Two nights before the Bama Clay Busters shot past the competition at the AIM youth trapshooting contest, the five teammates — more like brothers — left nothing to chance.
Fulfilling their ritual visit to the $3-movie theater, the Morgan countians left relaxed and ready to hit their mark in Sparta, Illinois.
“This first time, it’s really hard to believe some teenagers from Alabama could go up there and win like that,” said 16-year-old Dustin Randolph, a member of the Junior Gold Squad Class C Champion Bama Clay Busters.
It was Randolph and teammate Garrett Robinson’s first national win with the team, but hardly the group’s first victory. The squad brought home gold to Danville three times at the Grand Championships for AIM — Academics, Integrity, Marksmanship — the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s (ATA) youth program.
Cameron Boyd ,21, Zack Benefield, 18, and Landon Sims, 16, round out the squad, which Boyd’s father, Scott, coaches.
“He’s the Nick Saban of trapshooting,” Cameron joked, comparing his dad to the University of Alabama football coach. “He has three national championships in about four years.”
Scott founded Bama Clay Busters 10 years ago when his sons discovered sport shooting through Boy Scouts. The team has evolved, with Randolph taking his brother’s position and 17-year-old Robinson filling the void from Cameron’s brother.
The championships were at the country’s largest trapshooting complex — 108 trap fields spanning 3.5 miles. Each teammate logged 100 shots daily at the competition July 31 and Aug. 1.
Day 1, the Bama Clay Busters were in third place and down five clays. Day 2 was a different story. Cameron and Zack bagged 95, Garrett 96, Dustin 99 and 100 for Landon, who goes through a case of shells, or 250 rounds, during weekly practice.
“He shoots 100 straight,” Scott said.
“Two hundred straight,” Dustin corrected. “Actually, he’s at 250 straight right now.”
Sixteen shots separated Bama Clay and second-place Decatur Heritage Christian Academy of Morgan County, ironic since the sport is new to Alabama.
The team fires up practice each spring to prepare for the state 4-H tournament in April, which Bama Clay Busters won in 2017. They battled 30 mph winds in the national contest in Nebraska, placing in the top 15.
While the team also shoots skeet and sporting clays through 4-H, they zero in on trapshooting.
With trapshooting, five shooters form an arc before an oscillating thrower hurling 4 1/4–inch discs at 42 mph, simulating a bird’s flight path.
Shooters rotate through five stations with the squad leader, Cameron in this case, starting each round. After calling “pull,” it’s go time.
Pursuing perfection drives the team, especially Landon, who struck gold in several individual events at AIM.
The teams’ journey to the top wasn’t overnight. It’s taken years of target practice and countless cases of shells. When they started shooting, they visited ranges across north Alabama. Seasoned marksmen shared tips, and one even let then eight-year-old Dustin fire a $4,000 gun when his 20-gauge went awry.
“Hearing those old guys tell you how good you could be, it drives you,” Dustin said.
Team members say routine — and adjustable stocks fitted to each shooter — is a game changer. Cameron’s Browning Citori won’t do for Garrett, and Zack’s left-handed Beretta 686 is custom-fitted.
“If you’re going to be on the top end of this game, it takes putting a lot of shells through the gun,” Scott said.
The Bama Clay Busters are at different stages of life — Cameron’s in EMT school; Zack is at Wallace State Community College; and Garrett, Landon and Dustin are Danville High School students. But they agree that unlike most sports, marksmanship will stay with them post-school.
“It’s a life sport,” Zack said.