Article and photos courtesy of Paul A. Smith – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Smith: This 20-year-old shooter from Waterford aims to be one of the best in the world
BURLINGTON – Madelynn Bernau of Waterford was 12 when she was introduced to trapshooting through a 4-H program in Racine County.
In her first round of trap, she remembers hitting six of 25 clay targets.
“I left some room for improvement,” Bernau, now 20, said with a laugh last week.
Two others present that day, her father, Chris, and her sister, Meredith, agree with her assessment.
But what no one knew was how much upside Maddy had to her game. Or where trapshooting could take her.
Eight years later Bernau has proven she’s among the world’s best trapshooters in her age group.
Competing as a member of the USA Shooting team, Bernau won the biggest title of her young career, the gold medal in women’s trap at the 14th International Junior Grand Prix in Porpetto, Italy, on May 20.
“I had no idea if I’d be on the podium,” Bernau said. “But I try to perform to the best of my ability every time out, If I do that and it results in a medal, I’m definitely happy.”
Bernau also won gold in Italy in mixed team trap (with teammate Dale Royer of Jackson, Mont.) and bronze in women’s team trap (with Carey Garrison of Crossville, Tenn. and Emma Williams of Savannah, Tenn.).
The success in international competition didn’t come overnight, of course.
After the 4-H program, Bernau entered Waterford High School and competed for the Waterford Wolverine Shooting Team in the Scholastic Clay Target Program.
As a freshman, Bernau said she still was unsure about trapshooting. She struggled with bruises from ill-fitting shotguns and, while she enjoyed breaking targets, was not keen on the competitive aspects of the sport.
But her skill was already on full display. As a freshman at the SCTP national championships, she hit 75 straight and 193 out of 200 in singles trap.
And the crucible that is the southeastern Wisconsin SCTP conference eventually changed her attitude about competition.
Within a 50-mile radius are a dozen SCTP programs, including past national champions Burlington Demons Shooting Team and Westosha Central Falcons Shooting Team, that perennially produce some of the best youth trapshooters in the country.
As Bernau grew stronger and found a shotgun that fit well, she began to excel in close matches against fierce competition.
Bernau eventually earned a reputation as one of the top female trapshooters in the region, and beyond.
“We try to provide a structure and open doors for all our athletes,” said Tom Wondrash of Burlington, SCTP national program director. “Maddy has walked through that door and climbed to a new level. She’s setting an outstanding example of where our kids can go.”
In 2016, Bernau enrolled at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where she pursues dual goals: competitive trapshooting on the school’s team and preveterinary studies.
Significantly, Bernau has taken to bunker (or international) trap, the type used in Olympic and World Cup competitions.
But training on bunker is limited to due to a lack of facilities.
Bernau’s development in international trap has been aided substantially through a new SCTP program designed by Wondrash.
The initiative creates a team of the top three male and female finishers in SCTP international disciplines. The team members then travel multiple times to sites, including the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to practice under the tutelage of Olympic trapshooting medalist Terri DeWitt.
It has been said that bunker trap and American trap are similar, but only in the way a sports car is similar to a minivan.
In bunker trap (named for its underground house), targets are thrown at 65 miles per hour, compared to about 45 in American trap. And bunker targets can be sent out at a variety of elevations and at a greater range of angles than its American counterpart.
“It’s crazy challenging,” Bernau. “It really tests you and it’s really fun at the same time.”
In March, Bernau tied for second in women’s junior bunker trap at the USA Shooting Spring Selection in Tucson, Ariz.
The result punched her ticket for the next, and greatest, international challenge: the 2018 International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Championships in Changwon, Korea.
The event, held Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, will bring together the best competitive shooters in the world, including skeet shooter Vince Hancock of the U.S., a three-time gold medal winner. About 4,500 athletes from 120 nations are expected to participate.
Bernau will be competing in the junior (age 20 and under) division of bunker trap.
Bernau said it will be another learning experience, another chance to perform to the best of her ability.
Her long-range goal in trapshooting is to represent the U.S. at a future Olympic Games. The 2020 Summer Olympics are in Japan.
Trapshooters never count a target before it’s been broken.
But Bernau’s track record has shown she’d do well to keep her passport handy.