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Hermantown trapshooters qualify for inaugural state tournament

Jake Billman fires at a clay pigeon at Proctor Jack Meade Gun Club on Wednesday afternoon. Billman is a member of the state tournament-bound Hermantown trapshooting team. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Travis Salo2 / 3
Guy LeBlanc3 / 3

Despite posting his best score of the trapshooting season while standing on one leg and kneeling his other leg on a chair in his first meet back from foot surgery, Hermantown’s Travis Salo doesn’t plan on anything so drastic at this weekend’s inaugural Minnesota State High School League Clay Target Tournament in Prior Lake.

“I shot the first four weeks of the season with a broken leg,” said the 2014 Hermantown graduate, who hit 49 of 50 clay pigeon targets after having surgery March 10.

Hermantown coach Guy LeBlanc jokingly says Salo milked the disability all he could.

“I don’t know if he really had (surgery) or if he wanted everyone to cater to him and carry his gun around,” LeBlanc said with a chuckle.

Salo will be standing on two legs for today’s practice round and Saturday’s first state tournament at the Minneapolis Gun Club. Hermantown is one of five teams competing in Class AA —     Hibbing, Brainerd, Coon Rapids and Badger/Greenbush-Middle River are the others. Another 104 individuals, separate from the 24 teams that qualified in five classes, will take part in a competition that has mushroomed in participation numbers.

“People always talk about baseball or football, but when you say you are involved in trapshooting, it’s a good conversation starter,” said Hermantown junior Mark Maki, who like many participants began as a duck hunter before using his shotgun in a different venue.

Jake Billman, who also graduated this month, started pheasant hunting at a young age with his father, Gregg. He says clay target shooting honed his eye in the field.

“It definitely improved my shooting skills,” said Billman, who made 24 of 25 shots during a practice round Wednesday at the Proctor Gun Club.

Salo, Billman and Maki, who all shoot a Benelli Super Black Eagle II, will be joined by George Olsen and Jared Zeleznikar, the Hawks’ top shooter based on average.

Shooters take five shots apiece at five different stations and repeat three times for a total of 100 shots on the day. They stand 16 feet behind the trap house, where clay targets are randomly hurtled into the air within a 17- to 27-degree arc of the center of the structure at speeds as high as 43 mph.

Salo hit 97 such targets last week in Alexandria at the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League Championship, the largest such tournament of its kind and one which determined Saturday’s qualifiers. Hibbing’s Rachel Stoddard earned honors as the top overall shooter for the co-ed tournament by hitting all 100 targets.

“Hibbing is a team that we’ve been chasing all year,” LeBlanc said.

Ryan Johnson, a 2013 Hermantown graduate, started the program at his school. After he graduated, LeBlanc was asked to take over. An avid hunter, LeBlanc was no trapshooting expert.

“I had never shot trap in my life,” said LeBlanc, the father of former Hermantown hockey star and 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner Drew LeBlanc. “I’m not a trap shooter, but I like to hunt so they asked me to be the school (representative).”

LeBlanc credits George Pappas and Dave Gilberg of the Proctor Gun Club, whom he sought out to give pointers to team members, for the squad’s improvement. LeBlanc says anyone can excel with effort and practice.

“It’s a sport where everybody can do it, big, tall or small,” he said.

Or even injured.