STATE SHOOT: Christian Ray competes at the Cornhusker State Junior/Senior High School Shoot last May, where he was on the Ashland 4-H team that earned a first place high overall.
By Suzi Nelson
ASHLAND – Christian Ray’s competitive nature led him to a sport he has grown to love.
About six years ago, Ray and his little sister, Camryn, shot trap for the first time at the rural Ashland home of their mother, Candice Ray.
Camryn hit more targets than Christian did.
“I couldn’t let her outdo me,” he said.
So Christian got better, and along the way he became passionate about the sport of trap shooting.
“I fell in love with it,” he said.
Christian’s early days of trap shooting were not easy. He recalled hitting only three of 25 targets in his first practice with the Ashland 4-H trap team under then-head coach Mike Abbott. “I walked off the line and I was crying,” he said.
In the six years since then, Christian has done a lot of growing up on and off the range. He credited his early improvement to finding the right gun.
“Part of the reason I shot so poorly at first was I didn’t have a gun that fit me,” he said.
Chuck Schulte, who has been head coach of the Ashland 4-H trap team for two years, said trap shooting is a difficult sport to master.
“Trap shooting is not like shooting a BB gun at a tin can, where the gun and the target are fixed,” he said.
Instead, the target is a 4.5-inch clay pigeon moving at 40 miles per hour from a thrower located inside a trap house. The shooter shoots at five targets each at five posts, or stations, on the range.
“You have to learn instinctively how to hit a moving target,” Chuck said.
There are both technical and mental sides to trap shooting, the coach said. They start by teaching the technical side, or the fundamentals.
“Once they start developing that, then we start to work with them on the mental side of it,” Chuck said.
Christian said he’s been told he overthinks things when shooting, but Chuck said Christian is good at both sides of the sport.
“Christian is one of our better shooters,” he said.
Christian set small goals early on as a way to improve.
“I was trying to beat my personal best every time,” he said.
Trap shooting also appeals to Christian because it connects him to his dad, Chris Ray.
“I’d always been interested in military stuff and guns because my dad’s a Marine,” he said.
The father/son duo shot together in a league for a few years, but Chris’ job as a police officer made it increasingly difficult to attend competitions.
“It was kind of cool shooting with him,” Christian said.
Now Chris is one of Christian’s biggest fans, attending many of his meets.
“He enjoys watching me,” Christian said.
So does Christian’s mom, Candice, who posts frequent photos on social media to show her pride for Christian’s accomplishments.
Christian enjoys the individual aspect of shooting sports.
“It’s calming because it’s just you, a gun and the target,” he said.
It is a contrast from basketball, the other sport Christian participates in, where the score depends on the entire team. He is a senior on the Ashland-Greenwood High School team.
Like basketball, however, there is a team aspect to trap shooting that Christian enjoys. In the team competition, five members of the team form a squad, and each shooter’s scores are compiled for the team score.
When pressed about which sport he preferred, Christian was quick to answer.
“I’d have to say trap,” he said. “It’s been much nicer to me than basketball has.”
The two sports overlap for a short time each winter as trap shooting practices began in mid-January in preparation for the 4-H/high school season that lasts from March to May. Once basketball ends, Christian will devote all of his attention to trap shooting.
Basketball even kept Christian from competing in trap for a short time last year, after he broke his elbow during summer league play. Once he healed, he got back out on the range and quickly slipped back into his winning ways.
“Once you have the fundamentals, the discipline and the mental side of it, you can get right back into it,” his coach said.
The Ashland 4-H trap team has about 70 members total in the junior (sixth through eighth grades) and senior (high school) divisions. Over 50 of those members are students from Gretna, as is Schulte. The other members are from Ashland-Greenwood, Yutan and other schools.
The team is headquartered at the Ashland Gun Club. Matt Riecken and Mike Abbott of Ashland also help as assistant coaches.
Over the years, Christian has placed individually at meets, but the highlight of his shooting career so far came last year at the Cornhusker Trapshoot in Doniphan, the state meet for 4-H and high school teams.
“We took first place high overall,” said Christian.
It is the top honor for 4-H teams, something that trap shooting teams aspire to each year, according to the coach.
“If you’re going to win something, that’s the one you want to win,” Chuck said.
Along with Ray, the team included Nathan Schulte and Kyle Rowin of Gretna, Hayden Bedlan of Yutan and Dylan Riecken of Ashland.
Three of the five members of the winning squad return for the 2018 season.
“Bearing that in mind, we have an awesome opportunity to have a very successful year with Christian’s help,” Chuck said.
Christian also has his sights set on winning an individual medal at this year’s state meet, which will be his final one.
“That’s my No. 1 goal this year by far,” he said.
The state meet concludes the 4-H/high school trap season. There are eight meets total this season.
Christian and the rest of the Ashland 4-H team will practice on Saturday afternoons until the weather gets warmer. Then they will increase their shooting time on the range.
“There’s a lot of preparation,” Schulte said.
Christian also competes as an individual in Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA) contests during the fall.
He plans to continue to shoot trap after he finishes his 4-H/high school career.
“I plan on shooting ATA all my life, as long as I can,” Christian said.