Oh, Shoot: Family makes it a vacation competing in state trap meets

Published 12:19 pm Monday, October 9, 2023

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Caleb Mathis remembers well the first time he fired a shotgun.

His dad had taken him to the backyard with the new gun he had just gotten for his birthday, and lined up tomato soup cans as targets.

“It kicked the snot out of my arm, and from there, I was hooked,” Caleb, who along with brother Connor and other family members, spent their summer vacation winning awards at Amateur Trapshooting Association state tournaments in West Virginia, Vermont, North Carolina and Connecticutt.

Caleb, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering at UNC Charlotte, came home with 33 awards. He shoots a Browning 725 trap combo with a double barrel and an unsingle with a precision fit stock.

Connor, an eighth grader at William Ellis Middle School, came home with nine awards. Connor shoots a Beretta 686 for singles and handicap, and a Browning Citori for doubles, both with precision fit stocks.

The sons of Shannon and Stephanie Mathis, their goal is to shoot in all 50 state tournaments. They have competed in 11 so far, and this trip was in jeopardy because Caleb had surgery for a broken collarbone in April.

On this last trip, they traveled more than 3,500 miles and shot more than 7,300 targets combined. Also making the trip were sister Aubree Mathis, and grandparents Barron and Leesa Church.

It wasn’t all shooting.

They visited Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, the Rock of Ages granite quarry, saw multiple covered bridges and even crossed a floating bridge, toured a maple syrup farm and the Vermont Teddy Bear factory.

They went trout fishing on Lake Champlain, toured Newport and Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and toured sites in Washington, D.C. including the Library of Congress, the Capital (tickets courtesy Thom Tillis), Arlington Cemetery for the changing of the guard, the World War II Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial and The Washington Monument.

Connor couldn’t remember his first time shooting a gun, but became interested when his brother joined the hunter education team at Ellis. Now, Connor shoots year round with the Ellis team, Tom Cowden Youth 4-H Shooting Sports Club, the Blue Ridge Claybreakers and at ATA shoots.

“I like to see the improvement I am able to make with hard work and practice,” Connor said. He also likes bringing home trophies and awards and making new friends at each event. He prefers doubles because it is at a faster pace.

Shooting sports, he said, teaches discipline and focus.

Caleb’s competitive shooting career started in sixth grade at Ellis, and in 2018, he met Morgan Shaw and was introduced to competitive trap shooting.

“I love to compete. Trap is a very competitive and an individual sport. There are good shooters at every club and you have to stay on top of your game if you want to win,” Caleb said.

Making new friends, and meeting new mentors, is also important to Caleb.

“The relationships are some of the biggest things that keep me coming back to the trap range,” he said. “We all compete against each other, but at the end of the day, we’re all friends and have  a great time.”

Both brothers plan to shoot for the rest of their lives, and both focus on firearm safety.

“Firearm safety is always the No. 1 priority,” Caleb said. “Safety is ingrained in everything I do relating to shooting sports, and it allows me to teach the next group of youth shooters.

“This sport has also given me skills that stretch beyond just shooting sports. Over the past eight years, I’ve learned people skills, critical thinking and analysis skills, self control, and I’ve gained several lifelong friends,” Caleb said. “These are things that will transfer over to my career and life after I graduate from college.”