Trap Shooters


The sport of trapshooting is fun for all ages. For someone who’s never fired a shotgun, or who has little experience with one, it can be an ideal way to learn how to handle a shotgun. More people are probably familiar with the term “skeet” than “trap.” The two sports are very similar. In both, one uses a shotgun to break clay targets that are thrown up in the air. Since I believe that trap is both more challenging for an expert to master, and easier for a beginner to enjoy, I’ll stick here with a discussion of trap.

Equipment: Trap is commonly thought of as requiring a lot of equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth. A beginner can start with any shotgun, of any gauge. All that’s needed is a shotgun, a box of shells, and eye and ear protection. What shotgun is best? The one you have. If you happen to be blessed with owning more than one, here’s how you can pick which one to use.

Your gun: trap is a sport that uses a swarm of lead pellets (also called shot, or BB’s) to break a clay bird. When you are beginning, your aim won’t be precise, so the more shot in your swarm, the better your chances of hitting the bird. For this reason, a 12-gauge shotgun could be best for you, as long as you are physically able to hold it up, since 12-GA shotgun shells contain far more pellets than do shells of the smaller gauges of shell (such as the 16-GA, 20-GA, 28-GA, or .410.) But if you have a shotgun that isn’t a 12-GA, go ahead and use it for starting. Many people start with a 20-GA, since the guns are usually quite a bit lighter weight than a 12-GA. This can be an advantage for someone with limited arm strength, since holding up a heavy shotgun can be very tiring. However, a basic principle with shooting any gun is, the heavier the gun, the less the recoil you feel in shooting it. So since a heavier shotgun will typically give less felt recoil than a lighter one, for trap you will want to use a reasonably heavy gun, as long as you can easily hold it up and safely handle it.

Trap shotguns: The basic game in trap is shooting a single shot from a distance of 16 yards behind the birdhouse. This game is called “16 yards.” For this, any shotgun can be used. Many serious trap shooters have a single-barreled gun such as a Browning BT-99 for this game. But some games in trap require or allow two shots. For this reason, many trap shooters will use an over-under double-barreled gun such as a Browning XT or Beretta 682. Others will use a repeater, such as a Remington 870, Browning BPS or Mossberg 500 pump, or a Remington 1100 or Winchester Super-X semi-auto. Having a double, pump, or semi-auto allows them to use one shell when that is all that’s allowed, and to use two when that is allowed or required, and to do this all with one gun. As trap shooters become more proficient, they often move up to ever more sophisticated, dedicated, and expensive guns. As in any sport this can be part of the fun, but it is absolutely not a requirement for being a highly successful trap shooter. Trap shooters prefer longer barrels in their guns, generally 28-34 inches in length, but again, you can be successful at first with any barrel length. A barrel of 18-24 inches will disadvantage you, since shorter barrels allow the shot to disperse widely over the typical 35-yard distance where the clay bird is hit. A widely-dispersed shot pattern will have holes in it, causing misses. The world’s best trap shooter, whose shot pattern is perfectly centered on the bird, will sometimes miss despite his best efforts, if there are holes in his pattern.

Barrel choke: The “choke” is the constriction at the end of a shotgun’s barrel, which is used to control the diameter (and so density) of the shot pattern. Most modern barrels have removable choke tubes, which can be easily removed and replaced to change or alter that barrel’s constriction. A “cylinder” barrel is one which is essentially a straight cylinder inside, with no choke. A “modified” choke is a medium amount of constriction. A “full” choke is a quite-tight constriction. Tighter constrictions are favored in trap, to keep more shot in the center of the pattern and so increase the chance of a hit.

Ammo: Shooting trap involves a lot of shooting. A “round” involves shooting a box of 25 shells, and many serious participants will shoot 50 or more of these rounds per month. Consequently, “target” ammo used in trapshooting is less powerful than is typical higher-powered “hunting” ammo. This keeps down the cumulative recoil experienced by the shooter, but does not reduce its effectiveness. Far more hunting ammo is manufactured than target ammo, so this economy of scale combined with the more expensive harder shot used in target ammo makes target ammo relatively more expensive. The cheapest “promo” hunting ammo, often called “dove” or “dove and quail,” will have unnecessary velocity and recoil, and will tire a trap shooter, so it will be best to avoid repetitive use of these hunting shells for this sport.

Beginning: If you wish to try your hand at trap, you will want to have an experienced trap shooter show you how the game is played, and also the necessary safety aspects of the sport. There are some basic principles which must be understood in order to be successful at the game. Most basic, for instance, is that one must look at the bird, not the gun’s barrel. This will not be intuitive for someone who has shot rifles or pistols all their life. Also critical is to keep one’s focus out in the “kill zone” where the bird will be shot. Luckily, a club like the Black Diamond club has many very experienced trap shooters who will be happy to teach the basics to a beginner.

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