Skeet got its start in 1920 when three New England wing shooters wanted to polish their hunting skills.
So Andover, Massachusetts laid claim to the first bona fide skeet field. The unique game attracted a following – giving impetus to standardizing the shots and keeping score.
The original skeet field was actually laid out as a full circle with a 25-yard radius. The 12 stations mimicked the face of a clock – hence the game’s earliest name “Shooting around the clock.” The trap house resided at 12 o’clock, with birds thrown in the direction of 6 o’clock. Each shooter got two birds per station.
When a chicken farmer set up shop in an adjoining piece of property, the fathers of skeet had to alter the game to prevent any accidental bloodshed of fowl or man. In their wisdom, the fathers of skeet cut the field in half and set up trap house at 6 o’clock. This arrangement gave rise to the high- and low-house configuration that’s used in modern skeet.
As the game became a recurring competitive sport, four sets of doubles and the optional shot became de rigueur.
Finally, in February 1926, the game was introduced to the general public through two popular magazines: National Sportsman and Hunting and Fishing.
At the same time, a $100 prize was offered for the best name of the new sport. One Mrs. Gertrude Hurlbutt of Dayton, Montana suggested “Skeet,” which in Scandinavian of yore roughly translated into “shoot.”
The pent-up demand for the game by American shooters was absolutely incredible. Wingshooters now had a practical and competitive game to hone their shotgun skills without marching off into the field in the pre-dawn chill.
Today, skeet is an Olympic sport. Regionally, shooters of all ages and experience levels step up to the station and call “pull.”
What goes flying past them are fluorescent discs made of pitch that are 4 and 5/16 inches in diameter and 1/8 inches thick. The targets fly at about 45 mph for approximately 60 yards – where if you haven’t already broken the target Mother Nature does it for you.
The course has seven positions in a semi-circle and an eighth position halfway between stations 1 and 7. The trap houses where the birds are launched are situated at stations 1 (high house) and 7 (low house).
At stations 1, 2, 6, and 7 the shooter gets four targets: one high, one low and then a simultaneous pair of a high and a low target. Stations 3, 4, 5 and 8 have only two targets: one high and one low. If you have managed to hit every target when you reach station 8, you make your 25th shot by taking low 8 twice.
The option shot allows you to reshoot your first missed target – but your ultimate score is still only 24 if you hit it.
A perfect score is 25 consecutive targets. To celebrate this often elusive level of perfection, whenever a shooter hits a “25” it is acknowledged by making a fist and touching knuckles with your fellow squad members. If someone shoots a 24, they are entitled to a pinky-to-pinky salute all around.
As a rite of passage, you only get to brag about your first 25. After that, the next braggart milestones are 50, 75, 100, etc.
Your typical skeet squad consists of two to five shooters. You need at least two people because someone has to push the buttons on the puller.
Some squads tend to be more boisterous than others – and it’s not good form to tell someone to shut up while you’re shooting. Just grin and bear it and then move on to another squad after the round if the racket makes you uncomfortable.
Hats are strongly advised when shooting skeet (most people wear baseball caps). In addition to shading your eyes from the sun, a hat helps prevent scalp and facial cuts from the target debris. And of course, eye and ear protection are mandatory.
Overall, the most important thing about skeet is having fun.
When it comes to trap you either love it or you hate it.
Dedicated trap shooters – the folks who live and breathe the stuff – have it down to a science. Even more than skeet shooters, trap aficionados have been known to make the most minute tweaks to their guns between rounds because the targets didn’t break hard enough.
And the very same folks wouldn’t even consider shooting skeet, sporting clays or 5-stand – not wanting to taint the cosmic balance of their trapshooting consciousness.
So, what the heck is it about trap?
Unlike skeet, the trap shooter is essentially a lone wolf.
Whereas with skeet you can smoke and joke with your shooting pals as you congregate around each station, when you’re shooting trap it is only you at the station. The other shooters tend to become mere annoyances – hence the blinders worn by dyed-in-the-wool trap shooters on the stems of their shooting glasses.
When you call “pull” in trap, it seems to resonate through the entire brain cavity of the trap shooter.
But it wasn’t always that way with trap. It was less clinical -- a genuine blood sport.
Trapshooting can be traced back to England in the late 1700s. The earliest targets were live pigeons, released from cages called traps. In the1800s, trap shooting migrated from the auld sod to the new world – when live pigeon shoots were staged across our great land.
Trap historians will point to the year 1831 as the first American live-bird trap tournament at the Sportsmen's Club of Cincinnati.
By 1866 trap shooters were trying to move away from birds to inanimate targets – perhaps as a means to standardize the sport. Man-made targets removed the vagaries of a thinking target – an important development in emphasizing the shooters’ skills. After all, if all the targets are the same, well there goes about 1,000 excuses as to why you missed it.
Over the next 15 years or so, target material evolved from glass to ceramics. In hindsight it would be easy to see that glass targets could never have the sailing dynamics of a clay saucer. But fortunately, the fathers of trap figured it out – or else we’d still be shooting at glass globes filled with feathers (really).
The trap house is 16 yards from the line of 5 stations.
When you walk up to the line and call “pull” randomized targets are thrown at an angle not to exceed 22 degrees. The targets fly at about 41 mph. In a perfect world, the height at which the targets are thrown is a constant 10 feet higher than the trap house.
Five targets are thrown at each of the five stations (using up the entire box of 25 shells). Each shooter takes one shot, then the next shooter on the right has their turn, etc. until a total of five are taken at each station. After each shooter has shot five rounds at a station, they move to the right – with the shooter at the last station (#5) walking to station #1 at the end of the round.
Standard trap is probably the only shotgun sport that uses a single-barrel configuration (since you’re only permitted one shot per target). There are exceptions, which you’ll see in a moment. Trap guns have high ribs designed to smash rising targets.
To make the game tougher, you can move further back from the 16-yard line in a game called handicap trap. By its definition, handicap trap positions you 19 to 27 yards from the trap house. It’s the same 5-station rotation only further back.
Now it’s time to get out your O/U trap gun.
We start getting into two-shot trap with Double Trap. That’s where you stand at the 16-yard line. Two targets are thrown simultaneously along set paths of about 35 degrees left and right and you have to nail them both.
Wobble Trap is also a two-shot game. In Wobble, the targets are thrown at extreme angles – screaming to the right and left and launching skyward at a jet-fighter trajectory. They also oscillate or wobble.
Want an even bigger challenge? Try shooting Wobble from the skeet positions. The angles become even harder and the distance from the trap house grows as you move to the center – peaking at station #4 when you’re about 27 yards from the trap house.
But that’s child’s play compared to Olympic Bunker Trap. According to the rules set by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), you get to shoot a bird launched from the trap house at 76 mph using a 7/8-ounce load – which is anywhere from 1/8 to ¼ of an ounce lighter than the load used in other trap games.
The Olympic target is harder, engineered to handle the higher target speed. It’s also slightly smaller than the standard American trap target.
Let’s see…fast, strong targets using a small load. Why not add another person to the squad and spread the pain?
Instead of five stations, Olympic Bunker Trap features a squad of six shooters who must adhere to strict guidelines about moving between stations.
Rather than shoot five shots at each station, Olympic Bunker Trap requires you to take one shot per station before rotating to the next pad.
Fifteen trap machines throw the exact same targets to ensure consistency among competitors. Each shooter gets two lefts, two rights and one straightaway.
So you may have gathered by now that trap shooters are a tough crowd. That’s why it’s important to follow the rules of etiquette.
First, come properly equipped. Don’t be one of those bozos who places his box of shells at his feet and is always bending down to retrieve one. Make sure you have a pouch.
Don’t pick up spent hulls until after the entire round is over. As you may have gathered, less movement is better when it comes to trap.
And speaking of trap, you’d be well advised to keep yours shut while a game is in progress. Trap shooters really like to concentrate hard. No idle chatter, please.
If you’re using an auto-loader, make sure your ejected hull doesn’t hit the trap shooter next to you (or worse ding their $15,000 Silver Seitz). Get yourself a snap-on ejector guard (they’re cheap).
Don’t walk between stations with a loaded gun, even if your O/U is cracked open. Only load your gun when it’s nearing your turn to shoot.
Basically, be a good citizen and the trap gods will smile favorably upon you.
If trap shooting sounds like a visit to the dentist give it a try before you reach a conclusion. It’s a great sport for getting into the zone and letting the world recede for the next 25 shots.
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Think of it this way…
Instead of a 9 iron you have a 12 gauge…
Instead of a challenging 18 holes you have a challenging 15 stations…
And instead of a dimpled white ball that sometimes seems to have a mind of its own, you have clay targets that mimic the flight paths of birds eluding your shot…
(And yes, there’s also a golf cart.)
For you golfers, does this look familiar?
Indeed, your typical round of sporting clays is not unlike a round of golf. The biggest difference is you MAKE A LOUD NOISE AND BREAK SOMETHING. So for some personality types, that may be a lot more cathartic than the woosh of a swinging golf club.
Still, clays shooters who never set foot on a sporting clays course may be in for a big surprise.
Unlike trap or skeet, sporting clays targets literally come out of nowhere with flight patterns that can be absolutely maddening.
Sporting clays was a grand Victorian sport created for the tony set of hunters and people who fancied the outdoors.
Today, the sport remains virtually the same.
By simulating wing shooting, targets may suddenly appear through trees, quartering across a field, outgoing, incoming, bouncing, rocketing, left, right….
Orange targets can turn invisible against an autumn foliage backdrop. Overhead targets skim the tops of reeds, making the bird all but impossible to pick up. And believe it or not, you may actually have to wait an eternity before an incoming bird launched from a tower 100 yards away finally comes into range – by which time the tension and anxiety of waiting to shoot has flummoxed your timing beyond reason and you just don’t care if you hit it or not…because you want so bad to pull that darn trigger.
It’s the unpredictability of it all that’s so fascinating. Of course that makes a world of sense, given that like many other clays sports it was created to hone the skills of avid wing shooters.
While there can be lots of cement when it comes to skeet and trap, sporting-clay courses are laid out to optimize the terrain. It can be marshy, flat or rolling hills – mapping the places favored by sport shooters.
Targets can be thrown as singles, simultaneous pairs (a true pair), or report pairs (the second target launched at the sound of the first target being shot at). To heighten the challenge, target sizes range from the standard trap/skeet clay bird to the smaller midi and even smaller mini, or the flat battue.
So depending on the target, the wind, the angle of the machine, the sunlight, the season – you name it – each target has to be taken on its own terms.
A sporting-clays bird might smack of a flushed pheasant, a capricious grouse or a predictible incoming duck.
One-hundred targets tend to be the norm, although if you’re in a hurry many places will be happy to accommodate 50 targets.
The targets are fondly named after the birds (or rabbits) they intent to mimic. A ''chandelle'' angles as it climbs. A ''teal'' flies straight up to high noon and then plunges to the ground.
The only non-feathered target is called a rabbit. It’s bounced along the ground subject to the whims of whatever lay before it. Suddenly, right after you pull the trigger, the rabbit takes a hop and it’s gone.
Since most sporting clays courses have trappers – usually young men and women who work the machines – you can get a “looker” before you shoot. That way you get to see the target before giving it your best shot.
Here’s what you can expect as waterfowl targets…
- Passing ducks launched from a high tower
- Woodcocks presented as a flushing, outgoing target
- Pheasants on the wing launched from a tower
- Driven grouse as incoming targets that begin low and rise
- Springing teal thrown straight up
- Incoming ducks as a floating target coming toward you
Stories abound of experienced shooters getting so frustrated with sporting clays they slam their gun against a tree (must sound familiar to golfers).
But on a fine autumn day, the air smoky and the sun low, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon with friends.
If you can count cards in poker, you’ll be great at 5 Stand.
That’s because, for whatever reason, most people get completely confounded trying to keep track of what shot comes next.
Many people consider 5 Stand something like sporting clays without the walking.
The 5 stands are arranged next to each other and you move along down the line. The five shooters rotate through the cages.
Here’s where the card counting comes in handy.
Depending on the budget of the place where you’re shooting, the stands can range from a couple of two-by-fours knocked together in a pseudo-cage with three sides, to an elaborate affair that resembles three Dutch doors carefully assembled by Heidi’s grandpa.
There are six to eight different traps of the sporting clays variety arranged around the field. Each stand posts the sequence in which you shoot them. Since the sequence varies with each position, it doesn’t take long to completely lose track of the birds – even though you know them in advance.
So while you’re expecting to shoot the number eight target, for some reason you’re looking at number two. You’d bet the farm you’d know where the number three bird is coming from, then suddenly it flies out of nowhere.
Of course, the more you shoot 5 Stand the more proficient you become (or less nervous) until keeping track of the birds becomes second nature.
In addition to sporting clays, 5 Stand shares some rules from trap: each shooter gets five shots per station before moving along. The round is done after 25 shots.
The first of the five targets per station permits two shots – so you need to load two rounds when you enter the stand. And like sporting clays, the birds can be thrown as a true, simultaneous pair or in a report pair (where the second target is pulled after you shoot the first one).
Of all the clays sports, 5 Stand tends to be the most humbling for many shooters – even the ones you admire most. So to succeed at 5 Stand, don’t beat yourself up when you miss or take all the credit when you make some amazing shots.
If there’s such a thing as extreme clays, wobble skeet fits the bill.
As it implies, you shoot wobble trap from the skeet positions. The end positions of 1 and 7 may bring tears to your eyes they’re so darn hard to hit -- especially if you get a so-called grass cutter that sweeps across the field in a blur.
Generally shot from the 25-yard line, the severe angles of wobble take on the added dimension of shooting at some sort of UFO-like object off in the distance.
Big leads, fast ammo and tight chokes are all you need to win…
And some luck. After all, if you pull a few grass cutters that are almost impossible to see as they fall below the roof of the trap house…well, enough said.