Compared to other sports, Dalton Blaha was drawn into competitive shooting as he could determine his success based on his personal input alone.
“Your physical appearance has nothing to do with how you can compete in the shooting world,” he said. “It all comes down to what you have the drive to accomplish, and that kind of pulled me into it.”
Having spent the last seven years in shooting, Blaha’s skills have led to him competing anywhere from county to national competitions. He will continue the sport at Midland University this fall.
Blaha, 18, was born in Fremont but now lives in Dodge. He attended St. Wenceslaus Elementary School and North Bend Central Junior and Senior High School, where he took part in National FFA Organization and SkillsUSA before his graduation last spring.
Blaha’s background in shooting came from deer hunting at a young age, which then led to waterfowl hunting with his great-uncle.
“So then with just the waterfowl background, I decided to get into shooting, and I kind of started with BB gun and air rifle through 4-H at about the age of 11,” he said.
After starting the sport, Blaha soon took gold consistently at county shoots and placed in the top majority at state shoots. At the age of 14, he started shooting shotgun competitively after joining the Fremont Trap Team.
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“Not only are they focused about how you’re shooting and what you’re doing there, but they’re also focused on how you’re growing and developing as a person.” he said. “And I think if you talk to anyone that’s shot for them, they would all say the same thing about how they are more focused on how you hold and present yourself as a person than how well you shoot.”
For Blaha, he learned quickly that shooting is 20% skill and 80% mentality.
“You can have the world’s best shooter, but if you get them in the wrong frame of mind going into a competition, it will completely break them down from the inside out,” he said. It is such a mentally, internal fight to shoot. You just have to be with yourself and kind of believe in what you can do as a shooter.”
While Blaha got into BB gun and air rifle events easily, he said competitive shotgun was a huge learning curve, as he had to take the weather into account with the event being outdoors.
“With moving to the shotgun, it brought a whole new level of just having to be on top of your game and understanding it,” he said. “And that took about two years to get really in tune and understand what was going on and get things figured out.”
After improving his skills at shotgun, Blaha spent the next two years attending conference shoots, seeing the most success in singles events.
Compared to doubles, singles events have shooters taking fire at only one bird launched in the air.
“I’m also starting to shoot skeet, and sporting clay’s pretty good,” he said. “But my most prominent, dominant area would be the singles category, and that’s one of the more fun things to shoot, I’d say.”
In becoming a competitive shooter, Blaha said the sport is one of the most individualistic, yet team-based events.
“If you put in the time and you shoot well, you can take home things as an individual and you don’t have to rely on other people to get you there. You can kind of take your future into your own hands,” he said. “But on the same account, there’s times when, 99% of the time, you are competing as a team.”
Last June, Blaha and a group of shooters attended a shooting competition in Michigan, where he won the doubles championship.
“In the last two years, we’ve really started branching out,” he said. “There’s about five of us there from Fremont that got really good, so we started traveling.”
More recently, the group attended the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships in Sparta, Illinois, where Blaha and other shooters took third place in the junior division.
In shooting with others, Blaha said he wants everyone on his team to shoot as good as him, if not better.
“On those days, which everyone has those days where they just can’t compete to the fullest extent of their ability, you have your team to kind of fall back and catch you if you just can’t quite keep up your game,” he said. “It’s kind of really nice to have that team aspect of it.”
The Grand American was Blaha’s last major competition before he starts school at Midland later this month. He will major in agribusiness, a new program announced by the university last year.
Blaha said he was introduced to the program after talking with Jake McThenia, the school’s shotgun head coach last December.
McThenia put Blaha in contact with Nick Schreck, business chair at Midland, to speak with him about the agribusiness program. Blaha’s father, Leo, even worked with Schreck to give input on the program.
“They reached out and talked to everybody in their industry and made sure that they got covered what you need to know to be successful in the workplace,” Blaha said. “So that was a big deal for me, to know that what I’m going to get out of this degree is what I’m going to be putting to use in real life here in the next couple of years.”
Having gone hunting with other members of Midland’s shooting team, Blaha said he’s looking forward to shooting for the university.
“They’ve got a very, very strong program, and our incoming class of shooters this year is going to be pretty tough to stop,” he said. “We’re pretty good, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Having spent so many years in the 4-H program and Fremont Trap Team, Blaha said he learned that shooting has a place for everyone.
“I think everyone can be successful in it, and you’ll also find with shooting that no one there wants to see you do bad,” he said. “If they do see you do bad, they’re going to do everything in their power to make you better not only in your shooting career, but also as a person.”