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Gillette sophomore Kolton Miller holds his shotgun over his shoulder after a competition at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

The National High School Finals Rodeo was much different for shooting contestants compared to last year’s event in Rock Springs.

Nationals was in Guthrie, Oklahoma, this year and the heat and humidity made a big difference, said Gillette sophomore Kolton Miller.

But Miller dealt with the conditions as well as he could and worked his way to a No. 10 finish in the nation.

“It means a lot, because last year I got 14th and I was pretty happy about that for my first year,” Miller said. “I told myself (that) I want to do better every year, so I just went out and shot as much as I could and got better every time I shot.”

Since there are no shooting sports for high school rodeo in the fall, contestants typically have to finish in the top four after the spring season to qualify for nationals. But with no spring season this year because of COVID-19, NHSFR qualifiers were chosen from the 2019 national qualifiers list.

Miller said preparation for the NHSFR was strange, because nobody knew if the event would actually happen.

“We weren’t quite ready for it to happen, because they were messing around and weren’t sure whether they’d have it,” Miller said. “I’m glad they figured out somewhere to have it and I was glad to go with that group of people and have fun and shoot.”

The shooting competition at the NHSFR was located about 45 minutes from the Lazy E Arena, where the majority of the events were held.

The elements played a big factor on the first day of shooting. Miller said.

“It was a lot different from Rock Springs,” he said, adding that most of the finalists from last year were out of contention after the first round.

“I think it changed the game a lot,” he said of the atmosphere. “It was windy and humid and it was a hard day to shoot.”

The heat also made the contestants’ guns heat up much more quickly, which affects how they shoot. Miller said he tried to cool his gun off as often as possible, but there just wasn’t much he could do.

“It’s hard to change a lot when you’re not used to it,” Miller said.

Miller shot as well as anyone in the competition during the first round, scoring 25 points, before finishing in 10th overall with 102 points.

In all, “I could have done a lot better,” he said, adding he was happy with a top-10 finish.

Miller became serious about trap shooting two years ago and was drawn to the outdoor nature of the sport. Before that, he had always been a hunter and participated in family turkey shoots every year at Thanksgiving.

When Miller discovered how much he enjoyed shooting competition, he joined the high school team in Sundance during the fall of his freshman year. He qualified for state and won the state title in his first year of competitive shooting.

But he said his mom, Sheila Slocum, didn’t like the travel back and forth every day. The solution was telling Miller that she was going to start a trap shooting club for those who wanted it.

“My parents are the thing that have helped the most,” Miller said. “If I didn’t have them pushing me every day, pushing me to go shoot and keep my confidence up, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

Gillette’s Peityn Manor was another NHSFR shooting contestant from Gillette and took 50th overall in light rifle.

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