Ballard Clay Bomber Shooting Team Makes Strong Showing at First Competition of the Season 
Articles by John Paulin

A pleasant late April day found the Ballard Clay Bomber Shooting Team in its first competition of the season at Stockdale Gun Club near Ackley last Saturday.  The Friends of HamptonDumont Trapshooters hosted seven teams from across central Iowa including Belmond-Klemme, South Hardin, Dike-New Hartford, AGWSR and local teams from Nevada and Roland Story.  Ballard shooters put on a strong showing, with both squads and individuals bringing home medals, due in large part to outstanding shooting by relative newcomers to the team. 

At the Varsity level, stiff competition was the rule of the day with greater than half of the 80 plus shooters in the field turning in scores of 40 or more targets broken out of 50.  Jake Maakestad from South Hardin bested all with a perfect 50/50.  Ballard junior Owen Zunkel broke into the top 10 in 7th place shooting 46/50.  Sydney Pierson followed suite in the women’s division, taking 8th place with 42/50.  Zunkel and Pierson joined with Zach Nessa, Joe Jordan and Jon Konfrst to secure third place as a squad with all shooters breaking 40 or better targets.  In route to that trip to the medal stand, Jordan, a Ballard sophomore posted his best score to date with a 44. 

All high school age shooters were lumped into the Varsity division so a Clay Bomber JV squad consisting of Sam Paulin, Huck Brace, Hunter Allen, Jake Frederick and Joe Hofbauer placed 7th.  Three JV shooters made their trap competition debut on Saturday and turned some heads in the process.  Freshman Tim Konfrst has rapidly increased his abilities as a shotgunner in the few short weeks of practice leading up to this competition and turned in a very respectable 40/50 in this first outing.  Squad mates Joe Hofbauer (38) and Hunter Allen (36) made valuable contributions in this, their first competition, as well. 

Ballard had several shooters in grades 6-8 compete in the Intermediate division, and compete they did, bringing home the gold as a five-man squad and squad leader Dan Zunkel (45/50) taking second overall amongst individuals.  In total, Ballard took four of the top ten places for individual scores.  While on the topic of individuals, relatively new shooters again came up huge for the Clay Bombers.  Ballard 8th grade classmates Austin Nelson and Ryan Finch turned in scores of 44 and 43 respectively landing them in 4th and 6th place overall.  This is only Finch’s second year of competition.  Spencer Salasek also put together two very good rounds to end the day with a 42, good enough for 8th place.  Not far behind, another second year shooter, Patriot Berger, shot his best score ever, turning in a 39.   

It is evident that the new variety of shooting disciplines offered to the Clay Bombers is already paying dividends.  JP Berka and McGuire Beirman, in their first year of competition at the Intermediate level both posted 37’s on Saturday and with smiles said that the experience gained through sporting clays practice has helped them “loosen up”.  Nate Beirman, father of McGuire, shared, “He (McGuire) told me for the first time the he is “seeing” the targets, his scores today showed that.” 

Zunkel, Nelson and Finch teamed up with Colby Kadner (39) and Max Paulin (31) to win the Intermediate division squad medal, shooting 202/250, a score that would have been good enough to place them 5th out of eight teams in the Varsity division! 

By the time this article goes to press, the Clay Bombers will have another busy weekend of competition behind them, facing Gilbert in a dual meet on Friday evening the 28th followed by the Story County Invitational on Saturday, April 29th and their first opportunity to compete in a sporting clays shoot hosted by the Maxwell’s Indian Creek Izaak Walton League on the 30th. 
Clay Bombers Add Two New Shotgun Sports to Their Resume’ 

The Clay Bombers have two themes for this season according to Head Coach Jon Zunkel- number one of course being SAFETY, the second however, is a little simpler, having fun!  “We’ve had some early successes as a team in the four years since our formation, winning a State Championship in the Rookie Division in 2015, preceded by a runner up finish the year before and some individual medals to boot.  As a result, we got sucked into competition mode last year- we held extra practices, shot more rounds, went to every shoot we could get on the schedule, sometimes four a week.  And you know what?  I think we got burned out as a team, the athletes felt the pressure and the smiles went away.  It wasn’t fun anymore.  So, this year, we’re taking a much more relaxed approach.”   

This season, Clay Bomber athletes have the opportunity to attend any or all of three practice sessions held throughout the week and choose the disciplines and competitions they take part in.  Essentially, they can shoot as much or as little as they like. 

To up the fun factor, and due in large part to the knowledge and experience of Coaches Ben Berka and Keith Brace, the Clay Bombers have added two more shooting disciplines to their resume- Skeet and Sporting Clays.  Where trap shooting is described by some as being a methodical, primarily mental game, skeet and Sporting Clays involve a much more active approach.  In these two disciplines, participants face targets with a variety of angles, presentations and in the case of Sporting Clays, as many as five different types and sizes of targets shot in a field setting. 

Skeet is a game shot from eight “stations” oriented in a half circle between two “houses” from which the clay targets are thrown- one elevated above the shooter (high house) and another at ground level (low house).  Participants start on station 1 (think 9 on a clock face) and shoot a single target each from the high house and low house, then are presented a pair (simultaneously thrown targets from each house).  This repeats as the shooter moves counter clockwise around the field to seven stations- each station 22 yards from the “center peg” located midway between and 18’ out from the center point between the high and low houses.  The shooter is presented with singles and pairs from stations 1, 2, 6 and 7 and single targets only from 3, 4, 5 and 8.  What skeet lacks in regards to trap shooting is the element of surprise (the skeet shooter knows where every target is going to come from/go) but more than makes up for it in close range crossing targets that require significant amounts of lead, or the distance the shotgun must be out in front 
of a moving target to hit it.  Trap shooting by comparison requires significantly less gun movement to break a target.  Coach Brace has shot skeet competitively for decades and will be a tremendous resource for Clay Bomber athletes wishing to give another of the shotgun sports a try. 
Coach Ben Berka brings to the Clay Bombers over 20 years of expertise in shotgun sports instruction and has been the driver behind presenting Ballard shooters with an introduction to sporting clays.  “Sporting” as it is commonly referred to, is best described as “golf with a shotgun”, an analogy earned as shooters walk a pre-established course to various “stands” and are presented with a variety of targets meant to represent situations one might encounter while hunting.   

With station names like “Springing Teal”, “Flushing Quail”, “Driven Pheasant” or “Bounding Rabbit”, Sporting shooters over the course of a day will see targets shot straight in the air, bouncing across the ground, appearing from beside, behind or coming at them.  To further complicate matters, these targets can appear at any distance- some as close as 15 or 20 yards and others pushing as much as 50 yards distant.  If that wasn’t enough, the actual clay targets can be roughly silver dollar sized (Mini’s, used to represent quail), regulation trap targets (~5” in diameter) or thin, flat, black targets that tend to curl or move both horizontally and vertically in flight called “Battues”.  “Rabbits” are thick, flat targets thrown on the ground that bounce and require a solid hit to break.  During a round of Sporting Clays, a shooter will see these targets presented individually (“singles”) or doubles, called “pairs” in Sporting. Pairs can come in several forms- a “true pair” presents two targets thrown simultaneously, “report pairs” see the second target released after the first target is shot, while “following pairs” involve a brief delay between the release of the two targets.   

There is no standard by which a Sporting Clays course is set up so each time or location that is shot is likely to be different.  The target setters who establish these courses, much like golf course designers, try to provide a variety of interesting targets to the shooter, varying in difficulty and presentation.  That quality should help stave off boredom for Clay Bomber shooters this season with opportunities to compete at the Indian Creek Izaak Walton League course in rural Maxwell, New Pioneer Gun Club in Waukee and possibly the state championship held outside Oskaloosa in June.  

Both Brace and Berka feel the new disciplines will complement the Clay Bombers’ already well established trap shooting program.  “Given the different angles, targets and situations presented in Skeet and Sporting Clays, shooters will learn to let their internal targeting system take over, teaching their eyes and hands to work in concert to move the gun and break targets,” said Berka at a recent practice. 
Ballard’s Clay Bombers will have their first opportunity to shoot in a Sporting Clays competition at the Indian Creek Izaak Walton League, rural Maxwell, on Sunday, April 30th.  Saturday, May 13th, they’ll head to New Pioneer Gun Club in Waukee for their first chance at Skeet.