The accolades for Darby's Austin Ward keep piling up.
So does the debris from all the clay pigeons he keeps hitting.
DARBY — Competitive shooting takes focus, particularly in the sporting clays event. Just ask Darby 13-year-old Austin Ward, who won the D Class state championship last week in Polson at the Big Sky Sporting Clays with an 85-83-168 in the main event.
Ward and his Smokin Guns shooting team, based out of Billings, combined to bring home the team open doubles skeet competition at the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) National Team Championships in Marengo, Ohio last month. The squad, which edged a team out of Ohio by one bird, combined to post a three-person score of 272.
It was the Smokin Guns first team National Championship.
"This was awesome because it’s with the team, which is, in my opinion, better than an individual award," said Ward, who won his second straight Montana state sporting clays title in June. "It was crazy having never gone before. Luckily there’s some older kids on my team that have been there two or three times, so they were kind of able to guide me where stuff was."
Guidance is a good thing to have at the national tournament as more than 3,000 competitors and 300 teams from 26 states take part in the different shooting events.
Thirty-one teams made up the open division in the doubles skeet event.
And the Smokin Guns — with Ward, Connor Bergman, of Laurel, and Preston Bailey, of Columbus — came out on top.
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"He was so excited," Austin's mom, Dawn Ward, said. "You go up to a podium, they put the medals on your, it’s kind of like the whole Olympic experience."
Overall, Bailey led the team by knocking down 97 of 100 bird. Bergman hit 93 and Ward — the only member of the team not yet in high school — finished with 82. Bailey's 97 placed him seventh overall individually in the the event.
"He definitely thought he could have shot a little better, but it was a lot of pressure to have to be in that kind of situation," Dawn said. "Competing against that many kids. Everything’s so much bigger and faster. He did well, he really handled it pretty well."
For a first-time trip to a national tournament, it's safe to say Ward — now holding the title of "National Champion" with his team — did just fine.
When Darby's Austin Ward readied for a sporting clays shooting practice with coach Mike Potts at the Missoula Trap and Skeet Club last month, he got a bit of the rock star treatment from some of the club members there that day.
Individually, he was better than the majority of the pack.
In the men's intermediate high overall competition, combining all the shooting events at the tournament, Ward finished in a tie for 44th out of 173 in the division. He was also nominated to Montana's all-state team in trap and skeet after competing in an extra shoot that pit top shooters from each state against one another.
Ward also had a Top 10 finish in the Intermediate/Advanced Bunker Trap event, a new event for Ward where targets travel at a higher rate of speed than traditional trap and skeet.
Ward and the Smokin Guns weren't the only shooters from Montana to find success at the SCTP National Tournament in Ohio, either. Blazin Barrels IA, also of Billings, won the intermediate/advanced division of the doubles skeet competition.