If you have become interested in shooting targets, congratulations! You’ve opened up a brand-new world for yourself. And you may end up meeting a ton of like-minded people who share your new passion for skeet shooting — or was it trap shooting? Is there a difference between trap vs. skeet?

The difference in trap vs. skeet shooting isn’t immediately obvious, but as you become more comfortable with firing a gun, you’ll understand why the terms exist. The differences may be subtle, but they’re there, and they both have their own set of rules.

Trap Shooting and the Rules of the Game

For the first part of our trap vs. skeet discussion, we will look at the sport of trap shooting.

Trap shooting began some time in the 1700s. It was massive in England before coming over to the United States, with the first major trap shooting mentioned at the Sportsman’s Club of Cincinnati in 1831.

Back then, live birds were used as targets, which is how the term “clay pigeon” evolved. They released the birds from under a hat into the air. By the 1860s, the birds were replaced with glass balls, although some locations still utilized live targets.

Trap shooting involves the use of a single machine, usually sent away from the direction of the shooter. The name can have slight variations, including Olympic trap, international trap, ISSF trap, and trench. There is also the Olympic event of double trap, where two targets are released simultaneously.

American trap shooting

Throughout the United States, trap shooting is arguably the most popular form of clay pigeon shooting. Clubs and facilities all across the country engage in trap shooting.

The Amateur Trapshooting Association, also known as the ATA, organize many official competitions. The organization hosts the Grand American World Trap Shooting Championships in August.

With American trap, shooting categories are usually broken down into three separate areas: single, double, and handicap. The trap house fires targets in a single direction, while oscillating left to right inside an arc of 54 degrees.

Changes in rules during recent times have mandated a minimum handicap distance of 18 yards. Once a shooter wins, the distance increases to provide more difficulty.

Safety regulations require all shooters in a handicap squad to stand at least two yards apart, depending on the classification of their handicap.

Trap shooting technique

Firing at targets in the sport of trap shooting is quite different than just shooting a pistol or rifle. During trap shooting, hundreds of pellets are fired off at once, unlike a pistol’s attempt to hit a target with a single shell.

All of this takes place within a second, quite different than rifle shooting where you have time to line up your shot and take aim.

When discussing aiming your gun, trap shooting typically refers to the process as “pointing,” a term not used outside of trap shooting.

Skeet Shooting and How to Properly Enjoy the Game

Moving forward in our discussion of trap vs. skeet, we have the newer version of target shooting.

Skeet shooting began in 1920 in Andover, Massachusetts. The game was called “shooting around the clock.” That referred to a course in the shape of a circle, with a 25-yard radius. The circumference mimicked the face of a clock.

A trap took the 12 o’clock spot, and the game began.

However, the game had to be modified when, during an early session, a chicken wandered onto the field. Normally, the shooting took place from all directions, but the appearance of the chicken forced a modification of the rules — mandating one direction of shooting.

You’re still in a semi-circle, but with a 21-yard radius and 8 different stations.

The word “skeet” comes from the Norwegian word for “shoot.” Americans used skeet shooting during World War II to instruct gunners how to line up their shots for a flying target.

The first national championship for skeet shooting happened in 1926 and was shortly followed by the formation of the National Skeet Shooting Association.

Rules of skeet shooting

In American skeet shooting, the clay discs are 4 and 5/16 inches in diameter. They’re built to handle a distance of 62 yards.

Twelve-gauge shotguns are the most typical gun used in skeet. There are many to choose from, including pump-action, semi-automatic, and over-under.

It’s common for shooters in competition to utilize an improved cylinder choke or a choke built specifically for skeet shooting.

The idea of skeet shooting is to simulate the act of bird hunting. By moving into seven different positions on a semicircle, shooters point at a trap house that launches their targets. The clay pigeons will rise 15 feet above the ground. The high house and low house change this height to 10 feet and 3 feet, respectively.

Gun shops refer to shotguns built for the sport as skeet guns. It’s also possible to find a gun shop specializing in competition weapons and other shotguns.

The type of shotgun you use is entirely up to the shooter and what they’re most comfortable with.

Olympic skeet shooting

For Olympic skeet shooting, a delay from zero to three seconds happens after the shooter acknowledges and calls their target. The shooter has to hold their gun to ensure that the buttstock is at mid-torso before the target makes an appearance.

Unlike American skeet shooting, the Olympic variation requires all shooters to fire doubles at each station. In the American version of skeet shooting, that’s only a rule for certain shooting stations.

Trap vs. Skeet: Some of the Major Differences

Now that we have explored the history of each, let’s check out some of the major differences found in trap vs. skeet shooting.

Number of shooting stations

For skeet shooting, there are a total of eight stations, which differ in height depending on which spot you’re targeting. For trap shooters, this number changes to only five stations.

The difference creates interesting strategies involving instincts and how to react to your situation. Having eight stations means more targets, and you’ll have to reload more often, especially if you’re using an over-under shotgun.

You might want to consider different firearms for trap vs. skeet. With only five stations in trap, you’ll benefit from the power behind a double-barreled shotgun.

Skeet’s eight stations mean that you’ll want as large of a chamber as possible, so consider a semi-automatic or pump-action shotgun if you choose this kind of event.

Taking shots

In trap shooting, all participants will take five shots from each station, with no change in the process.

But it’s different with skeet shooting. In skeet, participants take two shots from each station. After this, they choose four of the five stations where they will fire an additional three shots.

Different techniques can be utilized here, especially if you think you have a better angle during daylight hours. If the sun is facing a certain direction, it might make your selection easier with the direction of the sun’s rays.

Launching Heights

As we noted before, skeet shooting changes the height of the of launched targets throughout the round of shooting. Along with the regular setting, there is a low house and high house that dramatically alters the trajectory of the clay pigeons.

With trap shooting, that doesn’t happen. One machine launches clay pigeons at the same height each time. This makes trap shooting a much more straightforward experience without introducing too many variables.

Skeet shooting will need more preparation for the variations in height. You have to develop strategies to adjust instantly for reaction times.

Clay pigeon speed

The speed at which the clay pigeons launch during trap vs. skeet shooting is actually very close. Skeet shooting will send out its target at 45 mph, while trap shooting decreases this slightly to 40 mph.

While the numerical value is not especially different, the slightest speed differential can alter the course of the flight drastically. You’ll find this more obvious if you do both trap and skeet shooting, especially if you do them back to back. Your reaction time for skeet will need to be increased to accommodate for the higher speed.

Skeet vs. Trap Shooting: Which One Will You Choose?

The rich history of trap vs. skeet shooting gives you a great idea of how you see yourself as a shooter. Do you like the more linear nature of trap shooting, where there is consistency in height and the number of stations? Or do you prefer the variables in skeet shooting, where you need to think quickly and adjust your stance?

Whatever your choice, you can be sure that you’ll find a satisfaction unlike any other in trap or skeet shooting. Your reflexes will improve, and you’ll become more comfortable aiming a shotgun into the air.

Plus, there’s no greater feeling than getting it just right and hitting that target once you see that bird fly.

Good luck with your choice!

Which do you prefer — skeet or trap? Tell us your thoughts about each in the comments!

Feature Image: by Andy Falconer via Unsplash

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