MVL, NUC combine for joint clay target team

A team of shooters takes turns shooting at clay targets at the Sioux Valley Gun Club in New Ulm.

NEW ULM — In what is touted as the fastest-growing sport in Minnesota, clay target shooting has had new teams popping up throughout the state.

Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School and New Ulm Cathedral High School are teaming up to form a brand-new clay target team, which will compete in Conference 9 of Class A this year.

MVL/NUC head coach Brad Retzlaff said MVL activities director Craig Morgan approached him with an offer for the position, which he said he considered for “about 10 seconds” before accepting. Being a coach for a high school team is new territory for Retzlaff, who has been involved in clay target for roughly 45 years.

“It’s a new experience for me, but the kids are great,” Retzlaff said. “It’s fun to watch them. Their enthusiasm in talking back and forth, it’s been a lot of fun.”

New Ulm High School began a clay target team last year and will compete in Conference 1 of Class AAAAA this year.

Coach Brad Retzlaff keeps a talley as Sam Genelin watches his shot.

Like most schools involved in clay target, MVL/NUC takes part in the trap shooting portion of the sport.

In trap shooting, each station contains five shooters who must shoot clay pigeons being launched in different directions in front of them in what is essentially a simulation of hunting live game. Each shooter has 25 chances within a given session to hit as many clay targets as possible, with two sessions totalling a score out of 50.

Retzlaff inherited a mixed group of shooters, including some who have experience hunting and some who have limited experience with shooting and have never been hunting before.

Sam Genelin, a senior at MVL, is an avid waterfowl hunter in the fall and was excited at the prospect of competing in clay target.

“Even for an inexperienced shooter, it’s very easy to pick up,” Genelin said. “The guys that work at the range are very informative and very helpful with how they go about teaching. If you miss, they tell you how to recorrect. It’s very easy to pick up.”

Sam Boeder shoots with his great-grandfather’s gun.

Even though this is the program’s first season, Genelin said there are enough student-athletes who have prior experience with shooting that the team could create some decent scores competition-wise.

“Just with the amount of guys who hunt birds on our team — pheasant or waterfowl or things like that — I’d have to say we probably have one of the most-experienced teams,” Genelin said.

When it comes to coaching, Retzlaff said these experienced shooters are easy to work with.

“You can tell the people that have handled a gun quite a bit,” Retzlaff said. “Safety is our No. 1 objective out there. We’re all about safety out there and everything comes secondary to that.”

However, there are some who have never competed in any type of recreational shooting activity. Sam Boeder, a senior at MVL, said he does not partake in any hunting with shotguns and has only shot a gun a few times before going out for clay target.

“This just seemed like a fun thing to do,” Boeder said. “It just turned out to be right up my alley.”

Boeder’s involvement in clay target is interesting because he is using the shotgun his great-grandfather won for winning a national competition.

Boeder said its age is “a thing of rumors” and that he is unsure how old it actually is. However, he said it looks odd compared to the other guns.

“It was usually just a family heirloom — it was mostly just for show, like this is a cool gun,” Boeder said. “But then when I heard about the trap shooting team, I thought it’d be a really cool opportunity to explore that part of my family’s history.”

Trap shooting does not require peak athleticism from its competitors — almost anyone of any build can excel in the sport. It does, however, require some different attributes.

“Clay target, from what I’ve found, is really unique in that it makes you hone your own senses,” Boeder said. “You have to focus a lot and you have to discipline yourself to do the same thing over and over again and really focus on your target. But also, you have to get your hand-eye coordination, it’s just a lot of repetition and muscle memory.”

But of course, safety comes before everything else.

“It’s a big controversy because [guns are] dangerous weapons — it’s a weapon that can turn good things into evil very quickly if you’re not careful who you give the gun to,” Genelin said. “It’s all about safety. We wear headphones or ear plugs, and then you’ve got to wear safety glasses. The chamber is always open no matter if there’s a shell in there or not until it’s your turn to shoot. It’s all centered around safety.”