EVANSTON — To call him a prodigy might be a bit of a stretch but Nico Elardi is definitely a young buck for the promise he has shown and the success he’s already achieved in the sport of trap shooting. He already has a few titles under his belt including Wyoming Class B state champion for hitting 195 out of 200 targets and then going 25-25 in a tie-breaking shoot-off in Torrington.
Elardi is a 2015 graduate of Evanston High School. He is entering his senior year at the University of Wyoming pursuing his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering after attaining his associate’s degree at Western Wyoming College.
Trap shooting may be a departure for the Elardi name associated with athletic prowess in motorsports like motocross, drag and snowmachine racing, in which Elardi, like his father and brother, has enjoyed his fair share of triumphs, not to mention injuries.
“I’ve had surgeries, broke my collarbone, suffered a dislocated shoulder, and tore the meniscus in my knee,” Elardi told the Herald. In motorsports like motocross, you never know when you’re going to crash and it’s usually not a matter of if, but when,” he added.
Elardi clarified the distinction between competing in motocross as opposed to trap shooting, which prompted his “retirement” from the former.
“If you have a bad day at the race track, you’re going to the hospital. If you have a bad day in trap shooting, you miss a few more targets than you would have liked.”
His racing retirement coincided with the time he entered college and became focused on obtaining his degrees.
“When you’re in high school, it’s not good to have an injury like a broken arm or leg, but it’s not so bad. When you attend college and you’re paying for it, you want to limit your distractions,” Elardi explained.
The notion of having to use crutches to traverse Prexy’s Pasture on the University of Wyoming campus was not an appealing one for Elardi.
Trap shooting differs from its cousin skeet shooting in a number of ways. Chief among them is skeet shooting utilizes two throwing machines and the target’s tragectories go from left to right and right to left; whereas, in trap shooting, the four-inch clay pigeons are tossed in a forward arc from a single machine. Trap shooting has five stations, aligned in an arc formation, from which competitors will shoot, according to Elardi. Station one would be on the extreme left with station three directly behind the trap machine; station five is on the extreme right.
Elardi also detailed the three disciplines involved in trap shooting: singles, handicap and doubles.
In singles, competitors fire rounds of 25 from the five stations. A box of shells equates to 25, as well.
Handicap competition will have shooters firing from different distances depending on skill level, age and experience, with expert divisions shooting from farther back while beginners are closer.
Doubles competition entails shooting at two targets.
If a shooter is involved in all three disciplines, which Elardi most often tries to do, they will fire 300 rounds of shotgun shells per competition.
While his family was never what he considers avid hunters, guns were always a part of recreational fun for the Elardi family as they would shoot rifles and pistols at targets. Elardi started out shooting at paper targets with his father, brother and friends. He moved from rifles and pistols to shooting a pump-action shotgun with a hand-throwing machine, because shooting at a moving projectile was much more challenging, fun and exciting than shooting at a stationary paper target.
Elardi began to elevate his practice sessions by spending time at Evanston’s Overthrust Gun Club, located southwest of town, off Yellow Creek Road. He wasn’t sure what the locked trap machines were used for in the beginning, but happened to pay a visit when local league shooting was underway and the trap machines were in use. Members of the gun range club encouraged Elardi to give trap shooting a try and he recalls hitting approximately 18 of the 25 targets in his first attempt, being somewhat discouraged about his performance during the summer of 2015.
Elardi stated several times during the interview that members of the club were welcoming, nice and helpful. They encouraged him to pursue the sport, noting his first attempt was really quite good, while giving Elardi pointers for success in trap shooting.
The local league’s season begins on the first Thursday in June and extends through mid-August.
With encouragement from Overthrust Gun Club members and realizing he truly did have some innate skill, Elardi was hooked, even with the realization that he somewhat stood out, due to his age.
“For the most part, it is an older person’s sport,” the 21-year-old Elardi said, noting that the next youngest member of the local club was in his mid-40s and that a number of the perennial champions in trap shooting are retired.
“Even at big meets, only about 10 percent of the competitors are under the age of 25,” Elardi stated, also acknowledging a large disparity of shooters from age 25 to 40.
A disadvantage to Elardi is the long lull during the winter with a lack of competitions or even the ability to practice. He will attend Amateur Trap Shoot Association (ATA) shoots in September in Laramie and Cheyenne while already back in college in Laramie, but after that, will have little or no opportunity to hone his skills until springtime.
“I usually practice at the rec center’s range while home on Christmas break with rifles and pistols, but that’s about it until spring.”
Some of his competitors have the luxury of spending the winters in places like Arizona where they can practice and compete on a year-round basis.
Elardi credits members of the Overthrust Gun club for contributing to his success, in particular, Mark Fruechte and Darrel “Todd” Jones, the local ATA representative.
A proper gun-fitting is extremely crucial and Elardi was just guessing when he went from a standard shotgun to a specially designed model for trap shooting. Everything is adjustable in the shotgun for the sport and Fruechte was immensely helpful in assisting Elardi with the proper gun-fitting adjustments.
“Hand-eye coordination is an important variable to be successful, but proper gun-fitting is an equally important factor,” Elardi said.
Fruechte has also been instrumental is assisting Elardi with what he considers the discipline he needs to improve upon the most, that of doubles competition.
Todd Jones is the guy Elardi tabs as “being the most fun guy to hang out with following shooting competitions.” Jones has also helped Elardi along the way with advice and knowledge for the sport.
Elardi considers Jones and Fruechte as the best shooters in Evanston.
“They’re the guys you want to beat and they have also been my go-to guys to help me become a better shooter,” Elardi said, describing both Jones and Fruechte as mentors and coaches.
Jones, as the local ATA delegate, has placed Elardi as second in the local hierarchy, grooming the young competitor in how to stage and run a shoot, something Elardi looks forward to doing for the local Evanston club in the future.
The sport is not the most expensive to compete in, as compared to other sports, but it doesn’t come cheaply, either.
If Elardi enters all three disciplines at an average of $30 per event and ATA and state fees are added in, he will drop about $100 for a day of competition.Only this summer did he consider himself to be at the level where he could also enter Lewis class scoring and calcutta events, which require additional funds. But those costs can be offset by added money from the shoot sponsor, as was the case at the Golden Spike shoot in Utah on Sunday, July 29, with an additional $1,000 added. Elardi ended up tied with two others, “But I came away with more than I expended,” Elardi shared.
Competition numbers can greatly vary by venue and location, Elardi noted, with a field of 200-250 at both the Wyoming and Utah state championship shoots held earlier this summer, in Torrington and Spanish Fork, respectively, to a grouping of just12 for a shoot held in Farson, Wyoming.
Elardi came away with the non-resident class C singles championship at the Utah State Shoot in late June.
At the Wyoming State Shoot, his accomplishments were even more impressive. On Thursday, July 5, Elardi claimed both the junior gold singles title with a 94 out of 100 performance and the junior gold handicap crown, connecting on 91 of 100.
His teammate, Jones, was the junior gold winner on Friday, July 6, scoring 97 of 100.
On Saturday, July 7, Elardi became the Wyoming Class B champion, scoring 195 of 200, then connecting on all 25 of his attempts in the tie-breaking shoot-off.
On Sunday, July 8, Elardi placed fourth in the Wyoming State Handicap division, going 96/100 plus 23/25 and 24/25 to narrowly lose out on third place.
His immediate goals are to make the Wyoming State team comprised of three to potentially five competitors, for which he has met all the qualifying criteria. From there, Elardi hopes to claim an overall state title, based simply on the top scores in the events, regardless of divisions.
Time is certainly on his side and Elardi is well on his way to further success in trap shooting and success in life.