When a trapshooter hits his mark, everyone watching knows it. The clay target sailing through the air shatters into tiny pieces and creates a burst of colored smoke that lingers in the sky.
The first time 16-year-old Grayson Davey of Anchorage triggered those fireworks, he knew he'd found his sport.
It happened when he was an 11-year-old attending a shooting camp at Rabbit Creek Shooting Park. Kids were exposed to a variety of shooting sports and firearms — bow-and-arrows, .22s, big-game hunting rifles — before finishing on a trap range, where they were shown how to use shotguns.
"They had us shoot a couple of birds," Davey said, "and as soon as the first bird came out I shot it and big orange fireworks came out and I thought, 'This is for me.' Instant gratification, as soon as you hit it."
Davey shot a full round of 25 targets and hit 17 of them — a wildly successful effort for a beginner of any age. A few days later an incredulous Trent Davey took his son back to Rabbit Creek, where Grayson shot 21 of 25.
The kid's been on target ever since.
Last month, Davey turned heads with a surprising victory at USA Shooting's Fall Selection competition in Arkansas. He beat a field loaded with many of the country's top shooters, including one who is an Olympic gold medalist and another who is the current world-record holder.
"I thought I'd go there for the experience and maybe get into the finals," Davey said.
He made the finals by shooting perfect scores of 25 in three of the 10 rounds of shooting over four days to capture the gold medal by scoring 237 out of a possible 250.
Each day, he followed the same routine:
"Ten hours of sleep every night. Wake up three hours before the first shot and have breakfast, stretch and then warm up," he said. "For lunch I ate the same kind of hamburger every day."
Davey resisted the temptation to pore over each day's results, a habit he picked up a few years ago after his second competition. At that meet, he looked at the scores after every round, "and I did terrible, and that's the last time I did that," he said.
The gold-medal performance earned Davey spots on the U.S. team that will compete in next year's season-opening World Cup competition in Mexico in March as well as another World Cup meet in Korea.
And that puts Davey right where he wants to be.
"That's one of the steps," he said. "My goals are to go to the World Cup, the World Championships and the Olympics."
That Davey earned his first World Cup berth at age 16 fits right into the story of his life. The only child of Trent and Lori Davey of Anchorage, Grayson has always been a high-achiever.
He's in the Alaska Pacific University early honors program, where this semester he's taking calculus, chemistry and argumentative writing.
When he was 12, he founded Alaska Paracord Designs, which makes and sells bracelets and keychains that double as fire-starter survival kits. The company employs 19 people, Lori Davey said, and last year Davey became the youngest winner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development's Manufacturer of the Year Award.
Davey, who will graduate from high school in 2019, is already thinking about college. He intends to continue with trapshooting, so he's looking at schools that are near a shooting facility with an underground bunker, which is what's used in international trapshooting.
Such bunkers are rare in the United States, said Curtis Lynn, an Anchorage trapshooter whose daughter, Abbigail, is teammates with Davey on the Birchwood Bears youth team. He says there are less than 50, a number that includes the new underground bunker at the Birchwood Recreation and Shooting Park in Chugiak.
The range opened in October 2016. It has five stations, each equipped with three machines that fire targets in any of three directions, which keeps shooters guessing when they shout "pull!"
"It's a much different game than standard American trap," said Tom Rothe, manager of the Birchwood Bears. "Targets are coming out from underground really low versus out in front of you where you can see them better. In American trap there's only a certain range of angles. Each bunker station has three machines, so there's a much wider possibly of where those birds go."
Before the bunker opened, shooters like Davey had to travel to Renton, Washington, or beyond to find underground bunkers where they could train for Olympic-style trapshooting.
The Birchwood range isn't complete — the Daveys and others involved in the sport are trying to raise money to add lights and put a roof over the five stations so the bunker can become a year-round facility.
"We can't shoot in the winter except for set times, so having lights will be really, really big," Abbigail Lynn said.
Curtis Lynn said the underground bunker will allow the Birchwood range to host a two-day clinic in May featuring Chad Whittenburg, the national youth development coach for USA Shooting.
"Alaska's going to becoming a focal point for this sport," he said.
Even before the bunker was built, Alaska had made a name for itself in trapshooting thanks to Corey Cogdell-Unrein of Eagle River, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist.
Cogdell-Unrein placed seventh in the women's competition at last month's Fall Selection meet, and Davey said she was the one who told him he had won the men's gold medal. Davey said he wasn't entirely aware of the competition format, so when he finished fourth in the finals he thought he had lost his chance at a medal. He took a big lead into the finals, but he didn't know that scores from the finals were added to scores from all of the proceeding rounds.
"Basically I was ahead the whole time and didn't even know it," he said.
At the World Cup meets next year, Davey will wear a USA Shooting competition vest. Earning a national-team vest marks a big step for a young shooter like Davey, as does winning the gold medal at the Fall Selection meet and claiming a spot on the World Cup team.
And while big opportunities await, Davey remains driven by the instant gratification that first hooked him on trapshooting.
"I shoot because I like to break orange targets," he said. "I don't shoot for shiny medals or vests."