Shooting USA | A brief history of trap shooting

The trap shoot comes from 18th century England. In the late 1700s, shooters shot live pigeons released from cages called “traps”. As the sport advanced in the United States, it contained a number of boxes in a row that tipped or collapsed when a string or wire was pulled on the shooter’s command. The shooter did not know which box the pigeon came from and had two shots to throw the bird into a fence that surrounded the shooting range. Birds that fell outside the fence were counted as failures. To improve competition, a “handicap” system was introduced. Well-known shooters had to move farther away from the pigeon boxes than shooters with less skill.

Steve Comus, Safari Club International, is participating in the Grand American World Trap Championships 2017.

Modern trap shooting has retained many of these basic concepts. Today an oscillating target-throwing machine rests in the shooter’s field of vision, out of sight of the shooter. Depending on his position at the time the Sagittarius called, he will throw a clay target anywhere within a 22-degree arc. The shooter does not know the target’s angle until it becomes visible. The shooter only gets one shot and there is no fence.

Three basic trap shooting disciplines make up the program of a typical competition. In a single event, 100 to 200 targets are fired from 16 meters behind the Traphouse. In a handicap event, 100 targets are fired from a distance of 19 to 27 meters behind the Traphouse. The distance each shooter travels is determined by the shooter’s previous competitive record, which is registered with the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA). A double event is shot from the 16 yard line at two targets thrown at the same time. In both singles and doubles competitions, shooters compete in their own classes, from D to AAA, based on their current competition shooting percentages on each event recorded with ATA.

The Grand American

The Grand American World Trap Championships took over a century of competitive shotguns. It has seen the greatest shooters of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill’s “Little Miss Sure Shot,” was a trap shooter. Her last public appearance on a filming location was in the Grand American in 1925. Annie was together with “Plinky” Topperwein, the wife of the show shooter Ad Topperwein and a show shooter himself, an important force in the first years of trap shooting. Their examples got many women into the sport. The Grand has drawn celebrities like bandleader John Philip Sousa and actors Roy Rogers and Robert Stack, all of whom were serious competitive shooters. Before various cities started sponsoring mass marathon jogging events, the Grand American was the largest participatory sporting event in the world.

Grand American

Trapshooter at the Grand American 2017 in Sparta, Ill.

The first Grand American took place in Queens, NY, in 1900 and was home to 72 shooters. It was one of the first major tournaments with relatively new clay targets instead of live pigeons. It was won by the famous shooter Rolla “Pop” Heikes, who broke 91 out of 100 goals from the 22 yard handicap line.

Things have certainly changed over the years, and the Grand American has grown. In 1924, a 100-trap field in Vandalia, Ohio, became the home of the Grand, where the tournament would remain for many decades. In 2006, the Grand American moved to his new home at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, Illinois. The World Shooting and Recreational Complex is a state-of-the-art facility and includes 120 trap fields spanning 3.5 miles, according to ATA, it is “the largest line in the world”.

Trap shooting hardware

Since only one shot is allowed (except in doubles), single-shot weapons were and are common. The Grand American has seen the best single-barrel, single-purpose shotguns. One of the most popular were the Ithaca single-trap pistols introduced in 1914, which were expanded into the famous “Knickerbocker” in 1922. By 1935, six shooters had won the Grand American Handicap with Ithaca cannons. Ithaca named his highest grade the Sousa Model, in honor of band leader John Phillip Sousa, who was also a passionate trap shooter. (In 1985, Sousa was inducted into the ATA Trapshooting Hall of Fame.)

Krieghoff shotgun at Grand American

The Kriegshoff KX-6 Special model is a single barrel competition pistol.

Trap models are available from most shotgun manufacturers these days. Trap rifles are some of the most sophisticated and specialized of all shotguns. Virtually all trap pistols are 12-gauge as there are no other gauge events like there are with Skeet. Most have long barrels that are upgraded, modified, or full. Stocks have longer draw lengths, less drop, and higher ridges than field stocks, which results in the cannons shooting 8 to 12 inches high at 16 meters. This allows targets to “float” over the rib instead of being obscured by the barrel at some angles. Fully adjustable stocks have become the norm as Sagittarius seek every possible competitive advantage.

Single shot guns are still common at single and handicap events. Some look rather strange compared to traditional field guns. Many are built on over / under frames with just a lower barrel and a large space up to a high rib. This “super-ventilated” rib provides excellent heat dissipation – a major problem with the trap.

Recoil is another major problem for shooters, who typically fire 200 to 300 12-gauge shotgun shells a day. Gas powered car chargers are popular because they reduce the perceived recoil by diverting gas to power the action. Light target loads are also popular, as are various stocked recoil reducers including hydraulic “shock absorber” devices.

Please visit the ATA website for more information on trap shooting in the competition.

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