One by one, 180-millimeter sporting clays fly out of a trap thrower, arcing 40 feet into the air.
With the precision of a skilled marksman, Cass Elifritz launches 12-gauge shells from his Krieghoff K-80, setting off thunderous booms that echo across the lake behind his Ogilville home.
High above the treeline, shells meet sporting clays, splitting the clays into several pieces which fall harmlessly into the woods.
The practice is a daily routine for Elifritz, 18, who is on the verge of making the national team in sporting clays and FITASC. He currently ranks second in the country in sporting clays and fourth in FITASC. The top three in each make the national team.
Sporting clays are not yet in the Olympics, but FITASC could soon be added.
In FITASC, the shooter starts with the gun closed and at their side before the target is released.
“When you’re bird hunting, you don’t normally have your gun shouldered,” Elifritz said. “(In FITASC) have to have it 25 centimeters down from the top of your shoulder. If I were to call ‘Pull’ on a target, I would have to wait to see the target before I could move
Elifritz, who recently won the Indiana Sporting Clays Association state championship, is ranked first in the state and first in the region. Nationally, he is second in 28-gauge FITASC, third in 410 and 12-gauge and second in sub-gauge HOA, which is all scores combined. He leads the Briley All-American Sub-Gauge team points race and is the captain of the 2014 Briley .410 Bore and Briley 28-Gauge Junior All-American Teams.
The points Elifritz has accumulated have come from his at least monthly trips to places such as Texas and Florida to compete in tournaments. He plans to compete in the North Central Regional in Chicago, the Western Regional in Las Vegas and the national championships in October in San Antonio.
Because of his time away from home, Elifritz, who attended Columbus Signature Academy as a freshman and Columbus North as a sophomore, began homeschooling last year.
He plans to continue homeschooling for his senior year.
“I still hang out with my friends every day, almost,” Elifritz said. “I still text them, I still talk to them. It’s really not any different than being at school.”
Elifritz said he sometimes has to do eight hours a day of work online at home or when he’s on the road at tournaments.
“I’m shooting sometimes from 7 in the morning, and I don’t get away from the gun club until about 5 in the afternoon sometimes,” Elifritz said. “So it can be trouble to get all my homework done, but I still manage to get it done. There’s not a set time when it has to be turned in.”
Twice a year, Elifritz travels to Houston to take lessons with his coach.
Before turning 18, he couldn’t fly with his gun and had to ship it ahead when he was traveling alone.
“Now that I’m 18, I can fly with my gun, and it’s easier,” Elifritz said.
Elifritz is still too young to rent a car or hotel room. But his parents, Cari and John Roberts, accompany him to most of the tournaments.
“We save some money by driving to a lot of the places, hauling our own golf cart,” John Roberts said.
“We’re kind of locked in at least for another three years until he can get his own hotel room,” Cari Roberts said.
Bethel University in Tennessee has offered Elifritz a full-ride. Southeastern Illinois College has also offered some money.
“He’s been offered the world by (Bethel), but I’m sure there have been other schools that have offered money, and he’s not even a senior yet,” John Roberts
said. “There are going to be more offers.”
Elifritz is thinking of majoring in business and management and possibly eventually working as pro staff at a shooting range.
Although he’s been shooting since he was 12, Elifritz’ parents aren’t worried about his safety.
“Guns get terrible press,” John Roberts said. “But we go to tournaments a couple times a month. You can take 2,500 people with shotguns, and there’s never an issue. Safety has been and is paramount.”
“It’s funny because (Cass) asked me if he could go get fireworks the other day and shoot fireworks off in the backyard, and I was like ‘No, not while we’re not home.’” Cari Roberts said. “My husband goes ‘Really? He shoots a shotgun every day.’”