A few weeks ago a reader named Kurt sent the following note to me via email:
“I am recently retired and have been involved in shooting for most of my life. But I never really got into organized shooting in my later years and am not sure where to start. I have a trap gun, but have never yet shot it at trap. I have field shotguns for hunting, and am interested in sporting clays but don’t know which one are suitable (or ideal).
“I think there are a number of older folks with time on their hands who would like to do more shooting but don’t know where to start. My idea for future columns is what each range offers, the equipment needed to participate, and how to go about getting started. I’m not suggesting you get too technical or advanced, but getting more people involved in shooting is something you are perfectly qualified for.”
Well Kurt, thanks for the kind words, and maybe I can give you a little direction. At the present time, there are three basic shooting sports available for people who enjoy shooting shotguns: trap, skeet and sporting clays.
Trap shooting is the oldest of these and has been around since the late 1800s. Originally, live birds such as passenger pigeons were used as targets. Small, glass balls also were used for a time until the invention of clay targets, which have been used since then. Of the three sports, trap is probably the easiest to learn, and it is also the speediest to shoot.
A basic trap field has an automatic target throwing machine in an underground bunker. Sixteen yards behind are is five shooting pads, or “stations.” Each station is a long pathway that goes back a maximum of 27 yards. All the targets are thrown away from the shooter within about an 45 degree arc. You shoot five shots from each station, and then rotate to the next station.
Basic trap is shot at the 16-yard range. When shooting under tournament conditions, you are assigned a “handicap” yardage that can put you back to the maximum of 27 yards based on your ability. All trap guns have long barrel lengths of at least 28 inches and up to 34 inches. They are normally full choke. If a person is really quick, they might shoot improved cylinder or modified chokes at 16 yards because these have a more open pattern to them.
The most popular guns for trap are over/under and gas-operated semi-automatics in 12-gauge. Shooting a lesser gauge is a real handicap. One of the best features of this game is the speed in which it is shot. Five gunners at 16 yards can go through a round of 25 shots in seven or eight minutes.
Kurt, if you are more into upland game hunting, then skeet or sporting clays will have the most to offer you.
Skeet shooting first came about in the early part of the 20th century. A couple of guys up in New England wanted some way to improve their hunting skills and be able to shoot during the off hunting season.
They developed a course using a complete circle like the face of a clock with a radius of 25 yards and put shooting stations at numbers one through twelve.
An elevated trap machine was installed at 12 o’clock and would throw a target toward 6 o’clock. Each shooter would fire two shots from each of the 12 stations for a total of 24. The 25th shell out of a box would be fired in the middle of the field toward 12 or 6.
In 1923 a neighbor started a chicken farm next door to the range, which put a stop to shooting in that direction. The problem was eliminated by putting a trap at 6 o’clock and throwing it upward toward 12 o’clock, thus doing away with the 1-5 positions. You now had stations one through seven beginning at the old 12 o’clock, with number eight in the middle between 12 and 6. Double shots were added to stations 1, 2, 6 and 7 to use up a box of shells.
In 1926 two national sports magazines started a contest to name this new shooting game. A woman in Montana won $100 when she came up with “skeet,” the Scandinavian name for shoot.
Skeet shooting is an excellent way to improve your field shooting. The longest shot on the field is about 21 yards. A skeet choke, or improved cylinder choke, is most commonly used. Almost all new gun sales come with at least three chokes that can be interchanged by screwing them into the barrel at the end. They are improved cylinder, modified and full. One gun with this assortment will make the hunter capable of bagging every type of game bird in the country: ducks, geese, dove, quail, pigeons and turkeys.
The nice part about skeet shooting is that you can enjoy the sport with smaller gauge guns and still break respectable scores. If you have a 20- or 28-gauge gun or a .410 bore, feel free to try skeet shooting.
I will get into sporting clays shooting with my next column in two weeks.
The Kern County Gun Club, located on the north side of Buena Vista Lake and open to the public Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, is one of the premier shooting facilities in the west. It offers trap, skeet and sporting clays shooting.
5-Dogs Shooting Range is a great sporting clay facility north of Oildale and is open to members and members’ guests only.