Introduction to Trap Shooting

Trap is the most popular shotgun shooting sport in the United States with well over one-half million active shooters. In trapshooting, you shoot clay targets thrown from a single trap machine that’s situated in the “trap house” in front of the shooters. There are five positions on the trap field itself laid out in an arc behind the trap house. When a round of trap is shot, shooters are usually formed into squads of five shooters. Each shooter takes five shots from each of the five positions on the field (moving left to right), for a total of 25 targets. Like all games, trap shooting has its rules, and one of the first you’ll need to know is that the shooter starts with the shotgun in the “mounted” position with the butt stock mounted to the shoulder. In this game, there’s no surprise as to when the clay pigeons start flying because targets are released when the shooter calls “pull.”


There are three basic types of trapshooting events. The most basic event in trapshooting is the 16- yard event. In this event the shooter stands on a line 16 yards behind the trap house, which is obviously where the name comes from. The targets come out of the trap house at about 60 miles per hour and go out away from you about 50 yards, but most shooters hit them when they’re about 36 yards out. The targets are thrown at different angles from 45 degrees to the left or right, however, you don’t know which way they’ll fly until you see them.

If you are an average shooter, you could expect to break around 13 out of 25 targets on your first try at trapshooting and gradually improve your score through the high teens and into the low 20s. But a perfect score of 25 is certainly a reasonable goal for every trap shooter. When you start “bustin'” every target out of the trap, you’ll hear some excited talk about shooting “straights”, as in 25 or 50 straight.

Probably the next most common trapshooting event is called the Handicap. In this event you take a stand anywhere from 17 to 27 yards behind the trap house, depending on your previous scores. The better you shoot, the farther back you are “pushed”–which means more difficult shots.

The third common event or game in trapshooting is called doubles. Standing on the 16-yard line, you’re faced with two clay targets launched at the same time. In doubles, the targets are thrown the same each time, usually 35 degrees to the left or right of straightaway. You get one shot for each target. A standard round of doubles consists of 25 pairs, or a total of 50 targets.

If you shoot a tie in competitive trap events, a “shoot-off” is held to determine a winner of the prize money or trophy.

You can shoot an informal round of trap for practice or for fun; you can also be involved in registered shoots. To shoot registered targets, you have to be a member of the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA). In registered trap, your targets are all recorded by the ATA, and you will be placed in different classifications according to your previous scores. In addition, your average is published each year in the Official ATA Average Book.


Firearms – The typical gun for trapshooting is a 12-gauge shotgun, with a full or improved/modified choke and a long (30-32 inch) ventilated rib barrel. Although many top trap shooters favor over/under shotguns, single barrel, pumps and auto-loading shotguns are also common. If you’re going to shoot registered trap, you always shoot with a 12-gauge.

Ammunition – The shotshells used in trapshooting may vary slightly with a shooter’s preference and wind conditions. The shells most people use for trapshooting are typically labeled “target loads” and use # 7-1/2 to 8-1/2 size shot. Lighter loads (with slightly less shot and powder) are also popular. If you’re going out to shoot for fun, just ask your sporting goods or ammunition retailer for “target loads.”

Other equipment – Safety glasses and hearing protection should definitely be worn when you’re shooting. Some ranges make them mandatory. If you intend to shoot regularly, a shooting vest or a shell bag might be a wise investment. They’re both convenient and functional for holding shells that can get bulky and providing a little extra padding for your shooting shoulder.


Equipment and range fees will vary according to where you go to shoot, but you can use the following as a general guideline:

Shotguns – Expect to pay from $425 to $700 for a new, entry-level pump or semi-automatic shotgun. Used guns can be purchased for less at most sporting arms and ammunition retailers. Sporting enthusiasts can spend a lot of money to get custom-made, richly engraved and inlaid firearms. You will also want to talk to a shooting instructor or a sporting arms retailer about selecting a gun that “fits” you physically.

Ammunition – Trap loads can cost from $4.00 to $6.50 for a box of 25, depending on your location, the brand and the “load” or size shells you select. If you shoot a lot, “reloading” shotshells with components purchased in bulk can save you money and, for a lot of shooters, is an enjoyable pastime all on its own.

Range fees – You can expect to pay from $3.00 to $4.00 a round at most public shooting ranges. Most of these places will have free or inexpensive hearing and eye protection available for new or infrequent shooters.

Further Information

The National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) 5931 Roft Road San Antonio, TX 78253-9261 Phone: (210) 688-3371 Toll free: (800) 877-5338 Fax: (210) 688-3014 Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation