Travis Dye stands on a square cement slab with his 15-pound shotgun in hand.
Dye calmly raises his gun and sets it into his rotator cuff. He nestles his right cheek gently against the butt, clears his thoughts and mutters, “Pull it.”
As if it was a choreographed dance, two fluorescent orange clay discs called “birds” shoot out of separate wooden towers simultaneously in opposite directions at the Cedar Creek Rod and Gun Club.
Dye picks up the first bird instantly and pulls the trigger. One down. The second target flies toward him and you can almost see it quivering with fear. Dye makes his second shot and, immediately, orange shrapnel scatters through the clear blue sky.
Unhitching the barrel and removing the empty shells, Dye doesn’t say a word and slowly walks to the next slab as if it were routine.
That is exactly what it has become.
Dye took aim at his first clay disc at age 8. From then through high school, he seemed to always get hurt playing conventional sports. Finally, he realized the safest sport he had tried involved a 12-gauge and a bag of shotgun shells.
His dad, Jeff, introduced him to hunting three years before he began shooting at orange clay.
“He was so small that I used to have to carry his shell bag around so he could shoot,” Jeff said.
Despite their age and size difference, father and son worked their way into competitive shooting together. Travis became successful quickly, winning a tournament in his first year of competition and receiving All-American honors two years later at 10.
“It was fun,” Travis said. “We were both winning and moving up together.”
Travis fondly remembers the summer road trips with his dad to shooting tournaments, when they added elements of friendship to their father and son relationship.
Jeff said he knew shooting was a sport his son enjoyed from the beginning and that it was something he had a knack for.
“From the first time I took him out (skeet shooting), he always wanted to break more,” Jeff said.
Jeff, who still competes during the summers, quickly realized that his son’s skill level would eventually surpass his own.
At 12, Travis reached the top level of competition, the Masters class, and his dad remembered how fulfilling that was for the entire family.
“I knew it was going to happen at some point, Jeff said. “He had been beating me for a long time. It was a great feeling for us as parents because we were involved in his shooting and he had mastered it.”
When Travis went off to college, it was his dad who had to make an adjustment.
“It took me a while to get used to him not being here,” Jeff said. “I think it was tougher for me than it was for him.”
Although Travis left his home in Lee’s Summit to be a full-time college student and a member of MU’s club shooting team, his dad still has a direct role in Dye’s shooting.
“(My dad) still comes up every other week, and we go out and shoot,” Travis said. “He also helps coach the guys on the club team.”
Travis is a one of 28 members of the MU club with only 10 members competing in weekend tournaments around the country. Even though he is the only club member ranked as high as the Masters class, Travis would rather talk about the success of the sport in Columbia.
“The club team has about $10,000 dollars to use this year,” Travis said. “When I first got here (three years ago), we didn’t have anything. The sport is definitely growing.”
As a member of a college club team, Travis has witnessed a change in his view of shooting.
“It has more meaning to me now that I can look back on it,” Travis said. “Now it’s definitely a team sport. It was individual for me before, but now you look at how everybody else is shooting, too.”
At first, though, it took Travis a while to grasp the team aspect of competitive shooting.
“Slowly, I’ve gotten a hold of the team side and appreciate it,” Travis said. “I want everybody to go out there and do well.”
Travis, a junior marketing major at MU, realizes this part of his competitive shooting life will eventually come to a close. When it ends, Travis wants to make sure another period begins.
An Olympic qualifying tournament next month in San Diego, has altered Travis’ focus during the club season.
The only Olympic shooting sport is international skeet, a form of shooting that Travis has been doing for about a year and a half. Optimistic about the opportunity, Travis said it will be a challenge competing against the best shooters in the country.
“Going to the Olympics is a new level of competition that I want to pursue,” Travis said. “Most of the guys in the Olympics are in the Army or the Navy, and it’s their job. They go out and shoot eight hours a day, every day.”
Jeff said he has tried not to push Travis into pursuing a spot on the Olympic team and realizes the degree of commitment it would require.
“It’s something he has to decide he wants to do,” Jeff said. “If he set his mind to it, there’s no doubt in my mind that he could make the team, but I wouldn’t want him to do it because of (his parents).”
To qualify for the Olympics, Travis has had to increase his practice time two or three more hours a day, a commitment to the sport that he said he would enjoy making routine.