D.J. Mello arrived in Livermore on May 11 just in time for the last day of shooting at the 63rd Golden West Grand trapshooting competition.
But that was all the 17-year-old Los Banos resident needed to walk away as one of the youngest event winners in the event’s history after scattering 96 of 100 targets in the afternoon handicap event. A 12-year-old has won twice at the competition, and then there’s Mello.
“I was pretty happy, being the youngest one,” Mello said. “It felt good.”
In the process Mello bested a number of shooters he’s looked up to since he started shooting competitively, including Los Banos’ own Dan Bonillas, a member of the Trapshooting Hall of Fame.
The Golden West Grand consisted of 10 events spread over five days. Mello shot in the last two, scoring a 92 in the morning session, which ended in a shoot-off with Tom Minkel. But Mello added four to that score in the afternoon session to win the 133-shooter event, beating second-place Clinton Freeman by one target to win a belt buckle.
Mello has shot with the Los Banos Tigers Youth Trap Team for seven years, and started competing in adult Amateur Trapshooting Association events a year after starting with the Tigers.
After the morning session, Mello analyzed his shooting form.
“A couple of my misses I didn’t follow through at the target, so I shot behind it,” he said. “And it was pretty windy, so the targets were jumping all over the place. I shot over the top of them because they would just dive down.”
In the afternoon session, Mello picked up his Perazzi MX2008 and fell back on his years of repetitive training at the Los Banos Sportsmen’s Association.
“You do the same thing every time,” the Los Banos High student said. “Just put the gun in the same spot every time, and have a smooth movement to the target.”
Tiger teammate Ali Viera was the high lady shooter in the same event with an 89.
The handicap events involved shooters standing at distances of 16 to 27 yards. As a shooter wins handicap events, they are moved back by one-yard increments – known as “punching your card,” since handicaps are noted on a shooter’s scorecard by a hole punch. Mello’s victory moved him from 23 yards to 24.
“His ultimate goal is to shoot from 27 yards, which is the farthest back you can go,” said Darrell Mello, D.J.’s dad.
Mello and the Tigers youth trap team will be back in action in the California Youth Shooting Sports Association on May 31 in Martinez.