A Brief Overview of Trap Shooting You Need to Know

While trap shooting is practiced all over the world, it’s most popular in the United States, and particularly in the Midwest. It’s a sport that consists of launching clay targets away from the shooter using a single house.

So, what is trap shooting? Well, let’s take a look together. We’ll explore its history, versions of the sport, equipment needed, and similar sports that often confuse those who don’t know much about it.

History

Trap shooting first started in 18th century England. It came to the United States in the early 19th century, and took hold rather quickly. In these early versions of the game, shooters used real birds as targets and released them from under hats.

In the 1860s, they began using glass balls as targets to replace the live birds, which were highly inconsistent. However, live targets were still used in some places. Charles Portlock invented these glass balls in Boston, and they were adopted by famous shooters like Annie Oakley.

Glass balls were colorless and 2.5 inches in diameter. Some of them were filled with a colored powder so it was easier to see a hit. It also added a fun visual effect for observers. For other shooters who still prefered the effect of a live target with more consistency, the balls were filled with feathers.

These glass balls were used for about 20 years until Fred Kimble invented a disc-shaped target in the 1880s. These targets were made of coal-tar and pitch. They broke easily when shot. George Ligowsky also created a hard baked clay target that was popular for a short time, but it was harder to break.

Traps

Target throwers are known as traps, and there were plenty of different types. Capt. A. H. Bogardus, a well-known trap shooter, invented the type that was used to throw glass targets. It could throw them at a range of 28-35 yards.

There was a person behind the shooter in charge of operating the machine. This person pulled a string that released an elastic spring to launch the target. Trap machines weren’t automated until 1909.

When automated trap machines were invented, the game of double trap was introduced, and it became very successful in competition shooting as well as the Olympics.

The American Amateur Trapshooting Association was formed in 1915 by John Philip Sousa. It was run by amateurs, but disbanded in 1919 after it was absorbed by the American Trapshooting Association. In 1923, they renamed the organization, and the Amateur Trapshooting Association is still active today.

Notable shooters

In addition to Annie Oakley, who was known for her western flare, and Capt. A. H. Bogardus, Doc Carver was a well-known trap shooter at the time. Bogardus and Carver even competed once, but the far more experienced Bogardus won.

Jay Graham was the first American to win a gold medal in trap shooting. He won the 1912 Olympics in the double trap event.

Equipment

Trap shooting involves a variety of equipment including guns, accessories, traps, and target shooting methods.

man trap shooting
Photo By: Airman St Class George Goslin

Guns

While most shooters use a 12 gauge shotgun for shooting trap, some use 16, 20, or 28 gauge as well. However, no allowance is given to shooters who choose a smaller gauge. These shotguns may be general purpose or specialized target shotguns, and may have either a single or double barrel.

In fact, many shooters who compete in all sub-events will buy combination sets. They use single barrels for shooting singles and double barrels for shooting doubles. Semi-automatic shotguns are popular for recreational shooting, but not for competition shooting.

Trap shooting shotguns are different from skeet guns because they have a higher point of impact. In trap, the targets are meant to be shot as they rise away from the shooter, so the higher point of impact is needed for more accuracy.

Trap shooting shotguns have adjustments for height, butt plate, angle, and length. They have longer barrels and may also have porting or tighter chokes, enabling them to be more accurate at longer distances.

Most modern trap shooting shotguns have interchangeable choke tubes with a variety of constrictions labeled as modified, improved cylinder, or full. They’re built to handle the stress of repeated use.

Accessories

Typically, trap shooters adorn a variety of accessories to enable a better game. They wear a pouch or vest to hold 25-50 cartridges so they can compete in either singles or doubles events.


It’s also important that they wear eye and ear protection, and most clubs and ranges require both. While a shooter can wear their normal glasses or sunglasses, there are specialty glasses available. These glasses are adjustable, they have interchangeable lenses of different colors, and they are designed for impact resistance.

The different colored lenses help with a shooter’s visibility in a variety of light conditions and they also enhance the color of the target and mute the background at the same time.

Ear protection can be found in just as many varieties. They use electronics and dense foam to reduce sound. They can be found in both an earmuff and an ear plug style. Some shooters even use both types at the same time or purchase types that allow them to listen to music while they shoot.

Machines

Trap shooting machines all contain a throwing device surrounded by a housing that is meant to protect the machine and hide the throwing position from the shooter. Automatic throwing machines can hold hundreds of targets in a carousel. They self-load after every shot.

Manual target throwers require a person to set the target by hand. In both types of machines, there is either a button push or a sound-activated device that produces an electrical signal, triggering the machine to throw the targets.

American Trap

American trap is the most popular form of trap in the United States and perhaps all of North America. While it’s practiced at clubs all over the country, it’s the most common type of recreational shooting outside of an official event.

The Amateur Trapshooting Association governs most official events and is one of the largest organizations in the world for shooting sports. They host the Grand American World Trap Shooting Championships every August.

There are three categories in American trap: singles, doubles, and handicap. For singles and doubles, a machine covered by a trap house throws the targets from ground level, from five different stations. Each station is 16 yards behind the trap house.

For singles, the American trapshooter shoots at five targets from each station, as the machine oscillates left to right. The shooter doesn’t know where the machine will release the target.

For doubles, the machine doesn’t oscillate, but it throws two targets at the same time, so the shooter has to shoot at five pairs, or ten targets total from each station.

For the handicap event, the machine operates much like the singles event, but the competitor has to stand farther from the trap house, at a minimum of 18 yards. As the competitor scores 96 or higher, they earn additional yardage to increase the difficulty, for a maximum yardage of 27.

Trap, Skeet, and Sporting Clays

There are three primary types of shooting sports, and they all have subtle differences. Many people get confused as to the difference between skeet vs trap, but throwing sporting clays into the mix can make it a bit more confusing.

Trap shooting involves shooting targets launched from a single house away from the shooter. Skeet shooting launches targets from two opposing houses in paths that intersect each other in front of the shooter. Sporting clays has a more complex course and many different launch points.

Olympic Trap

olympic sport male trap shoot shooting

Olympic trap courses require 125 shots for men and 75 shots for women. The final round for the top six competitors features 25 shots. It’s been an Olympic sport since 1900 but the current version was introduced in 1950.

This form of trap uses 15 machines at a fixed angle rather than one oscillating machine. These machines are controlled by a computer and designed to release 10 targets from the left, 10 from the right, and 5 straight away in a random sequence.

Double Trap

This form of trap was an Olympic event starting in 1996. In 2008 the women’s event was removed, and in 2020 the men’s event was taken away. Today, it’s played recreationally and competitively at smaller clubs and events.

Two targets are released simultaneously at different angles. They can be released with a variable delay of up to 1 second. In double trap, the shooter stands the same distance away from the trap house as in single trap: 16 yards.

Final Thoughts

A trap shooting game is a relatively simple sport that provides hours of entertainment to those who enjoy doing it recreationally and competitively. Many high schools throughout the United States even offer it as an extracurricular activity.

The trap shooter game is a common one among rural people in the Midwest, but it’s a fun game to learn for all ages and types of people, as long as it’s done safely and with the right equipment.

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