Trap Shooting for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know


Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) watches as Poppy Benson takes a shot during the trap shooting portion of the 19th annual Legislative Shoot on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Teams of legislators, aides and members of the media form three-person teams in a four-event shooting contest that covers shotgun, rifle, pistol and archery accuracy. Trap shooting for beginners

In the 18th century, hunters across Europe began the practice of trap shooting. And they all started with the same knowledge as trap shooting for beginners. 

In those days, it was a simpler game, where a hat was placed on top of live pigeons before they were released from their traps. When clay pigeons replaced live ones, the modern version arrived.

It’s now one of the most popular games among hunters and sports shooters alike. But even novices and recreational fans can have a go. As long as you know how to play the game, there’s always a place for trap shooting for beginners.

Fabarm / Caesar Guerini European St...
Fabarm / Caesar Guerini European Style Pheasant Shoot

How the Game Is Played

Today, a trap machine propels clay targets from a bunker, nestled in the ground in the center of a trap field. It’s similar to the set up on a field for skeet shooters.

The shooters stand on the shooting line, which is behind the trap house. 

Since the firing mechanism is hidden, and because it oscillates, it is harder for shooters to predict the flight of the clay bird. And that’s the challenge of trap shooting for beginners especially.

A traditional trap course will have five shooting stations along the firing lines. Here’s the basic premise:

  • A maximum of five shooters compete in a round of trap shooting for beginners or experts — each one taking position in a semi-circle near the front of the trap field
  • The first player will call for the clay bird to be released by saying, Pull.They take their shot, then show that their gun is empty.
  • The second shooter takes his turn
  • That continues through all shooters until everyone has fired a total of five shots from their current position
  • The shooters rotate positions, then play another round
  • When everyone fires five shots from each of the stations, totaling 25 shots per person, the round is complete

Understanding How To Play Competitive Trap Shooting for Beginners

Trap shooting was officially made an Olympic sport back in 1900 and has been a staple of the summer Olympics ever since. Plus, there are other competitive events held each year — American trap and International trap.

American trap shooting for beginners

A single-trap machine is in the bunker, and it oscillates left and right, throwing targets out anywhere in its 45-degree range.

American trap has a handicap yardage. That means after shooting a perfect round, the shooter must move further back from the trap.

The very best sharpshooters may be 27 yards back from the bunker, which demands pinpoint accuracy and precision to hit the targets.

International trap shooting for beginners

This game is much different, as there are 15 individual traps in a large bunker measuring 60-feet across. There are three separate traps in front of every shooter.

The traps don’t oscillate but are fixed to throw the clays out at different angles and speeds.

Due to the more challenging nature of international trap, shooters are permitted to have two shots at every target.

Trap Shooting for Beginners: Some Tips

It’s important to get on target fast, but you must not rush your shot. This takes considerable practice to gain the necessary discipline to be a precise and consistent shooter.

Here are some tips especially for trap shooting for beginners:

  • Pre-mount the gun on your shoulder, check the stock and make sure you have the muzzle aimed at the ground near the trap’s front edge
  • Keep both your eyes open, then call for the clay
  • As it emerges, guide the muzzle upwards, quickly but with a smooth transition. Once you reach the target, pull the trigger.
  • Experienced trap shooters continue to move the gun after taking their shot, even if they miss. This helps develop a fluid motion and stops you from pulling your head after the shot.

Key Features of Trap Shooting Shotguns

Shotguns for trap shooting are noticeably longer than normal shotguns, as their barrel is longer and has more weight distributed on the front.

They’re design to have a higher point of impact because targets are rising above them when they fire shots.

Most trap shotguns have features like adjustable combs and ribs, allowing you to customize the sight of the gun according to your style.

In trap shooting, 12-gauge target loads are the normal ammunition and shotguns used in the game. Although trap shooting for beginners may be better off starting with a 20-gauge. It has a lighter recoil that may help practice follow-through.

Also, a lighter gauge will allow trap shooting for beginners to practice for longer.

Some Basic Etiquette When Trap Shooting

Trap shooting for beginners may be a little intimidating. After all, you’re out on the field with more experienced shooters.

Aside from looking and feeling clueless, you may be worried about doing something stupid or even dangerous.

Keep in mind that the trap shooting community is filled with helpful folks. In addition to that, the gun club may have helpers on staff to talk you through.

In any case, here are a few of the unwritten rules about trap shooting for beginners etiquette to have in your toolbox.

Watch your temper

Never throw your gun on the range. Sure, you may get frustrated at times. Trap shooting for beginners involves a learning curve just like anything else. But remember, it’s just a game.

Just as you shouldn’t launch your golf club through the air like Happy Gilmore on a rampage, remember to act with dignity at the shooting range.

You’re carrying a weapon, after all, and must act accordingly.

Take it easy and be mindful of others

Don’t unload the entire clip of a semi-automatic at a single target. Channeling your inner John McClane might feel awesome, but it’s not the time or the place. You’re not in a movie, you’re on the range.

Be aware of the next shooter in line. Give them the same common courtesy you expect when taking your turn.

Also, use a shell-catcher if you use a semi-automatic. These little pieces of plastic only cost a few bucks and stop your shells from raining down on your neighbor.

In the same vein, take care with ejecting empty pump action shells. Make sure you control it, so the empty casing doesn’t hit people around you.

Keep it safe — always

Keep your gun unloaded and visibly clear when you’re not currently at any shooting position. Also, the muzzle should remain pointed at the ground until you’re firing.  

Prepare for your turn in advance by checking that you have a full pack of shells, some spares, and eye and ear protection before you take your place on the starting line.

Beware that your muzzle never points at the scorekeeper or other shooters, especially when you move posts. When moving from post #5 to post #1, it may be best to walk away from the trap, circling behind other shooters.

Only load the gun when it’s time for you to shoot. Wait until the previous shooter has finished.

If you’re using an over-under shotgun, you can drop your shell in. However, it’s polite to wait for a moment before closing the action, allowing the current shooter some quiet to focus.

Regular Practice Is Key to Mastery

If you want to improve your abilities with a gun for hunting or sport, trap shooting for beginners is a fun way to get some regular practice.

For many people, it’s an addictive pastime, as the feeling you get from making a few great shots soon instills a desire to get better.

You might just find yourself coming back sooner than you thought to have another go at beating your personal best scores.

With enough practice, it’s possible to become a proficient shooter in a relatively short space of time. And you can put your skills to the test at competitive events at your local club.

The largest and most renowned trapshooting organization in the U.S. is the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA). They have clubs, meetings and competitive events for you to join.

Like we said, it’s a friendly community. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and observe more experienced shooters for guidance.

Give It a Shot and You May Just Get Trapped

To get the most out of trap shooting for beginners, you just need a gun and some shells. But if you’re serious about getting involved with a club, you’ll need to invest in your own full trap shooting gear.

In the early days, it’s best to borrow if you can. That affords you time to figure out if this sport is really for you.

With a bit of practice and some networking with the pros, you can quickly develop a love for trap shooting. Soon enough, you’ll be the expert, helping others learn how to shoot trap too.

Have you ever tried trap shooting? For beginners, what is the most intimidating aspect of the sport? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Featured Image: CC2 by James Brooks via WikiMedia

Dakota R.

My name is Dakota, Since I was a little boy, hunting has been my favorite things to do. Being outdoors meant I got to spend more one on one time with my father. I've learned so much from my dad over the years, and I hope you can learn and enjoy following my blog!

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