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Berge was the top female finisher at the USA High School Clay Target League National Championship

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Issabella Berge trains at the Canby Rod & Gun Club every Tuesday and Thursday.

Before Canby's Issabella Berge could compete in the USA High School Clay Target League National Championship, she had to take an unplanned trip to Wal-Mart.

"They were going to disqualify me for my clothing," says Berge, who was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts when she was informed her outfit was a "safety hazard."

"I got really mad at that," Berge says. "One boy was wearing American flag overalls with no shirt and he was fine wearing that. No one disqualified him."

Being forced to change her clothing was all the motivation Berge says she needed. Wearing a white T-shirt and nursing scrubs she bought at Wal-Mart, Berge shot four perfect rounds of 25 on July 13 in Mason, Michigan.

Out of 1,800 competitors, she was one of only seven, the rest all boys, to kill all 100 clay targets on day one.

"I was shaking," Berge recalls. "It was insane. It was a miracle. It just sort of happened."

After hitting 90 straight, the crowd began counting down as Berge took aim at the final 10.

"I would have dropped (missed) all 10 of them with the pressure, but she was in the zone," says Issabella's father Trygve. "She was a little machine out there."

Berge, a rising senior at Canby High School, was introduced to trap shooting at age 13 after attending a hunter safety course.

In her first attempt at the sport, Berge hit 19 of 25 targets.

"She's a natural," Trygve says "She's got the eye-hand coordination and sees those birds coming out and crushes them."

In the eighth grade, Berge began working with Ralph Mowatt, a training counselor for the National Rifle Association, and competing in a spring youth league before joining the Canby team in high school.

The clay targets are launched 45 miles per hour from a single trap house machine. A shooter stands 16 yards from the machine as the targets fly in five different directions – soft right, soft left, hard right, hard left and straight.

"I started her out with a semi-automatic shotgun that was taller than she was," says Mowatt of Berge, who is 5 feet tall. "Training was really simple. I made them as hard as possible and she stepped up to the plate and did everything she needed to do. She's unbelievable."

Berge now competes on an over and under 8-pound shotgun with a 32-inch barrel.

While balancing school (Berge plans to graduate a trimester early) and two jobs, she practices with her father every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the Canby Rod & Gun Club.

"It's our time, mine and my dad's," Berge says. "We listen to his music on the way here, ACDC, Def Leopard. It (trap shooting) gives us something to connect on."

Trygve has four daughters but Issabella is the only trap shooter.

They tried hunting but Issabella could not do it.

"I can't kill an animal," she says. "I'm a little softy."

Mowatt was not surprised to hear of Berge's success at nationals.

"I wasn't amazed," Mowatt says. "I knew she could do it. She just has that ability. I'm really proud of her. She's a little machine. She gets out there and breaks birds and enjoys life."

Entering the finals of nationals tied for first place, Berge continued her streak by hitting another 25 straight targets.

After shooting a total of 138 in a row over the two days, she finally missed, but then regrouped to hit 96 of 100 in the finals.

"One thing they drill into you here is that when you miss one you have to let it go," Berge says. "Otherwise you're going to miss every single bird after that. If you would have stood next to me with a microphone, you would have heard me curse and then laugh and move on to the next one. It was fine."

Berge's most costly miss came on her final attempt of the tournament. Due to a longest run tiebreaker, Berge finished last of the 14 shooters who posted a 196, which placed her 25th in the nation overall. She was both the top female and top Oregon shooter.

Three girls – Ashleigh Painter, Rebecca Ring and Erin Schultz – killed 194 targets to finish inside the top 60.

"I feel like it's a very male dominated sport and that should change," Berge says. "Clearly there are some girls that are good."

Mowatt, who has trained trap shooters since 1967, believes Berge could compete in the Olympics today.

"She can write her own ticket," he says.

Derek Wiley
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