Madelynn Bernau called “pull” and a clay pigeon was launched like an orange laser just feet above the ground. If it had been a vehicle on a nearby stretch of I-94, the target could have been ticketed for speeding. But on the Olympic trapshooting field at Winchester Gun Club, it met specifications to a T.
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And it wasn’t faster than the charge of pellets from Bernau’s 12-gauge. The challenge was to see the streaking disc, read its angle and trajectory and pull the trigger – all in less than a second – to get the shot pattern to intersect with the target 35 to 60 yards downrange. Bernau, 21, of Waterford, executed the swing and break perfectly. For good measure, after the target shattered, she took a second shot at a large chip that spiraled high in the air. It was practice after all.
And for Bernau, a college student who is also a member of USA Shooting and is in the running for a spot on the U.S. Olympic 2020 Games for the Tokyo Olympic, there was no better place to do some training over the Christmas break. It’s also new. Victor Joerndt, an owner of Winchester Gun Club, decided a couple of years ago to build an Olympic trap field.
“I think our area really needed one,” Joerndt said. “It’s really a challenging form of trap. And if we’re going to give our young trap shooters a chance to take their sport to the highest levels, this is what they need.”
The predominant form of trapshooting in Wisconsin and the rest of North America is called the American trap. For starters, the targets are thrown farther and faster (72 yards at about 65 mph) than their American counterparts (50 yards at about 40 mph). The Olympic trap also presents clay pigeons at more angles and trajectories than the standard trap.
As its name implies, it’s the form of trapshooting offered at the Olympic 2020 Games. Trapshooting is one of the oldest sports of the modern Olympic games; it has been contested since 1900. But Olympic trap facilities are few and far between in the U.S. With the Franksville facility, Wisconsin has a grand total of two. The other is at the Wisconsin Trapshooting Association grounds in Rome.
A primary reason Olympic trap fields are relatively rare is their complexity and expense of construction. The discipline requires an underground bunker with 15 computer-controlled target throwers. The field at Winchester is a gem and likely represents the largest investment in a Wisconsin trapshooting facility since the WTA project in Rome.
It has an awning to cover the five shooting stations as well as LED lights to allow night-time use. Each station has a voice-activated throwing system. The concrete field has more rebar than a 5-story building, according to Joint. The lights, put in by a firm that specializes in the construction of golf driving ranges, illuminate several acres of trap and skeet fields out to a tree line about 300 yards to the north.
They are so bright, “you can see the shot pattern,” Joerndt said.
The station shooters see two right-to-left, two left-to-right and one center target. The birds are thrown in random order. Since two shots are allowed at each target, over/under type shotguns are often preferred so that different chokes may be used for each shot. A typical round is 25 targets. It was their first go at the International game.
“We intend to hit them all, but some got away,” said Kim Peterson with a smile. “It’s challenging and fun. I expect this will bring in a lot of people.”
The facility will serve as a valuable practice site for youth trap shooters in Wisconsin as well as host to competitions for trapshooters of all ages. While the WTA complex in Rome is only open for six months each year, the Winchester facility is open year-round. And with its high-tech LED lights, trap shooters can utilize the bunker field into the night.
With multiple national individual and team champions over the last 15 years, southeastern Wisconsin has earned a reputation as a hotbed for youth trap shooters. Yet relatively few have been able to focus on the Olympic trap since the closest facility was more than a 2-hour drive from home. The Franksville field is going to change that.
“It’s going to be a huge benefit to the dozens of teams in our area and beyond,” said Tom Wondrash of Burlington, national program director for the Scholastic Clay Target Program.
Could it give Bernau the boost she needs to make the Tokyo Olympic team? A veteran of three international competitions in May 2018 she won a gold medal in Women’s Trap at the 14th International Junior Grade Prix in Porpetto, Italy – she stands in fourth place about halfway through the qualifying process. The top two U.S. women will go to Olympic 2020 Games.
“I intend to spend as much time here as I can before I have to go back to school,” said the senior at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee. “I’m super excited to have this so close to home.”
Bernau has shot at 14 bunker facilities in the U.S., including the Tokyo Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and three in foreign countries. She’s only 21, but there are only a handful of Wisconsin natives who likely have shot more rounds of Olympic trap. So, what was her assessment of the Franksville offering?
“It’s humbling, but a great and fun challenge at the same time,” Bernau said.
Wisconsin has produced some of the best young trap shooters in the nation over the last couple of decades. Wouldn’t it be great to see one who refined their skills in Franksville standing on an Olympic podium one day?