Trap Shooting Tips and Techniques for Beginners
Maybe you’ve already gone trap shooting before and maybe you haven’t. If you’re in the latter category, you owe it to yourself to try it at least once. It’s not as intimidating as it might seem on the surface, but it will definitely challenge you to get better in a hurry. It doesn’t matter if you only hunt upland birds occasionally or strictly target shoot, getting better at clay shooting in any form will help you as a marksman in the long run.
Almost everyone’s first question when it comes to learning the trap shooting basics is what the difference is between trap, skeet, and sporting clays. They all involve the same basic principle, which is to shoot at clay birds (little ceramic discs that represent a bird; thus, also called clay pigeons). However, trap shooting involves the birds coming from only one location and extending out and away from your position. Skeet shooting typically has two locations, and the birds will often cross at some point in their flight. Sporting clays is the most advanced in that it involves birds coming from several locations, and you don’t know which order or direction they will come from. Many hunters compare waterfowl hunting to trap shooting, upland bird hunting to skeet shooting, and any kind of chaotic bird hunting with sporting clays. Generally, they increase in difficulty in the same order.
The second question most people have is whether or not they need to go to an official trap shooting club, also sometimes referred to as a gun club, to participate in the sport. Maybe they don’t live near one or feel intimidated to try it out. Technically, unless you have a similar shooting range set up, it can’t really be called trap. However, trap, skeet, and sporting clays will ultimately help you no matter how you do it. You can even ask a family member or friend to toss some clay pigeons from a hand-held thrower for you in a hayfield. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. Just practice hitting small airborne objects and you’ll improve your shooting skills for next fall’s hunting season.
Trap Shooting Basics
According to the basic trap shooting rules, a trap field consists of five different stations radiating in from each other in a semi-circle, with a trap house in front of the shooters. Upon command, the trap house will throw a bird out in front within a roughly 45 degree arc. Five birds are shot at each station, or at least that’s the goal, and then the shooter rotates to the next station position. If you hate math, you’ll be shooting 25 birds per round of trap. In addition, there are different events within the overall game of trap shooting. You can either shoot singles, handicap, or doubles. Singles means you’ll be shooting one bird from the closest distance to the trap house at 16 yards. Handicap is shooting one bird from various distances, based on the shooter’s ability, ranging from 18 to 27 yards from the trap house. Doubles means you’ll be shooting two birds from the 16 yard mark. They are thrown simultaneously, so you really need to be on the ball to get both. In the case of doubles, you’ll actually be shooting 25 pairs, or 50 birds in one round! Note that you will need to shoot well beyond the 16 to 27 yards, as the bird will travel a good distance before you actually shoot it.
As with all things related to your trap shooting shotgun, you should consider safety your number one priority. This is especially true on a shooting range of any sort, unless you want to promptly be scolded or asked to leave. Before you participate at a trap shooting range, make sure to read up on and understand the specific rules for that club. They may be slightly different from what you’re used to doing on your private land, but the rules are the rules for very good reasons and you need to follow them. It’s not the club’s responsibility to inform you of the rules; rather, it’s your job to actively ask around and make sure you can comply with them.
If you’re not actively using your shotgun (i.e., about to fire), you should make sure to keep your safety on, your shotgun empty, and your action open. When transporting your trap shooting shotgun between stations, always keep the barrel pointed down-range. When you’re finished with your station rotation, keep the shotgun barrel pointed up and away from people. It sounds obvious, but so many people lose touch with this basic concept in the heat of the moment. Also be sure to bring specific firearm safety gear, including hearing and eye protection. Whittaker has a 3-pack of different Champion lenses that are perfect for the trap range. These shooting glasses come in clear, yellow, and orange and smoke tinted lenses, which will help your eyes to see the birds faster. In addition, they offer safety protection that will keep your eyes safe.
Since we’re assuming that most of you want to learn how to shoot trap well, there are some things you can do at home before you even step foot out on the trap range with a loaded firearm that can help you get more comfortable. If you’re a novice, it’s important to learn the proper shotgun shooting technique right from the start. Stand in front of a mirror in your home with a shotgun, which is unloaded and has an open action, right? Don’t lower your head to the gun; instead, use your arms to bring the gun up in unison with the shotgun parallel to the ground at all times. Hold your cheek firmly against the stock, and use it as an anchor point. The classic beginner mistake is to seat the shotgun at your shoulder first, and then swing the gun up into position. Avoid this. You should practice mounting the shotgun to your shoulder very slowly until you know exactly where it should go. Then slowly increase the speed until it becomes second nature to you.
Stand tall with your legs spread shoulder-width apart for a broad base of support. When swinging the gun, take care to move from your hips and pivot instead of just moving your arms. Moving only your arms will adjust your anchor point and you may lose some accuracy. Try the whole sequence, from lowered gun to follow-through, several times until your body develops some muscle memory. Now you’re ready for the real deal.
Trap Shooting Tips
Many beginners wonder what the best trap shooting shotgun is, and many veteran shooters still debate it. While there are several solid options, you really can’t go wrong with a 12 gauge shotgun. While a 20 gauge may be better suited to newer enthusiasts due to the lower recoil, a 12 gauge will ultimately serve most people better in the long run. Whittaker has the Winchester SXP 12 gauge shotgun that is made for trap shooting. It features a lightweight and balanced design, with an inertia-assisted slide-action that can help you deliver three shots in less than one second.
As mentioned above, you’ll be standing at one of five stations behind the trap house when the birds are launched. Many shooters don’t know how to aim for trap, which causes frustration on the field. Your natural tendency will be to catch up to the bird by following it with your eyes, and then taking your eyes off the bird temporarily to watch the sight bead at the end of your shotgun. This makes sense on the surface, but it actually slows down your shooting and you’ll miss the target nine times out of ten (and the tenth will be a lucky hit or a fluke). In fact, most trap shooters miss the birds behind and over them. To avoid this situation, one of the best trap shooting secrets is to aim slightly ahead of and at the bottom of the bird. Really focus on not taking your eye off the target and you’ll shoot better and have a higher score after each round. A quick browse online will reveal lots of trap shooting instructional videos that can help you observe good form and develop good shooting habits yourself.
Hopefully your training in front of the mirror cemented the process of swinging and mounting your shotgun in unison so you have consistent form every time. Always remember to pull the stock up snugly to your shoulder and against your face for a proper trap shooting technique. Because you’ll be shooting 25 (or even 50) birds per round, you should find some low recoil loads for practice. Otherwise your shoulder will be pretty stiff and could look like a blueberry the next day. Often, trap shooters use size 7 1/2 or 8 shot for target shooting. New trap shooters should probably use modified trap shooting chokes in their shotgun. If you take longer to acquire the bird, a full choke may be needed to produce a tight enough pattern down-range to actually break the clay pigeon. If it doesn’t break, you’ll end up with a “lost bird” and a low score at the gun club. But instead of just taking this advice, it’s good to pattern your shotgun and test some different chokes and loads before deciding on what works best for you. You may find a different choke and load works better for your shooting style.
If you’re wondering how to shoot trap better, follow these tips and don’t be discouraged. Your first few times on the trap field will likely be humbling and disappointing. But if you view it as a challenge to overcome, you’ll be fueled by the desire to improve your trap scores. You get out of it what you put into it. So if you practice regularly, you’ll see your shooting improve drastically in no time. And that will translate over into any hunting you do as well.