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Tune Up with Trap

By Key Rippetoe

Tune Up with Trap
Trap shooters can let their ejected empties lay until the match is over.

This is for those readers whose shotguns only see two or three boxes of shells a year, those of you who eagerly await the opening of dove, duck, pheasant or quail season, and end those seasons with a sorry 50 percent or less hit or miss record. You wish you could do better, know you need more practice, and wonder how to get it.

Avid trap, skeet and clays shooters know the answer. They’re the guys who bag 80 percent of their birds.

Trap is the oldest form of competitive shotgunning. It originated in 1750 in England, where live pigeons were released from a “trap” to provide practice and sport for the landed gentry. Trap came to the U.S. in 1831. Trap ranges are numerous today because they are easy to build, requiring only a single shooting house and one machine in that house to toss targets. Chances are very good there’s a trap range close to your home.

Even private clubs offer guest days. That’s how they get new members. Trap shooting with your field gun gets you more gun time, which is what it takes to up your success in the field.

The Course

Singles - Behind a trap house are five shooting stations about 5 yards apart in a semicircle. The house is 16 yards in front of the shooters. Up to five shooters can take a position, but you can also shoot alone. The arm on the machine that tosses the birds swings from left to right and randomly releases a single clay bird. The shooter never knows if it will go straight away or angle to the left or right.

Tune Up with Trap
These shooters are in the handi- cap position. They are shooting the same targets as would be shot from the close singles, but they are farther from the trap house, which adds difficulty.

A round is 25 shots, so you need to dump a full box of shells in your pouch (or shooting-vest pocket) before you step up to the line. You’ll shoot five shots from each position, then move to the next position for five more shots. Shots will be at about 35 yards; if you’re fast, you can take them closer. While you’re never sure of the angle, all the birds are rising and going away. Rising and going away? Sounds like a busted quail covey!

After a few boxes, you’ll probably discover most of your misses were behind the target, and you’ll begin increasing the lead. You’ll realize that if you can still see the target as you pull the trigger on the going-away shot, you’ll no doubt shoot behind it. Soon, you’ll increase that lead, perhaps covering the target, and smash it to bits. Shoot a few boxes of shells, and that lead will become apparent; you’ll start busting targets instinctively. Like riding a bike, you won’t forget it.

Doubles - The shooting positions are the same, only this time you will shoot 50 shots, two at a time. It takes a big pocket or pouch to hold two boxes, but turkey or upland vests work well enough. You’ll use the same house, same stations and rotations, but this time the birds are not random. Both are released at the same time. One will go left, the other right, the same shot every time (until you change stations, which changes the angle).

Some shooters always take the most straightaway shot first; others, the right or left. You’ll develop a style or preference and no doubt hear lots of suggestions from fellow shooters. Most importantly, your consistent misses will become apparent and you can work on improving.

You can choose to shoot only singles and occasionally join a group that’s looking for another shooter at the doubles range. Or, you can mix it up on every outing with both, but be advised that doubles can be humbling.

For both games, you might choose to shoot with a gun carried low as you would be carrying it in the field, or have the gun mounted to the shoulder and positioned slightly above the house before you call “pull.” That’s the technique used by hardcore shooters, but no one will fault you for choosing a low gun. You’re not there for the score, but to become a better shot in the field.

Of course, if the bug bites, you might become obsessed in your quest for that elusive 25, 50 or 100 straight. Even if you shoot from a high-gun position, it will make you a better field shot, as proper lead is always the same no matter when you shoulder your shotgun.


Like golf, pool, bowling or target archery, trap can become a passion as well as a serious money game, calling for custom equipment. On the range, you will see exotic specialty shotguns designed exclusively for trap. These look strange to the novice and often cost thousands of dollars. Most have an adjustable cheekpiece that can be tuned to force the shooter to shoot high. This edge can raise scores, as the birds are always rising.

Others whose passion is hunting rightfully decide to use their field guns. You’ll find no objection (and possibly a bit of envy) if you shoot your field gun and learn to master it. Many shooters at my local club more than hold their own with their duck and pheasant guns.

You can use field loads, but shooting hundreds of full-house loads in a day can be abusive as well as a bit pricey. Milder “club” loads are cheaper in bulk and a lot easier on the shoulder. These are most often loaded with 7 1/2 shot. Often, they’re for sale at the trap range. You can practice with them all year, then switch to a few boxes of field loads just before the opener.

A shooting vest is handy, a field coat or upland vest acceptable and a set of earplugs a must. Shooting glasses, especially with amber lenses, can help you pick out those small targets on overcast days.

Subscribe Today!Etiquette & Safety

There’s nothing wrong with asking one of the veterans the range-etiquette ropes. You’ll find them eager to share. Mostly, common sense applies.

* Never have a round anywhere in the gun unless you’re on the line.
* Unload and clear the magazine before you change stations. A trip or fall then could be fatal.
* Don’t shoulder or point your gun until it’s your turn to shoot.
* Don’t be tempted to follow the other guy’s birds for practice. It’s unsettling to your neighbor.
* Leave the smokes at the clubhouse and the alcohol at home.

Want an excuse to get out of the house on a Sunday afternoon, a great way to put more birds in the bag, and possibly develop some new shooting and hunting buddies? Find that trap range, dust off Ol’ Betsy, gather up those leftover loads stored in the garage, and tune up with trap.

Reprinted from the July 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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