Getting started with shooting at moving targets is tough, especially if you have never done it before.

You may have shot at paper targets, which is a good start because it does help you learn control, but with trap shooting, it is much different.

One of the greatest ways to get that kind of practice in is to make sure that you work on your hand-eye coordination in relation to the way you aim with a shotgun. Aiming with a shotgun is different than aiming with a rifle.

Our Top 7 Trap Shooting Tips

Don’t worry though. In this blog we’re going to walk you through some trap shooting tips to help you get on your way with making your experience more enjoyable.

1

Pick the Right Shotgun

Picking the right shotgun is relative to the shooter. Heavier shotguns are generally more difficult for kids to handle if you’re teaching them how to shoot. The recoil can be painful if they’re not ready for it, and even more so when they’re not experienced.

If the shooter doesn’t have the right shotgun for their strength and have it positioned correctly as well, then there could be some real damage. When you shoot, if the buttstock isn’t positioned within the crook of your shoulder properly, you could very well end up with a dislocated shoulder.

For people that are new to shooting with shotguns, you’re going to want to start out with nothing bigger than about a 20-gauge shotgun. A 12-gauge shotgun has a bigger kick than a 20-gauge due to the type of ammunition.

Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a 12-gauge at all starting out, but you do need to understand that size matters in this instance. If you’re a burly dude or a stronger gal, you may be okay with a 12-gauge because you’re going to have to be able to handle the kick that comes back from firing.

2

Understand What the Numbers Mean

As you dive into the world of shotgun shooting, you’re going to see all sorts of numbers jump out at you referencing gauges of the shotguns. Each number represents a different type of shotgun shell that can be used in that gun.

A 12-gauge shotgun is going to have a more robust ammunition that will deliver a harder kick when you pull the trigger. A 20-gauge shotgun will still have a kick, but 20-gauge shells don’t give off as much of a kick compared to the 12-gauge.

Another option available to choose is a .410 shotgun. These are very dependent on what your goal is when you use it. If you want to work on practicing your aim with a stationary target, then these could work out really well. There isn’t much of a kick which makes them great for younger kids.

On the other hand, you don’t want to use a .410 shotgun when your trap shooting because even the best shooters tend to miss. There’s a reason for this - .410 has a smaller amount of pellets inside the ammunition at all of about half an ounce. When you pull the trigger, and those pellets come flying out, they spray and fan out.

The result of shooting this shotgun, and any shotgun for that matter, is going to be a spread of pellets aimed at your target.

With a heavier gauge shotgun, you get a larger number of pellets to work with. Lighter gauge shotguns have fewer pellets. Fewer pellets mean more widespread fanning which then means even if a single pellet hits your clay, it likely won’t actually break.

With a heavier shotgun, you’ve got more pellets flying, so they’re going to be denser as they shoot out of the gun. The increase in density flying towards the clay is going to result in a better shot.

3

Practice Pointing and Shooting

Aiming with a shotgun is a lot different than aiming with a rifle as mentioned before. Consider the fact that when you have a rifle, you have a single bullet that comes out of the barrel when you shoot. That means you have a single projectile that you’re trying to aim somewhere.

This is very different from the way the shotgun releases the pellets because they spray. If you were to aim at a safe piece of cardboard, you'd see the difference in the way a rifle hits and the way a shotgun hits.

You’ll notice, too, that rifles have sights, right? Shotgun sights are nothing like rifle sights. Instead, they have a bead at the very end of the barrel. The bead is meant to act as a guiding point, but not to line up like you would a rifle sight. This is because of the way the shotgun sprays its pellets when the trigger is pulled.

You’ll get a feel for these differences if you take the time to practice shooting at stationary targets like cardboard placed in a safe place, or even clays placed on the ground out on the field about 10 yards in front of you. Once you figure out how you need to aim, that’s when you start working with throwers.

4

Keeping Your Eyes Open

That may make you think, “well duh, because otherwise, we can’t shoot!” It’s more than that. You need to keep both eyes open which is harder than most people think. If you’ve ever shot a gun, there’s a good chance you’ve shot it with one eye open and one eye closed.

When you’re shooting at a moving target, it’s better to keep both eyes open in order to track the target accurately.

Even still, you’ll need to figure out which eye is your dominant eye. To do that, you’re going to focus on an object in front of you and center it with both eyes open. Hold your hands out in front of you and create a triangle between your fingers.

Center that object in the middle of the triangle you created. Open and close each eye without adjusting your hands. If you still see the object with one eye and not the other eye, then the one that sees the object is the dominant eye. If you see the object with both eyes, then it means you’re ambidextrous.

If your eyes are ambidextrous, then you may want to cover one of your eyes while you’re shooting because it means that both of your eyes are competing for dominance. When your eyes compete for dominance, it can actually cause confusion to where you’re aiming. If you have an eye that is definitely dominant, then it won’t be a problem.

5

Body Awareness is a Thing

Person shooting with shotgun

Your body position is extremely important when you’re shooting your shotgun. Remember, you’re pointing the gun and not actually aiming the gun like you would a rifle. Because of this key difference, your posture is going to be different and more relaxed.     

Your body being relaxed is going to be what allows you to absorb the recoil safely as well as track the clay effectively because you’ll be able to rotate from the waist. Remember to keep your legs slightly bent about hip-width apart with your dominant leg behind you and your other leg in front of you.

Your body should be facing sideways in such a way that you can rotate at your waist with the gun pointed safely down the range. Make sure you lean a little into the shotgun to give yourself a proper bracing to be ready to take the recoil.

6

You Need to Hold the Shotgun Correctly

Olympics trap shooting

It is critical that you hold the shotgun correctly because anything else could result in injury to you or someone near you. Experienced shooters will tend to call for the launch and the lift the gun. They can make this movement efficiently because they know how it feels and how to point the gun to hit the clay.

If you’re new, you may want to consider getting the shotgun in place first and then calling for the launch. This gives your instructor or your coach if you have one, the opportunity to correct your hold before you shoot. He or she will correct you in order to encourage you to avoid injury.

Ideally, you want your shooting elbow parallel to the ground and the buttstock on your shoulder. It is better for you to have the entire buttstock on your shoulder as opposed to part of it because it gives you a larger surface area to absorb the recoil.

Your cheek is also part of the way that you hold the shotgun. It needs to rest firmly on top of the stock to line up the beat at the front of the barrel. You should not see any of the barrel, and should only see the bead. If you see any of the barrel, then your head is way too high. Hold that position until you are done shooting because if you move too soon, you’re going to be more likely to miss.

7

Complete Your Follow Through

When the clay bird is launched, you need to be ready to track it with your gun’s bead pointed in the clay’s direction. Swing your shotgun along the same path that your clay is going to be able to predict when you need to pull the trigger.

There are a couple of different methods to decide when to shoot. You can track it with your bead and get just a smidge ahead of it. When you’re ready, you pull the trigger and then hopefully hit your clay.

A different way to shoot would be to track the clay bird until your muzzle covers what you can see. The bird should be behind the muzzle from your line of sight. If you pull the trigger then, you’ll stand a pretty good chance of hitting the target.

After you shoot, continue to swing the shotgun through the arc to complete your follow through. Don’t stop moving once you shoot because your continued follow through may result in an improved shot.

Just a Few Last Words on Trap Shooting Tips


Getting better at trap shooting is going to take practice. If you can get an automatic thrower, that will be better for you, so you don’t need to have someone else there with you to launch the clays.

Before you decide to go solo, though, make sure you know what you’re doing so you don’t accidentally cause any problems while you’re out shooting. Practice with a buddy when you can, too, to keep everyone safe and sound.

Once you get the hang of trap shooting, you’re going to love the rush you get when you break that clay. It is pretty fantastic. As long as you practice, it can happen to you, too!


Featured Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, by Zach Petersen, via Flickr

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