Two members of the Union trap shooting team and a member of La Grande’s squad were recently named state champions at the Oregon State High School clay target championship June 22 in Hillsboro: Jaimee Baxter and Emilee Freeman from Union, and Makenna Shorts of La Grande.
Shorts, who will be a freshman in the fall, dominated in winning the girls varsity division. In her third year on the team — all three years, in fact, that La Grande has had a team — she finished with a score of 96 birds, or targets, out of 100.
Baxter, a first-year competitor in the sport, earned the girls novice division title with a score of 82 birds out of 100.
Freeman, who is in her second year in the sport, won the girls JV division with 87 birds out of 100.
About 35 teams participated.
“In Oregon, it has gotten popular,” Union coach Dan Martens said of trap shooting. “A couple years ago when Oregon first started (having a state competition), there were about four teams and now there are 35.”
Shorts entered state having turned in an average on the season of 23.8 targets out of 25, according to La Grande coach Buck Garritson.
“She has a great hand-eye coordination,” Garritson said. “She is the best young shooter I have ever had the chance to coach, and I’ve been shooting trap for over 40 years. She is very talented, but she works at it.”
Her father, John Shorts, is the coach of the Eastern Oregon University trap team, so shooting runs in the family.
But Makenna Shorts is not one to rest on her laurels.
“She’s a determined person,” Garritson said. “She’s like a lot of young students who rise to the occasion when the chips are down. She is a worker. And she has the talent. She could go on further, I believe.”
Baxter’s rise to the top of her division was a swift one. She has been a standout athlete for Union in several sports during her prep career, but had hardly shot much prior to coming out this spring, Martens said.
“She struggled early on this season with an average of 10 (out of 25) birds,” he said. “But she is a great girl. She is an excellent runner (and) has been a state placer several times. The beautiful thing about her is that she has been coached a lot.”
Martens said that Baxter having that athlete mentality means she takes to coaching well, and it definitely showed. By the end of the season, when the state competitors were decided, her average was up to 21 out of 25.
“She doubled her average just by being coachable,” Martens said.
He added seeing that kind of quick growth, isn’t too uncommon.
“I’ve seen that before in kids that are willing. You can teach anybody to break a bird from every angle, but the mental part is the toughest,” he said, adding Baxter has a mental edge by being an athlete.
Freeman is in her second year, but has taken a bit of a different route to the top of her division.
“Emilee has had to work at it a lot harder. She worked really hard, we had an extra (shooting) session,” Martens said. “Once she got there, she did awesome. She is a great girl. She is a lot of fun.”
Martens noted that Freeman takes to a different style of instruction.
“Just gentle encouragement and let her work, and help her with the little things. She tries hard, tries to please everybody.”
An example of this is shown in the session that pushed her over the top. Martens said that Freeman was shooting “over birds,” but it wasn’t until a side session shooting at a target that meant that Freeman grasped the concept.
Once she did, she took off.
“She should see how high the gun was shooting,” he said.
Martens said only about half the participants on the team would be able to participate if the sport wasn’t free, which he said is only possible because of sponsors.
“Oregon Hunters Association gives us money every year, local NRA gives us money, shells and guns,” he said, adding the team has also received vital contributions from the Union Trap Club and Dennis Faulk. “Without them they couldn’t shoot for free.”