Hi-Line Living: Shooting Under the Stars
September 2, 2016
For the ninth year in a row, shotgun shooters, most of them from Havre, came together to fire into the night in the Moonlight Shoot at the Havre Trap Club.
Club President Jim Bachini wasn't sure how many shooters had signed up for last Friday evening's shootout, but he guessed about 30.
Bachini also guessed the origins of the Havre Trap Club may go back to sometime in the 1950s.
"It's been around for as long as I can remember," he said.
What he did know for sure is that the location of the trap club facility has been off Fifth Avenue, just past the Ice Dome south of town, since 1984, when it was moved from the fairgrounds.
Bachini says there are about 125 club members, 90 percent of them bird hunters, who come to the club and shoot regularly.
"If you enjoy shooting sports, this is a good one. It's a fun sport," he said before adding that fall league starts Wednesday and everyone is welcome to come and shoot.
Shooting competitions like the moonlight shoots - there is another scheduled for Sept. 24 - are only one of the reasons people join a trap club.
Bachini stressed learning and practicing gun etiquette - respect for the firearm and knowledge of how to handle it - is a very important part of being in a trap club.
Shooting is a tradition in Bachini's family, as well as in many of those in the club, he said. His father taught him how to handle and shoot a firearm, and parents in the club teach their children the same.
For Bachini, firearms are ingrained in the fiber of American culture.
"This country was built on them," he said.
He called the topic of firearms in the country "a political hotbed of coals." But, he stressed, firearms aren't the problem.
"It's not the gun that kills. It's ignorance that kills," he said.
And that's why clubs like the trap club teach respect for the gun.
Bachini bragged that the Havre Trap Club has 10 times more women than any other trap club in the state.
Eighteen women and girls are members of the club, he said. "We've had as high as 35."
Shelly Erhard is one such shooter. She said the reason for such a high number of female shooters is because the club invites families to come to the club together.
When she wasn't signing people up, or trying to sneak a bite to eat in between, Erhard was competing in the shoots. Taking slight pauses to listen if her name was called to compete, she spared a moment to talk about how she got into shooting shotguns.
It started eight years ago with an invite from her husband, Doug Erhard, who is now the vice president of the trap club.
"My husband was up here and he'd say, 'Just come up here and try it out,'" she said.
So she did and hasn't looked back since.
Erhard said women are not confortable handling firearms, shotguns especially, but they should be. The reasons, she said, are defense and sport.
She's not only a shooter, she's a competitor.
"I don't like losing," she said.
Erhard won two heats Saturday.
The way a heat works is five shooters line up, each at one of the several shooting stations. The person on the most left pepares for a shot and aims toward the sky, announces when they are ready, and a 3-inch clay disc flies out of the bunker ahead of them, the point being to shoot the disc. Then the person to the right goes until all five people get a chance to blast the disc.
Once all five people go, everyone shifts one lane to right and moves back two yards. The same person starts the cycle all over again. This happens until everyone has shot five times. The person who hits the most targets wins. When there is a tie, as there often is, there is a tiebreaker shootout from 25 yards back.
Each winner of a heat won a meat ticket. The refrigerator in the clubhouse had been packed with ribs and steaks to give out to winners.
"If we run out of meat, we start handing out money," Bachini had said earlier.
Sixteen-year-old Kennedy McKay from Havre has been shooting for three years. He had just lost a heat and he wasn't happy about it.
"I hate to lose," he said.
McKay said his stepfather taught him to shoot firearms with a .22-caliber rifles he got for a childhood birthday.
McKay suggested an interview be done with his friend Nic Tanner, whom he said was really good, better than him.
Tanner of Havre, a year older than McKay, said he travels for shooting competitions all over the state. He pulled up his shirt slightly to show off a Montana-sized belt buckle he won in a Kalispell competition earlier this year.
Tanner said he has a passion for shooting. It began after his father started teaching him to shoot when he was in third grade.
Tanner said shooting well is a mind game. People who shoot in competitions usually have the mechaTanners down already - it's about the pressure and mental composure.
"It's not all about the guns. It's the people behind the guns," he said.
Tanner said he wants to be an Air Force pilot. But he wouldn't mind getting a shooting scholarship and going to school on that either.
Fourteen-year-old Connor O'Hara was not from Havre. He came up from Great Falls with his dad to take part in the event. O'Hara was every bit of 14 - boyish smooth face, short stature and a childlike shyness.
O'Hara was a hit at the competition, not only because he's so young, but also, as people pointed out, because he is good.
By his third heat, O'Hara had already won once and gotten a meat ticket.
O'Hara said he and his dad started trap shooting this year after he started working at his local trap club.
"I started trap shooting and got addicted to it," he said.
He sheepishly chuckled when he was asked if he was a better shooter than his father.
"Yeah," he said, looking down.
O'Hara, too, said he travels and competes. He said he enjoys the atmosphere-"It's a fun environment."
Like Tanner, O'Hara is not opposed to getting a shooting scholarship. He said he believes he can do it if he works hard enough.