By Mathew Brock

This year more than 120 individual shooters and 22 squads competed for the chance to win one of several Crab Buckle Shoot belt buckle trophies, a highly sought-after prize for members of the Pacific International Trapshooting Association (PITA).

Every January, trap shooters from across the U.S. and Canada are drawn to the Del Norte Rod and Gun Club shooting range in Smith River for the annual Crab Buckle Shoot competition.

The Crab Buckle shoot is the largest of four PITA competitions the club hosts each year.

According to club president Steve Bigham, most western states are represented at the shoot and several competitors travel from Canada just for the event, which is rare for competitions that don’t award cash prizes.

“We have people who’ve been coming out for years and traveling pretty far for a chance to get one of these buckles and who still haven’t managed to win one,” said Budd Hoffman, vice president of the Del Norte Rod and Gun Club. “They’re a pretty coveted award.”

The buckles are special ordered from Montana Silversmiths and given to the winners of each 100 target event, the winners of several subcategories, such as ladies and youth, and the best overall scorers of the competition. The first event was the doubles shoot on Friday, followed by the singles shoot on Saturday and finally the handicap shoot on Sunday.

The top shooter for this year’s Crab Buckle Shoot was Brian Hazen, a regular attendee from British Columbia, who shot 472 out of 500 for the highest overall score. A complete list of the winning scores can be found on the club’s website and Facebook page, as well as on the bulletin board on the club grounds.

While the turnout for the Crab Buckle Shoot remains the highest of any event the club hosts in a given year, Bigham notes that their number of attendees of is lower than years past.

“We’re down from the number we were the year before last. The economy, like everything else, affects this sport a great deal,” said Bigham.

“A lot of the older generation is dying off and not being replaced by the younger generation, which is an issue for a lot of these types of sports.”

According to Bigham, the club hosts several casual competitions a year, especially during the holidays, where the club invites younger community members to compete for prizes sych as Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas hams, but few younger competitors hold much more than a passive interest.

Bigham said several young competitors travel from larger cities to compete in events like the Crab Buckle Shoot, but local youth shooters from Del Norte and Curry County areas are rare for the competitive PITA events.

Nevertheless, 18-year-old Devon Lopez Ramirez from Brookings area is a local youth trap shooter who has taken to the sport and regularly competes in local PITA shoots. Ramirez has been trap shooting for four years and is one of the Del Norte Rod and Gun Club’s youngest members.

Though he feels he didn’t give a particularly strong performance at this year’s Crab Buckle Shoot, Ramirez looks forward to competing in future club competitions, as well as possibly branching out to more PITA shoots in the future.

“It’s a pretty expensive hobby, but it’s definitely something worth looking into,” said Ramirez. “It’s been a great opportunity to get out, meet new people and have new experiences. It’s a lot of fun.”