Shooting Her Shot

Trapshooter Alisa Hilker Safford shares expertise from national and global competitions

By Dianna Troyer

Like an old friend, a Beretta 682 Super Trap Combo 12-gauge shotgun is always there for Alisa Hilker Safford, triggering countless memories.

Their bond was forged as she fired more than 1 million rounds through it while training and competing in trapshooting nationally and internationally for more than a decade, from ages 8 to 22.

Alisa has won many medals from trapshooting between ages 8 and 22.

“The inside has been rebuilt 4 times,” says the 39-year-old Clover Valley resident, who depended on it when she qualified for the Junior Olympic Team in 1998 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and nearly qualified for the Olympic Games in 2004.

From 2001 to 2005, Alisa was a member of the National Selection Match Team, a roster of the nation’s top 10 women trapshooters, based on their scores at contests. Members of the match team are selected for the Olympic Games.

“I was 2 shots away from qualifying for the 2004 Olympics in
Athens,” she says.

Taking a break from the shooting circuit, she met her husband, Ryan Safford, through mutual friends in Elko. They married and settled in Clover Valley, where he had grown up.

After getting married, Alisa shifted her career to education. A third-grade long-term substitute teacher at Mountain View Elementary School in Elko, she will complete coursework to become a certified teacher at the end of summer.

Combining her love of firearms with teaching, Alisa has given shooting lessons to teens at Wells’ public shooting range.

“I’d love to do that more,” she says. “It’s crazy how much information comes flooding back into my brain about mechanics, stance, movement, eye placement and focus when I am giving a lesson.”

One of her most memorable was winning gold in the International Shooting Sport Federation World Championship in Cyprus in September 2003. Photos by Willow Moore

Alisa’s shooting techniques and training regimen paid off. She has won many medals. A memorable one was a gold in the International Shooting Sport Federation World Championship, known as the World Cup, in Cyprus in September 2003 and competing at the World Cup in Finland in July 2002. Her love of trapshooting started in childhood, with her dad, Dana, an avid shooter and her first coach.

“We were best buddies, and I’d tag along with him… fishing and shooting,” she says of her childhood in Lexington, Missouri. “He was the greatest.”

As her shooting skills improved, other coaches offered their expertise. She began traveling nationwide, competing and attending training camps.

“It was a great way to grow up,” Alisa says. “Dad was the one constant in my shooting success—my biggest and loudest cheerleader whether I ran a 100 straight or shot 80 out of 100 on a windy off-day. He was always standing behind me smiling when I walked off of every round, waiting to steer me in the right direction. If I beat the boys, his smile was even bigger. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”

She says if her dad were still alive, he would smile and remind her of her motto: Second place is the first loser.

“At one point, that was 100% true,” she says. “I put in so much time, energy and effort into my shooting that anything less than first was rough to accept. Now, my motto would be, ‘Anything is possible with hard work and determination.’ It’s true for so many things in life.”

Several times, Alisa was named to the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s All-American team, based on her average scores at state, regional and national competitions.

She also trained at the Olympic Shooting Center in Colorado Springs and shooting complexes at Fort Benning and Atlanta, Georgia. A role model she met was 6-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode, who plans to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

“She’s amazing,” Alisa says.

From 2001 to 2005, Alisa was on the 10-member National Selection Match Team. Members of the team are selected for the Olympic Games. Photo courtesy of Alisa Hilker Safford

“I was lucky enough to bunk with her in Atlanta for a selection match for a World Cup. I instantly looked up to her when I made the USA Team.”

Kim is known for her consistency.

“It’s second nature, muscle memory and focus,” Alisa says. “After shooting millions of times, your body moves your gun where it needs to be.”

Muscle memory is still strong for Alisa. A few summers ago, she and Ryan shot at the Kansas City Trapshooters Association course while visiting her family in Missouri.

“I broke 97 out of 100 after not picking my gun up for 2 years,” she says. “A switch flips as soon as you walk out onto a competitive range.”

In June, she will take her Beretta 682 with her again when she and Ryan vacation in Missouri.

“Our 9-year-old son, Ian, will go to KCTA with us for his first official round of ATA Trap,” she says. “He’s so excited to shoot at my home range with a 20-gauge my father-in-law gave him for his birthday last year.”

To practice, Alisa and Ryan sometimes throw targets for each other at their home in Clover Valley, where Ryan’s parents raised cattle for 40 years.

“It was a great place to grow up,” says Ryan, a structural firefighter for the city of Elko. “We bought 10 acres from my parents and built a house.” Alisa says she and Ryan appreciate “biking, hiking and snowshoeing from our back door. Our kids have room to explore, too. Neighbors are so friendly and are always willing to lend a hand.”

Would she ever shoot competitively again?

“I’d love to,” she says. “However, the traveling aspect of competitive shooting is almost a full-time job. With a career, a husband, and two kids, it would be tough. Amazingly fulfilling but tough.”