Trapshooting is the most historic and traditional of the shotgun games. It originated in 19th Century England (although there were similar games being shot at least 100 years prior) with live pigeons as targets. The pigeons were trapped under top hats and flew when the hats were tipped by a string operated by a “puller.”
As the game grew, box traps replaced the top hats and glass balls filled with feathers or soot replaced pigeons. Eventually, brightly colored, easy-to-throw clay disks became the targets.
Today, competitors shoot rounds of 25 clay birds, five from each of five positions arrayed equidistantly behind the traphouse, a bunker that houses at rotating trap, or bird-throwing device.
The targets are thrown on command, flying in random directions dictated by the constantly rotating trap head, always flying away from the shooter.
Trapshooters use moderate to tightly-choked 12-gauge guns with raised rib barrels to make them shoot high, since the targets are rising when encountered. The clay bird targets are the same as used in skeet and sporting clays, but are thrown at a longer distance and tighter angles than targets in those games.
Singles trap, which is the basic form of the game, is contested with all competitors shooting from the 16-yard line (16 yards from the rear of the traphouse). In handicap trap everything is the same except that the shooter stands farther back, being placed according to experience and ability, to a limit of 27 yards behind the traphouse. In doubles trap, the shooter again toes the 16-yard line at each of the five stations where he shoots simultaneous pairs thrown at pre-determined angles.
Visually, trapshooting would seem to be the easiest of the shotgun sports. But the random path of the targets, combined with the distance of the shots (shooters ideally break singles targets at 32 yards and handicap targets out to 45) and the variety of angles make it difficult. For experienced shooters, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is maintaining focus for a 100-bird match.
There is an international version of trapshooting, which is contested at the Olympic Games. There the birds are thrown faster, from a wider variety of angles, from several traps.
The American version of the game — sanctioned by the Amateur Trapshooting Association — holds the Grand American championship in Sparta, Ill., each August. The Grand American moved to Sparta in 2006 after being contested in Vandalia, Ohio, for more than 80 years.
If you have never tried trapshooting, give it a try. You will not regret it!
Dave Henderson has written eight books on guns and shooting. He is a trapshooting instructor and certified sporting clays judge and competes in both sports.