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What is Trapshooting?

Updated on December 1, 2016

Trapshooting is an outdoor sport in which a gunner shoots at a catapulted target. A 12-gage shotgun is the customary weapon. The object is to break the target, which is extremely brittle. It usually is made of river silt and pitch, but by tradition is called a clay target, "bird" or "pigeon".

Targets may be released one or two at a time, one in singles competition and two in doubles. In singles, one target is sent aloft at the command "pull" from the gunner, who has his gun at the shoulder position when he gives the command. In doubles, two targets are released simultaneously and are fired at successively by one gunner. The angle at which the targets are thrown varies from shot to shot.

In a tournament, five gunners at a time take positions 3 yards apart on firing lines 16 to 27 yards behind a low structure called a traphouse. This house is for the protection of the person loading targets on to the device that sends them into the air. After all five gunners have fired five rounds each, they change places. Each, except the one on the extreme right, takes the place of the one who had been to his right. The gunner who had been on the extreme right takes the place of the one who had been at the extreme left. Competition ranges from 25 to 200 targets.

Tournaments sanctioned by the Amateur Trap-shooting Association of America (ATA), the governing body of the sport in the United States, include championships in singles, doubles, handicap, and all-around events. There are championships for men, women, professionals, juniors, sub-juniors, and teams. In singles and doubles competition, all gunners fire from the 16-yard line. In handicap events, the gunners fire from 18 to 27 yards, depending on ratings given by the ATA. The top prize in the United States is the Grand American Handicap championship. This is the major event at the annual tournament held at the ATA's trapshooting setup at Vandalia, Ohio.

Skeet (derived from a Scandinavian word meaning "shoot") is a popular form of trapshooting dating from about 1910. The same equipment- shotguns, traps, and saucer-shaped targets-is used, but two traps are mounted facing each other at the ends of a semicircle. The contestants take turns shooting from different positions on the arc of the semicircle, giving variety to each shot and making it more like live shooting.

History of Trapshooting

Trapshooting was devised in England in the latter part of the 18th century by hunters who had been deprived of their sport by the encroachment of private landowners on public property. Originally, live birds were used. These were placed in traps in the ground and released at a signal from the shooter. The sport derives its name from these early traps. As the supply of birds diminished with restrictions on hunting grounds and the increased use of firearms, experiments were made with inanimate targets and devices for hurling them into the air. A glass ball was introduced by Charles Portlock of Boston, Mass., in 1866. Clay targets also were used in the 1860's, but these proved too hard to break. In 1880 an Englishman named McCaskey created a target made of river silt and pitch that had just the breaking quality desired by trapshooters. Basically, the same composition is used today.

The first known mention of trapshooting as a sport occurs in an English publication, Shooting Magazine, issued in 1793, which calls trapshooting a "well established recreation." The earliest mention of it in the United States is in the records of the Sportsman's Club of Cincinnati, Ohio, for the year 1831. The Long Island Club was formed in 1840, and soon after the New York Sportsman's Club was organized. The sport's first governing body in the United States was the Interstate Association of Trapshooters, and the first Grand American Handicap shoot was conducted on the association's Long Island land. In 1900 the Interstate Association was succeeded by the American Trapshooting Association. In 1924 this association, which was controlled by manufacturers of guns and ammunition, was succeeded by the ATA, a completely amateur group, which continues to be the controlling body. From 1900 to the mid-1960's the number of trapshooters in the United States increased from about 3,000 to more than 100,000.


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