As the clay flung into the sky, Hunter Garnto zeroed in on his target and squeezed the trigger.
A shot rang out against the rolling berms at the decommissioned Columbia County landfill and part of the clay target shattered away.
Garnto, and Evans High School senior, shot 23 out of 25 clays at the Columbia County 4-H Project SAFE’s countywide meet Thursday.
The 18-year-old has been a member of the “shotgun club” since he was in the seventh grade and wouldn’t miss a regular Thursday afternoon practice.
“I’ve been in it since the beginning,” Garnto said. “I enjoy it every Thursday. ... It’s fun. You can get out here and hang out with your buddies you don’t see during the week.”
Garnto is one of 135 students from Columbia, Richmond, Lincoln and Burke counties that participate in the trap shooting program.
“They love it,” said Shirley Williamson, county 4-H director. “They stay in it from the beginning.”
The students celebrated their abilities and showed off for their parents and friends with a family picnic and meet Thursday.
“This is the time when the parents come,” said Keith Howard, coordinator of the program.
“A lot of them work and can’t get here during the week,” he said. “This is usually their fun time. They compete. We give trophies. We have a raffle. This is the fun part right here. These kids get really competitive and we do well.”
Howard helped get the club started in 2002 with about 10 members. Then meeting at Pinetucky Gun Club in Blythe, members drove about 45 minutes for the weekly practices and meets.
Columbia County commissioners zoned the landfill property to be used for recreational use and approved the 4-H’s request to shoot trap on the property in March 2004.
“It’s perfect,” Howard said of the landfill range set up with berms and natural buffer zones around the property. “It’s centrally located for Columbia County. It’s in a closed area.”
The area might not be perfect for everyone, however.
Noise from the weekly shooting sessions has become the subject of complaints for a nearby resident, who has brought his concerns before the Columbia County commission on two occasions.
Most recently, Steve Mock, who lives in the Ashbrooke subdivision, appeared at the April 1 meeting to reiterate his complaints about the gunfire, which he said were an annoyance and disturbed the normally peaceful neighborhood.
Mock said he supported the program, but hope officilas could find another gun range in a more remote area.
“I just want to be able to enjoy my home,” Mock said.
Commissioners asked Williamson to look into finding alternative sites for the next season, if it was feasible, but took no formal action.
Williamson said she can’t pull the plug on the group before the season ends in early May. But she told commissioners that she would look into other options.
“They want me to investigate the opportunities or to see if anywhere else could be found for it to be relocated,” Williamson said.
Mock’s home is more than a half mile from the range with a tree buffer, two schools, Columbia County Animal Services facility and William Few Parkway between them.
Williamson said she’s had a handful of complaints and inquiries about the shots this season.
Most were curious about what the gunshots were and how far away they were and were appeased when they were told it was 4-Hers.
Williamson, who has spoken to Mock and county officials about his complaints, said the few complaints have come only this year as residential development encroached onto property surrounding the landfill.
With the development, the buffer zones have thinned out.
The group is approved by county officials to shoot on the range daily from dawn until dusk. They only shoot a few hours a day one or two days a week.
Howard said the landfill has been the perfect location for the past decade and moving the program to a new site would be difficult.
“We need to stay here real bad,” Howard said. “If we don’t stay here, it’s going to be real hard.
“It’s going to be a real hardship. To find somewhere with this much acreage in the center of town that somebody is going to let you shoot on is probably going to be real hard. It took us a long time to get to this point.”
Howard said the program is open to any student in the seventh through 12th grade.
Students from neighboring counties also can participate if the 4-H programs in those counties don’t offer a similar program.
It’s open to boys and girls and has grown exponentially each year.
“They love this and they enjoy it,” Howard said, watching as his students took their turn on one of four trap stations set up at the landfill. “I’ve got some here that never shot a gun before until they came out here. And that’s the fun part.”
Howard said the students shoot for a few hours on Thursday afternoons and sometimes a few hours on Saturday mornings.
He said on Saturdays they mainly try to spend extra time with new shooters and to squeeze in some practice for those who couldn’t make it on Thursday.
The shooting season runs from the last week in February to the first week in May.