The command is repeated regularly at Cedar Hill Trap Range in rural Franklin County. That simple expression or something closely resembling it is the signal for the clay target to be launched in trapshooting.
Moments later, a blaze orange target glides through the air, a miniature disk that hooks or slices depending on the angle of release at the launcher.
Shooters, 16 yards away from the launch house, lock onto the target within seconds, and the better competitors hit their target upwards of 90 percent of the time. The absolute best gunners approach 100 percent in a given round.
The routine is cultivated through instruction and more importantly through round after round of practice.
At Cedar Hill, located just off Cedar Creek Lake, the command is called and the process completed thousands of times each year. Through the years, the repetition has produced results, as Cedar Hill has produced multiple state and even world champions in its relatively short period of existence.
The club’s Junior team, known as the Cedar Hill Smok’n Guns, won its third consecutive state championship earlier this year and competed this week for both team and individual championships at the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships in Sparta, IL. The city, which boasts the World Shooting and Recreational Complex, the site of the Grand, is home to the Amateur Trapshooting Association (www.shootata.com).
When asked what factors equate to winning championships, club owner and coach Wade Willingham pointed to the five boys who make up the team as they methodically worked through a final practice round before leaving for the Grand.
“The boys,” he said, “they work hard at it. It takes a lot of practice and dedication to be consistently good at trapshooting.”
Cedar Hill evolved out of the old Bluff Creek Trap Range near Phil Campbell. Upon the closure of Bluff Creek, the group moved to a location on Highway 24 before Willingham, along with the help of James King, opened Cedar Hill in 2007.
The team from Cedar Hill was one of several from north Alabama who competed for prizes at the national shoot this week. Other club teams competing included those from Danville Skeet and Trap Club in Hartselle, from Waterfall Valley Gun Club between Russellville and Tuscumbia, and from Brewer High School, a group that practices primarily at Cedar Hill.
Logan Taylor, who first shot when he was five years old, is the veteran of the Cedar Hill group and achieved the ultimate prize in trapshooting in 2011. He outshot the winners of every individual category at the world competition to capture the $100,000 Grand American Challenge as a 13-year-old.
The Belgreen High School student remains one of the team’s best shooters and admits “there’s a little added pressure” after his earlier success.
Another Belgreen student, Cole Willingham, and Turner Collum, of Covenant Christian, proved to be the most consistent Cedar Hill shooters at the state meet. Both won multiple titles in the May event.
Willingham, the coach’s son, appears to be the trapshooting equivalent of a basketball gym junkie. He grew up around the sport.
“My brother had started shooting and now being up here (at the range) with my dad, it got me into it,” Willingham said.
Four years ago, he started shooting competitively, performing well at the state shoot each year.
He said the experience of several years’ shooting at the national level should help him at this year’s Grand.
“I was a little nervous my first year or so but not anymore,” Willingham said. “It sort of becomes second nature after a while.”
The young shooters compete in the AIM —Academics, Integrity and Marksmanship — arm of the ATA. AIM features four age divisions for younger shooters: Pre-Sub (11 and under), Sub-Junior (12-14), Junior (15-18), and Senior (19-23). Classification is determined based on the age of a shooter on Sept. 1 of the previous year.
At the Grand, shooters rotate through five positions, shooting five times at each station, with four rotations per 100-target round. Shooters completed 100-target rounds both Monday and Tuesday.
Wade Willingham said his shooters will all score in the 80s and 90s per 100 targets. He said to compete at the national level a score very close to 100 is required.
Improvement is a key, Willingham said. Practice starts in March and the Cedar Hill range stays opens on Tuesdays and Saturdays through most of November.
He encourages anyone with interest in trapshooting to come to Cedar Hill. Each shooter should bring his/her own gun and ammunition. A round of 25 targets costs $4.50.
“Come and see us,” he said. “We’ll get them started shooting, teach them the things they need to know.”