This past weekend, Jan. 14-16, 97 shotgun shooters from all around New Mexico competed in the Zia Classic at the Belen Shooting Sports Association gun range.
The Sporting Clays competition was held at the Tinan Hunt Club, located adjacent to the Bernardo Game Farm in Socorro County and the Albuquerque City Range.
The Zia Classic is the annual New Mexico High School Clay Target Association state championships. The Belen range has hosted the trap part of the event for several years now.
“Many rural high schools field these shooting sports, such as Aztec, Clovis, Roswell, Ruidoso, Carlsbad, Silver City, Melrose, Las Cruces and Los Alamos,” said Shawn Perkins, president of the Clay Target Association. “Nine teams in all. The youngest shooter was 8 years old in the Junior Division to 18 years old in the Senior Division. The shooters pay their own way.”
These youngsters displayed the upmost courteous, respectful behavior possible and safe gun handling was foremost. The competitors were evenly split between young men and young women.
The sandstone bluffs and the Manzano Mountains were the backdrop for this fun event. The mornings were crisp and so was the shooting.
Some of the shooters are widely known, such as Caleb Delk, from Las Cruces, who won the High School Rodeo Trap Championship.
Tyler Smelker, who won the Rookie event of the National Skeet Shooting World Championship competition, also participated.
Each of the three events is scored as a “Game” of 100 shots total per event, which is made up of four separate rounds of 25 shots taken. The competitors are firing 300 shots over the three-day weekend. The Belen gun club estimated as many as 16,000 clay targets were thrown by the trap machines, and 99 percent of the shooters shoot 12-gage shotguns, with only a few shooting 20-gage.
Ammunition ranges widely from Winchester, Remington, Federal and even hand-loaded reloads to imported shotgun shells from Italy called Mirage.
There was also a gunsmith on hand to repair any shotguns that needed a little work.
All of these shooters who want to go to college will receive paid scholarships. Some of the state colleges with shooting sports are Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and Florida, all aiming for Olympic competition.
These shotguns are not your everyday type of guns; they are high-quality firearms that have been tricked out with competition barrels, lighter triggers, ported barrels and recoil suppressor systems.
The team winners were:
- Trap by Sierra Blanca Shooters (Ruidoso)
- Sporting Clays by Carlsbad Cavemen
- Skeet by the Mesilla Valley shooters from Las Cruces.
These were mostly three-person teams.
The individual highest overall achieved:
- Senior Men: Dillon Lopez of Carlsbad Cavemen.
- Senior Women: Alyssa Vigil of Los Alamos.
- Intermediate Men: Lane Helmer of Clovis/Melrose.
- Intermediate Women: Madison Miller of Clovis/Melrose.
All received New Mexico Medallions.