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Hilborn takes aim at Grand American

Sean Kelly

Ryan Hilborn’s mailing address is in Carbondale, but during the summer he’s more likely to be rolling around the region in his lime-green Chevy truck pulling a 1960 Santa Fe camper.

Hilborn, 18, has logged close to 18,000 miles since June, and he has another big trip this weekend as he travels to the nation’s largest trapshoot, the Grand American, in Vandalia, Ohio. A few days after the Grand American shoot, Hilborn makes another trip to the Junior Olympics trapshoot in Colorado Springs.

“It’s a little nerve-racking for mom at times,” said Hilborn’s mother, Sue Hilborn. “I don’t worry about the shooting, I worry about the driving.”

There’s a good reason Sue Hilborn doesn’t worry about the shooting – he doesn’t miss often.

While Ryan Hilborn has put in plenty of miles in his trip to the top of the junior trapshooting ranks, it hasn’t taken much time.

Hilborn began competing in registered trap in 2000. In 2001 he won the junior state title, and he successfully defended that title this summer at the Delta Trap Club, winning the Junior all around (720 out of 800), high overall (375/400), doubles (90/100), singles (193/200) and was runner-up in the handicap (92/100).

Hilborn, who shoots a Beretta 682 Trap Combo, has also already notched a perfect round of 100 straight, coming last year at the Cortez Trap Club during the Southwestern Zone Shoot.

“I was pretty nervous,” Hilborn said of the last shots of his perfect round. “I barely got the shell in the gun.”

Hilborn obviously managed to get the shell in the gun and used the same concentration tool he always uses while shooting – country and southern rock music.

“It’s easier to concentrate” while listening to the compact disc player on a headset, Hilborn said. “It’s not really the music, it’s just a deterrent from thinking too much about what I’m doing.

“I just try to clear my mind so I can concentrate because there are a lot of distractions – people talking behind you and stuff.”

Last year Hilborn had a rough day at the Grand American shoot. When asked about his scores his reply was simply: “Bad. I kind of didn’t want to know.”

Part of the problem last year was the different flight of the clays in Ohio’s humidity compared to Colorado. This year he plans on arriving two days prior to his first round on Monday in order to get more familiar with the new trajectories and speeds caused by the heavy air.

The highlight of the shoot is the champions of champions competition in which the state champs from each state compete for top honors. And there is more than just a trophy and bragging rights at stake, according to Hilborn.

“I want to place in the top 10 in the champions of champions,” Hilborn said. “At the Grand American, if you can shoot good, you might be able to get the sponsor to pay for your shooting.”

Currently Hilborn, with help from his parents and a sponsorship from Alpine Bank, pays his own expenses. And the cost of getting to and from competitions, as well as shells and other shooting equipment, isn’t cheap.

Of course a spot on the 2004 Olympic team wouldn’t be a bad deal either as far as funding.

Just a few days after the Grand American, Hilborn heads to the Junior Olympics. While its doesn’t attract the sponsors like the Grand American does, it does attract Olympic coaches. The top two finishers qualify for the U.S. Developmental Team from which many of the Olympic Team members are selected.

A good showing at either event could lead to Hilborn’s ultimate goal.

“It’s hard to say if I could ever make a living at it,” Hilborn said. “It’s pretty tough, but everybody dreams about doing what they love for a job.”


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