Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., played host to the first Annual NRA Southwestern Trap Championships over the weekend of October 3-6. Helping to greet the 183 shooters who came to compete in the new event, were NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, joining NRA Board members Ron Schmeits and Tom Arvas, both of whom have served on the Center’s leadership for many years.
Eleven matches christened Whittington’s recently completed 20-station clay target range. Among the large turnout contending with cool and cloudy conditions at the outset, followed by a couple of sunny, windy days, were competitors of all ages, women and men, impressively breaking the tricky, fast-flying clays in a quest for prize money and bragging rights.
Younger shooters were especially evident as six of the state’s seven high schools trap teams turned out, bringing a total of 42 student-athletes. Coach Joe Whitehurst of the 4P Trap Club at Melrose (N.M.) High School, commented that a couple of his team members had complained about having to practice in the wind throughout the year. They quickly changed their attitude when Saturday winds gusted into the 30s at the NRA’s flagship shooting complex, which sits above 6,000 feet in the scenic but rugged mountain landscape.
Competitors also flocked in from surrounding states, including high school senior Zach Piancino, from Elk City, Okla., who competed against both his dad, Dave Piancino, and grandfather, Andrew Piancino. Teen-aged Zach, whose high-school squad competes in and has been victorious in national-level tournaments, won the 200 Singles competition with a score of 198 and the Class A 100 Singles with a 98.
Jarrod Lies, the Whittington Center’s newly hired shotgun director, capitalized on “home field” advantage as he emerged from a three-way shoot-off to garner Class AAA honors against Dalton Jennings and Denis Bringelson. Jennings was the runner-up in that class.
An event highlight occurred when Wayne LaPierre delivered an inspirational keynote address at the event’s dinner on Saturday evening. The NRA’s chief executive officer thanked all the competitors and their families for supporting the shooting sports, then spoke how New York state, in a shocking abuse of government power, is endangering our Second Amendment freedoms by threatening to punish companies that do business with the NRA. New York state officials, including the governor and attorney general, have made it known they will come down hard and even try to put those companies out of business. LaPierre also noted that the 2020 elections are going to be an important one hoping that the Democrats won’t win the Senate and the presidency in order to keep the shooting sports alive—as well as to protect gun owner rights.