Let’s Talk Trap Shooting
Trap shooting is one part of the three-discipline sport of clay pigeon shooting; the other two disciplines are Skeet and Sporting clays. Though different in execution, all of these disciplines revolve around knocking 4 ½” clay discs out of the sky with a shotgun.
Trap shooting specifically is the discipline where the clay pigeons are ‘thrown’ from a ‘house’ that is roughly in front of the shooter. Once thrown, the clay travels away from the shooter in nearly a straight line (though this line will vary slightly clay to clay).
The trap shooter will shoot from one of five different ‘posts’ that are arranged in a semi-circle around the ‘house’. After shooting five rounds, the shooter will move one position to their right.
Because trap shooting is a sport, you will probably be shooting with other people (referred to as a ‘squad’). Each shooter on the squad will take turns shooting and these other shooters will occupy the other posts.
Now, let’s get down to improving your trap shooting.
Trap Shooting Tips for Beginners
If you’re just starting out with trap shooting, that’s fantastic! In the three disciplines of clay pigeon shooting, trap shooting is generally the easiest for new shooters. This is mostly because the pigeons travel in a predictable fashion: directly away from the shooter. This means shooters have slightly more time to line up their shots and get ‘dead’ birds.
The biggest tip for new trap shooters is to select the proper shotgun and ammo.
Effective trap shooting can be accomplished with nearly any shotgun gauge. That said, the larger the bore, the more forgiving the shotgun will be to poor aiming technique. To keep it simple, a 12-gauge shotgun will have more appropriately sized pellets in each shell than a 20 gauge.
Can you effectively shoot trap with a 20 gauge? Absolutely. However, as a new shooter, it may help to throw as many pellets downrange as possible. Keep in mind that if you have difficulty controlling the recoil of a 12 gauge, the 20 gauge is absolutely acceptable and will get the job done.
Trap Shooting Tips
Mounting Your Gun
Despite the title, this doesn’t mean hanging your shotgun up on the wall. ‘Mounting’ a shotgun is simply the term used for putting the shotgun in the shoulder when preparing to fire. While that seems amiss in a guide on trap shooting tips, there is definitely a point here.
Mounting the shotgun is possibly the most important aspect of clay pigeon shooting. At this point, the pigeon is in the air and you need to get on target as fast as possible. A proper mount will place the shotgun in the pocket of the shoulder in a way where the shooter’s cheek meets the stock of the gun as the gun comes up to a good firing position.
There is an important distinction here: a proper mount should make contact with the cheek first before pocketing into the shoulder. Shotguns in general need to shoot where the shooter is looking, and that can only be achieved if the comb of the shotgun is directly under the little ledge of your cheekbone.
This is even more important in the realm of clay pigeon shooting because the shooter needs to react quickly to the thrown clay, get on target and fire. The shotgun will shoot where the shooter is looking, and the shooter will be looking at the clay pigeon.
Trap Shooting Stance
The proper stance for trap shooting is the same stance for shotguns in general. By its nature, a shotgun will produce a sizeable recoil. That recoil needs to be managed and controlled if the shooter has any hope of hitting consistently (and not dropping their shotgun).
To manage the recoil, a shooter should be square to the house, feet shoulder width apart. The strong-side foot should be approximately a half step back and the shooter should be leaning slightly forward. putting a majority of their weight on their forward foot.
When mounting the shotgun, the shooter should lean into the gun slightly. This will allow the shooter to absorb the recoil without being pushed backwards.
Trap Shooting Aiming Tips
You could say this would be the meat and potatoes of trap shooting, but it’s not all there is to it. A shooter can only get to the point where they need to improve their aim after they have mastered the mount. Inconsistent mounting will disrupt aiming; so a shooter can only perfect their aim if it’s built on the foundation of a solid mount.
More importantly, you don’t even aim a shotgun. You point it.
Most shotguns are equipped with a rail and bead on the end of the barrel. Very few shotguns are equipped with a traditional rear sight aperture (the ones that do have a rear sight are generally designed for tactical shooting, not trap shooting).
So when should the shooter be engaging the pigeon? As soon as you spot it.
When the bird is thrown, it is moving forward at the fastest speed while spinning at the fastest rate. This makes the bird travel in a straight fashion with minimal drop. As the bird gets further from the house, it slows down and spins slower. Both factors cause the bird to begin dropping from the sky. The slower the bird is, the faster it falls. A falling bird requires a shooter to lead the bird for both forward distance and rate of fall.
Also, the further out from the house the bird gets, the more your shot will spread out. While that may prove to be an advantage initially, there comes a point where that spread has diminished returns. Instead of trying to guess when that point may be, engage the pigeon as soon as you see it.
Now, once you spot the bird and mount the gun, avoid the mistake of trying to shoot while moving the gun. That will guarantee a miss as the bird will move out of the path of the shot before the shot arrives at the bird. To successfully hit the bird, you, as the shooter, need to decide which of the following methods to employ.
Tracking the Bird
When a shooter ‘tracks’ the bird, they are following the bird’s flight with their shotgun. There is one key point, however, which means the difference between a miss and a busted clay.
Instead of tracking the bird and shooting at it, the shooter needs to track slightly faster than the bird and track through it. As the shotgun tracks through the bird, the shooter will pull the trigger at the birds leading edge or just slightly in front of it.
Now, instead of the bird flying out of the path of incoming shot, the bird will fly directly into the path of the incoming shot. Both arrive at the same point at the same time. Busted clay.
In order to ambush a clay, the shooter needs to quickly judge the bird’s flight path. After determining where the bird will fly, the shooter points their shotgun at a point in the path where the bird will cross. As the bird’s leading edge arrives at this point, the shooter fires. Shot and bird arrive at the same point at the same time. Busted Clay.
The ambush method is more difficult for new shooters, as you need experience watching clay birds fly in order to guess where the bird will pass.
Remember, engage the bird as early as possible, regardless of the chosen method.
Trap Shooting Tips and Tricks
OK, let’s hit on some tips and tricks quickly.
Point the Finger
While learning how to point your shotgun at clay pigeons, it may help to extend the pointer finger of your forward hand. Lay this finger along the barrel of your shotgun and mentally imagine pointing this finger at the clay bird.
Key point: if you choose to do this, do not actually use the finger as your aiming method. The pointer finger is not actually in line with the bore of your shotgun. In effect, the finger is beside the bore of the barrel which would mean a wide right or wide left miss in practicality. We use this as a mental exercise to get used to pointing the shotgun, not aiming.
Don’t Use the Sights
Seems crazy right? It’s not. Remember, we do not aim shotguns. Attempting to focus on the front sight bead will mean taking your focus off the bird. The bird is constantly moving forward and dropping, so taking focus off the bird for a fraction of a second will mean it’s not where you expect it to be.
Point the shotgun and keep your focus on the bird.
Get Out There and Practice
Trap shooting is both fun and challenging. The best trap shooters spend many hours on the field practicing their trap shooting. Also, the more time you spend watching flying clay birds, the better you will be at judging the birds flight path and employing the ambush technique.
Point your shotgun and bust your clays.