Trap Shooting

How to Start Trap Shooting

Trap shooting is a BushLife favourite! Regardless of any stigma guns are getting lately thanks to criminals and crazies, trap shooting is and always will be a classy sport that’s enjoyed internationally. Including the Olympics. Trap shooting is also the best practice you will ever get for hunting birds!

While trap shooting is a competitive sport and many a professional trap shooter may have zero interests in hunting, that can’t be said for it roots. Trap shooting was literally invented as a form of hunting practice to shoot birds. Real pigeons to be exact which were eventually replaced with clay. Hence the term, “clay pigeon”. I figured as much but until one actually confirms these things in the history books, curiosity will always make you wonder how a round disk gets the name clay pigeon:)

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The Three Disciplines of Shooting Clay Pigeons

Generally speaking, we loosely toss out the term trap shooting and many of us have been there, done it. But that’s not always correct. We often end up either trap or skeet shooting so let’s look at the differences to understand what is involved, how it’s done and why. And for the record, if you’ve heard the term “busting clays”, well your looking at it.

Trap Shooting

The trap house (clay throwing machine) is positioned in front the shooter. The clay typically flys AWAY from the shooter. The trick here is the longer the clay flys, the farther it becomes from the shooter. By the way, a shotgun typically has a spread of 1″ per yard of travel and its pattern changes greatly over distance. It can also be tricky to guess the trajectory of the target.

Skeet Shooting

The best way to explain the difference is this: If you look straight ahead and imagine a clay going away from you, that’s trap. Skeet on the other hand will come from the side! Both sides to be exact. So while the clays will still fly in front of you, their trajectory is more perpendicular to that of trap. The idea here is to hit both clays.

Again, it was a hunter who realized that trap wasn’t good enough to prep for birds. Birds fly more erratically and come from all directions. Hence the development of skeet.

Sporting Clays

Now this is something I honestly haven’t experienced. The shooter moves around a course, each station being unique. Here, clays will come from any direction. We can compare this discipline of clay shooting most easily to golf.

Should I Practice Trap Shooting or Skeet?

The easier discipline and where to start is trap. Shooting is an art form but the same is true for throwing clays. When just starting out, let’s assume you’ll be out with a buddy throwing clays by a handheld target launcher. It’s a lot simpler to be close to the shooter and send clays down range as in trap. Ie. the person throwing stands just behind you and off to one side. This keeps them safely behind the gun yet clear of the shooter so they have clear line of sight to throw. Compare that to skeet where you would be throwing clays from the side and at a great distance from the shooter – with the intent to get the clays in front of the shooter! It requires a lot more skill.

Trap also removes a lot of the worry about over swinging the shotgun and aiming at someone who is throwing from the side. That shouldn’t be an issue for people with extensive firearms experience. But it’s certainly safer for anyone new to the sport.

I Trap Shoot With My Family For 3 Reasons:

  1. It is easier to control the non-shooters and position them all BEHIND the active shooter. Having an imaginary line NO ONE crosses is so much easier to setup and control, especially if any youth is involved.
  2. Your family may not be into it the same way you are. But that doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the occasional trap session! My family is not as accustomed to recoil and if they shoot, it’s short and sweet. But they LOVE throwing the clays!
  3. Where we shoot is a small clearing of land. It’s really hard to send clays from the sides due to lack of space. In fact, it’s almost impossible in light of all the surrounding cover and slope. Trap can be pulled off in tighter spaces and may be your only choice at times.

Moving Up to Skeet

Skeet is what I do when shooting with my buddies and by that I mean experienced shooting buddies. Except we do a modified skeet where the clays only come from one side. It’s more than good enough practice for bird hunting. Whoever throws from the side can control the distance the clay is from the shooter as it passes in front of him or her. The thrower also controls the height, speed and trajectory of the clays. When I say this format is good enough, believe me. If someone can repeatedly hit their targets, they are doing great!

Trap Shooting vs Skeet Shooting for Hunting

Do both!!! Trap is excellent practice for birds flying away from you. Or towards you for that matter. There’s some lateral movement and a lot of height changes. Skeet will mimic when birds come in from the sides. With skeet, your lead technique will be critical in getting a good shot. We’ll cover lead farther below.

Skeet Shooting Practice Session

Late this summer, my schedule and Richard’s from Highland Waterfowl finally happened to line up one day. We turned the cameras on but our shooting session was long overdue and we were having so much fun, well, we ended up getting a ton of footage of Richard’s ass… The good news is we scored 7 seconds of heaven in the clip below that clearly shows how we practice this modified skeet we just covered. This exact system has prepared me for birds in ways I can’t describe.

Tip: If you find you are really struggling, you may need to step back a bit. Hopefully you have patterned your gun and you understand its spread – with the specific ammo, choke and distance you are shooting. If you haven’t, stop and do that.

Then turn around and setup a bunch of stationary clays. I often lean them on branches in trees, place them on top of objects, whatever. Just get them out downrange at the distance you intend to trap or skeet shoot. Make sure you can consistently hit these clays. If you can’t hit the stationary ones, you have no chance of hitting the moving ones!

Once you have all of this under your belt, it’s time to get back to shooting. Only this time, all you need to do is calm down and work on how you lead.

Trap Shooting Guns

Break Action Shotgun
Trap Shooter holds a break-action shotgun to expose the breech

Some people will hate me for saying this but the shotgun does NOT matter! Trap or skeet is properly done with an over under double barrel shotgun. A proper trap version of these which is super customizable can be insanely expensive. But a pro trap shooter isn’t reading this post nor has any of my buddies ever showed up with an over under!

You may only have 1 shotgun and if so, that’s fine just get out there and start! And if you hunt, take whichever shotgun you intend to hunt with and practice with that! Get used to how the gun swings, develop some muscle memory, learn how to cycle quickly (if it’s a pump) and so on. Also get into the habit of immediately reloading after shooting! Your buddy throwing will always wait for you before throwing again, but as you get quicker it’s good practice for hunting.

What Do You Need to Trap Shoot?

Trap Shooting Gear
Ithaca model 100 shotgun with shotgun shells and clay pigeons

Obviously, you need a shotgun and 12 gauge is the gold standard. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a .410 technically works but is a lot harder to hit. As you shoot a smaller gauge, difficulty goes up. Professionally, there is no allowance given for shooting a smaller gauge.

You’ll also need birdshot. This is typically target load such as #7.5. You’ll have a lot more pellets at your disposal and less recoil than with heavy or hunting loads. Trap shooting clubs will have specific ammo requirements, check ahead before your first session.

Next comes the clay pigeons. My friends generally call these skeet. Not sure if that’s right or wrong. It is however easier to yell “we are out of skeet” nor have I ever heard someone say “bring the clay pigeons”. Simply calling them clays is another popular term. They come 135 pieces to a box and are usually around $25 or so.

Lastly, you need something to throw the clays. The handheld clay launchers are under $20!!! You don’t need a fancy machine – the machine ranges from $70 up to even $500. Throwing by hand is just as good, often better as it really mixes up the throws and it’s harder for the shooter to guess trajectory.

How Do You Deal With Recoil?

The first time I went trap shooting, I put a LOT of rounds through a beautiful side by side double barrel and my old glory hunting shotgun. Ie. A beat up 870 Wingmaster pump. Both of which have a hard plastic plate on the buttstock and neither gun has any features that absorbs recoil! And of course it was definitely a t-shirt (preferably no shirt) kind of hot day. It was also the day you see what happens when an old school 12 gauge beats the crap out of you! I had the marks the next day to prove it.

You can easily get off more than 100 shots in a session which can be hard on anyone new to it. As time goes by, you will get more accustomed to it. What never changes though is it can be demanding physically and mentally the longer your sessions get.

Don’t Forget to Mount!

When new at trap or skeet shooting, it’s not hard to get frustrated. There’s also a lot going on as you have to mount the gun and get in the habit of swinging your shots. You need to shoot ahead of the clay so that the shot and clay arrives at the same time – this is that lead we keep referring to. It’s truly a form of art and comes with practice.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t take much for you to forget to properly shoulder the shotgun when all these things are going on. It’s bad enough getting kicked by a 12 gauge 50-100 times, it’s a whole new level if you don’t shoulder the gun properly.

Get Some Padding

For older guns with no padding for recoil, Butler Creek makes recoil pads. It’s a $20-$30 slip on piece that requires no alterations to the gun. Granted, it will extend the length of pull a bit. You’ll have to figure out sizing by measuring the buttstock. From Butler Creek’s website, here is the sizing for the 3 different sizes of pad.

Medium5.25″1 9/16″

Short of buying a new gun, this is the cheapest and quickest solution to help offset some recoil.

Trap Shooting Video

Yes, video! Up until now, we haven’t included lengthier videos in our posts. There are many elements to trap shooting that’s difficult to explain in text so we recorded below. Concepts such as lead are covered.

Taking Up Trap Shooting

This post is about casual trap or skeet shooting. While it hones in on a specific set of hunting skills, it is also insanely fun! Be warned for some (especially if co-ordination is a challenge), it can be very frustrating at first – but that changes as you get over the hump.

It’s not hard to picture many people falling in love with trap shooting or skeet! Even those who have absolutely no desire to hunt. It’s also clear that it really doesn’t take much to get started. If you live in the country, there’s a good change you have enough land to trap shoot right in your own backyard.

If you find trap shooting is for you and you really want to take farther, it’s time to call your local trap club and hope they have an opening. There are trap shooting clubs everywhere and there’s a lot to learn from experienced trap shooters. In so many ways, it may be to learn things the right way than to develop bad habits that need fixing later…

Thanks for reading and your support. Stay tuned for some awesome upcoming reviews we are working on. Here’s a hint: a gasless stove and superhuman cooler. In the meantime, dust off that old shotgun and bust some clays!

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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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