The Difference Between Trap and Skeet

Both trap shooting and skeet shooting are separate disciplines in the three-discipline sport of competitive clay pigeon shooting. The remaining discipline not discussed in this article is called sporting clays. Though all three disciplines notably involve shooting spinning clay discs with shotguns, each discipline differs in how the clay pigeons are delivered (‘thrown’).

The clay pigeons, also called birds, are actually 4 ½” clay discs. When the shooter yells “pull!”, the discs are thrown from a launcher in a way that causes the discs to spin. Depending on the discipline, the bird can be launched to travel directly away from the shooter, directly across the shooter’s front, or two birds crossing paths. The number and direction of the birds depend on the discipline and the shooter’s position on the field.

Despite their differences, all three disciplines involve the use of shotguns. Each individual can select a shotgun gauge best suited to their own needs; however, the most common shotgun gauges for competitive clay pigeon shooting are either 12 or 20 gauge.

Trap Shooting

Trap shooting is generally considered the easiest of the three disciplines and is likely the best discipline for inexperienced clay pigeon shooters.

Generally, trap shooting is enjoyed as a maximum team of five shooters, called a squad. Each member of this squad will stand at one of five positions on the field arranged in a fan. At the center of the fan, 16 yards from any one shooter, is the ‘house’ where the clay birds are launched from. After shooting a set number of birds, each shooter rotates positions in ascending order (one goes to two, two goes to three, etc.).

In American trap shooting, arguably the most common form of trap shooting, the squad can be competing in singles, doubles, or handicap trap shooting.

If the squad is shooting singles, one clay pigeon will be thrown from the house when the shooter yells “pull!”. Since only a single bird is thrown per ‘pull’, the throwing machine can vary in a 54-degree left-to-right arc (27 degrees to either side of center) and 34-degrees up and down (17 degrees top or bottom of center). The machine will vary the throws within that range so that shooters are not aware of the exact trajectory of their target. When shooting singles, each shooter will fire five shots from each station (rotating in ascending order), for a total of 25 birds.

Now, if the squad is shooting doubles, two birds will be thrown per pull. With two birds being thrown simultaneously, the variability in throws will be greatly reduced by design. When shooting doubles, each shooter will fire five pairs of shots from each shooting position (rotating in ascending order) for a total of 50 birds.

Handicap trap shooting is exactly the same as singles and doubles, except for distance. Shooters with exceptionally good trap shooting scores increase their distance from the trap house to increase the difficulty.

Regardless of competition flavor, shooters are only permitted to fire a single shell at a single bird. During doubles, shooters are only permitted to fire a single shell at each bird, meaning if the shooter misses the first bird with the first shell, they must fire at the second bird and not take a second shot at the first bird. Birds that are not hit are termed “lost birds”.

Skeet Shooting

Skeet shooting is somewhat similar to trap shooting in that shooters are attempting to blow clay pigeons out of the sky. Unlike trap shooting, however, skeet shooting is focused on crossing targets and is substantially more difficult.

A skeet shooting field has eight firing positions in total. Seven of the positions are arranged in a half-moon shape, and the eighth position is directly in the center of the arc. At either end of the half-moon is a trap house. The left trap house is the high house, throwing clay birds 10 feet off the ground. The right trap house is the low house, throwing clays 3.5 feet off the ground. There is no designed variability in flight between throws.

One of the major differences between trap and skeet shooting is that the full squad of five shooters will all start at the same position and move as a group. This is largely because shooters will need a wide degree of gun swing to engage the moving targets, presenting a possible safety risk.

The shooting order for American skeet is as follows (each bird is a new ‘pull’):

  • Station one and two: single bird from high house, single bird from low house, pair of birds (one from each).
  • Stations three, four and five: single bird from high house; single bird from low house.
  • Stations six and seven: single bird from high house, single bird from low house, pair of birds (one from each).
  • Station eight: single bird from high house, single bird from low house.

Like American trap shooting, each shooter is only permitted to fire one shell at one bird. Any bird not hit by the shooter is termed a “lost bird”.

Difference Between Trap and Skeet Shooting

Now that we’ve broken down the two disciplines of trap and skeet shooting, we can easily identify how these disciplines are different.

Squad Movement

Primarily, trap shooting permits all five shooters to remain at their positions during the course of fire. By design, all the targets will appear directly to the front of the squad of shooters and travel away, meaning shooters will not have to swing their shotguns left to right in order to engage their birds.

Since shooters can remain at their posts, shooters will also be presented with different field perspectives specific to their station. The shooter at position one will fire their shells, followed by the shooter at position two, so forth and so on, before rotating. This can leave shooters feeling less directly competitive since they will be firing with a perspective unique to their position at that given time.

Skeet shooting, on the other hand, requires the entire squad to remain together at each position. So the entire squad will shoot position one before moving to position two, three, etc. Since shooters remain together, they will all fire from the exact same field perspective. This can lead to more direct competition, as each shooter will have a chance to fire the same position as his or her fellow squadmate just shot.

The squad movement difference between trap and skeet can also make skeet more fun to shoot with friends. Instead of being spread out across the field where talking can only be accomplished by yelling, the entire squad remains together inside speaking distance.

Bird Count

Earlier in the article, we discussed the number of birds thrown for trap and skeet shooting. Unless the trap squad is shooting doubles, only a single bird will be thrown at any given time. Skeet shooting, however, can shoot singles and doubles in the same round based on their position on the field.

Variability in Flight Path

Perhaps the greatest difference between trap and skeet shooting is the variability in bird flight path. Trap shooting is characterized by throwing birds in a flight path away from the shooter. To increase the difficulty, the flight path has a certain degree of designed variability (noted above), but, regardless of the variability, the flight path is still away from the shooter.

After the “pull” command is given, the trap shooter only needs to focus directly to their front. As the bird comes into view, the shooter mounts their shotgun and attempts to kill the bird as it retreats from their field of view. Because the bird is retreating, the shooter has more time to aim.

Skeet shooting, on the other hand, does not involve designed variability in throwers. Skeet shooting draws its variability from the different houses and singles vs. doubles. By using two houses and changing which house will throw based on shooter position, each shooter will experience a wide degree of approaching birds, retreating birds, and crossing birds.

A skeet shooter needs to know which house will throw the bird depending on their field position, and also where that bird will likely travel. Upon the “pull” command, the shooter needs to identify the bird, mount their shotgun and engage the bird quickly. Unlike trap shooting, skeet birds can fly across the front of the shooting field, meaning their greatest amount of speed is perpendicular to the shooter.

This fact means a skeet shooter has much less time to aim at their bird. To further complicate this, when both houses throw, the shooter has to engage two targets traveling in opposite directions. The more time a shooter spends on one bird, the further the other bird goes in the opposite direction.

Practice and Have Fun!

Trap and skeet shooting can be a fun activity to enjoy with friends or an excellent way for a bird hunter to stay sharp in the off-season. Try both trap and skeet shooting and see which discipline you enjoy more, or start with trap shooting and progress to skeet shooting. Either way, have fun!

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