gun. Doing that has helped him know where to aim and how to feel during the round. His main key to success though, is to relax.
"Sometimes you get antsy when you're shooting" Braun said. "It depends how everyone else shoots, but if you slow down and calm yourself a little bit you shoot a lot better."
That, and remembering to enjoy himself.
"I don't get too worked up about it and just go out to have fun," Braun said. "It doesn't matter about score to me."
Trap shooting is a rapidly growing sport in the region. This year, the state tournament had to be split into two days because the league doubled in size over the past year. The vice president of the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League, John Nelson, thinks the numbers have skyrocketed due to the ability for anyone to join.
"It provides an opportunity for virtually every kid in the school, whether you're a boy, girl or whether you have a disability. Anyone can participate," Nelson said.
Nelson preached safety as being the most important factor.
"The biggest part is the safety component," Nelson said. "Our league is an injury-free sport. Since the league's inception, we've put 40,000 kids through and pulled the trigger 35 million times and never reported an injury. There's no other sport that is injury-free."