In1974, a group of area shot-gunners got together and started what has become -- at least unofficially -- one of the largest, if not the largest, trap league in the United States.
Twenty-eight years after organizing in the pursuit of fun and better trap shooting, the Mahoning Valley Trap League continues to draw nearly 200 shooters each week during its roughly five-month split season.
"It's mainly for fun and a social thing, but it's also very competitive," said Dave Ruggles, a member of the Fish and Game Club of Vienna who shoots the league regularly and also helps behind the scenes.
"Many people come out and hang around for a part of the day," he said. "We get quite a gallery at times."
Who takes part
Each shoot is open to members of clubs participating, although they don't have to shoot for the club they're in. The shoots draw a wide variety of club members with Earl Bartell, 84, the oldest one shooting, and 11-year-old John Soda, the youngest.
Ruggles said the public is invited to come out to watch the individual teams take their stations and bang away at the Day-Glo orange clay pigeons.
"Since we started in 1974, the caliber of shooting has gone up so much," Ruggles added.
The MVTL got its start with six clubs sending shooters to a different club trap field each week. The top scores are counted toward a league championship.
The club has seen its ups and downs, at one point dropping to only four participating clubs, Ruggles said. But for now, "the league is as healthy as it has ever been," he said, with six clubs in the mix.
In recent years, participation has soared with about 190 shooters weekly. Clubs in the MVTL include Lowellville Rod & amp; Gun Club, Eastern Ohio Conservation Club, Fish & amp; Game Club of Vienna, New Middletown Farmers & amp; Sportsmans Club, Columbiana Fish & amp; Game Club and the Mahoning Sportsmens Club.
"Since the shoot is not registered [sanctioned by the American Trapshooting Association] it can't officially by listed as the largest," said Ruggles. However, he said, officials at ATA headquarters in Vandalia, Ohio, have told MVTL members unofficially that they know of no other league that regularly draws such numbers.
Fields have changed
The trap fields the shooters use have also changed over the years.
When the league started, Ruggles said, the fields were fairly primitive and some clubs participating did not even have facilities for trap.
"By our third year, we had too many people for the few fields we had and we had to limit participation to clubs that had two, full trap fields," said Walter Ibele, another MVTL participant.
Over the years, all of the clubs have installed or enhanced trap facilities with all of the fields used now sporting high-tech, voice-activated trap pullers.
"The shooters activate the birds now, instead of the puller-scorer, " Ruggles said.
That change makes the shooter more in tune with the bird and helps accuracy and timing, he explained.