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Trap and Skeet

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

Are you a bird hunter who needs to hone your shooting skills in the off-season? Is the weekly bowling league getting stale? Are you looking for a new challenge? If so, there's a good chance some kind of shooting sport is tailor-made for you.

Trap and skeet shooting are pretty similar. In both sports, shooters use shotguns to fire at clay targets that are shaped like a saucer with a high dome. On ranges, machines throw the targets. In less formal settings, clays can be hand-flung or cast out with a spring loaded device.

Both sports offer much to participants, says Mike Rodney of St. Charles, president of the Missouri State Skeet Association. He believes that pursuing either sport will make a shooter more proficient.

"The casual shooter will develop good basic shotgun skills," Rodney said, "including hand/eye coordination, mounting the gun, tracking the target, leading a moving target correctly and shooting two targets in quick succession."

In skeet, shooters fire from eight different stations positioned around a half-circle. The targets cross in front of the shooters from either side of the front of the half-circle. On some stations, shooters fire at one target flying from the left, and another flying from the right. On other stations, they have to shoot at two targets that fly from both directions at the same time.

Trap shooters stand at one of five stations located on a much narrower arc behind a single hidden thrower. From there they fire at targets that zip away at unpredictable angles.

Trapshooting is the granddaddy of the clay target shooting sports. It dates back to 1750 or earlier in England and became a way to practice shooting skills when hunting real gamebirds wasn't possible. Live birds-pigeons, passenger pigeons and sometimes quail-were placed into a series of traps, either cages or boxes. The spring-loaded traps released the birds on the shooter's signal.

From England, trapshooting spread to the United States. Accounts describe organized shoots taking place as early as 1825. Eventually, using live birds for trapshooting became impractical, so shooting enthusiasts began searching for a substitute. Anything that could be thrown into the air was considered, including glass balls stuffed with feathers.

Around 1870, clay was first used to create targets, but it was difficult to attain consistent hardness. In 1880, a mixture of silt and pitch was used to create the target that had the ideal combination of sturdiness and brittleness. Although the targets weren't made from "clay," the name carried over. "Clay" targets continue to be made of silt and pitch.

Skeet shooting is a relative newcomer that first gained widespread popularity in the 1930's. Invented in Massachusetts in 1920, it was named by Mrs. Gertrude Hurlbutt of Dayton, Montana, in a 1926 contest sponsored by National Sportsman magazine. "Skeet" is an old Scandinavian word for "shooting."

Many recreational shooters also enjoy sporting clays, which came to the U.S. from Britain in the early 1980s. Sporting clays imports the formality of trap and skeet shooting into a more challenging field environment.

"In sporting clays, you shoot at various target presentations that are intended to simulate actual hunting situations, such as flushing quail, springing teal, incoming ducks, and so on," said Glenn Holland of Joplin, a member of the Missouri State Skeet Association. "If you want to see some frustrated target shooters, you should watch them try to shoot at a rabbit target bouncing fast across uneven ground."

At the Range

Novice shooters may feel like they've entered a strange new world when they first visit a range. For beginners, it's best to pair up with an experienced shooter the first couple of times. Not only can this person guide you through the shots at each station, but he'll also be able to give you practical pointers and techniques. Ear protection and safety glasses are mandatory on a range.

A round consists of 25 targets. Shooting a round of trap takes about 40 minutes on average for a squad of five. On the skeet range, the same group will take an hour and a half to shoot the same number.

It doesn't take long for new shooters to learn how the 25 shots are distributed in a round of skeet or trap. From their shooting stations, trapshooters yell "pull" when they're ready for the target. In skeet, the calls are "pull" for the left throwing machine (also called the "High House") and "mark" for the right throwing machine (also called the "Low House"). Someone behind the shooter then hits a button on a remote control to send the targets flying singly or in pairs.

Automatic launchers are nice, but you can still have a lot of fun in a field with only a handheld thrower and a box of clays. A case of 90 targets costs about $5, and with a decent handheld thrower available at $15 or so, it is a very economical way to shoot.

Recreation vs. Competition

Across Missouri, thousands of people shoot in competitive matches and in recreational leagues each week. Lynn Gipson, who manages the Kansas City Trap Association facility in Smithville, estimates that close to 2 million targets were thrown at their trap and skeet fields last year.

"I think one of the reasons that we see increasing numbers of shooters is that people have found it tougher and tougher to find a place to hunt or target shoot," Gipson said. "They just want to come out and shoot, and we offer a great place to do it here."

Missouri has produced a number of trap and skeet champions over the years, including Jordan Holmes of Kearney, who as a 15-year-old captured the 1999-2000 Missouri Handicap Trap championship. Jordan broke 100 consecutive targets-a feat accomplished only one other time in state history-to beat more than 1,000 contestants.

"Shooting trap is an exhilarating feeling," said Holmes, who had only begun shooting three years earlier. "It's a challenge though. When you don't break them all, you want to keep striving until you do."

Though competitive shooting can be lucrative, most shooters find the social aspect to be the most appealing aspect of the sport.

"The people I've met though this sport are absolutely the best in the world," said Rodney. "I love being outdoors with others who are friendly and enjoy shooting as much as I do."

Ranges In Action

Though firearms are forbidden in most places of employment, Greg Toczylowski sees someone carrying a gun into his "office" almost every day. Toczylowski works for the Conservation Department as the training center supervisor for the Jay Henges Shooting Range and Training Center, which is part of the Forest 44 Conservation Area in southwest St. Louis County.

"My job is simple," Toczylowski says. "In running this facility, our intent is to promote the safe, ethical and lawful use of firearms in hunting and recreational shooting."

It's a job he clearly enjoys. Toczylowski's eyes light up when he talks about the aspect of the work he loves best: working with youngsters in youth hunter education and shooting programs.

"It's really neat when somebody comes up to you and says, 'Hey, I know you don't recognize me, but you taught me hunter education some year way back when, and I still remember the things you told me'.'" said Toczylowski, who will celebrate 25 years with the Department in October. "It's rewarding to me to be able to pass on this heritage."

A typical day at the range is always busy for Toczylowski and his crew, which includes four permanent and four part-time employees, plus 12 volunteers.

"We had nearly 50,000 people out here in 1999 using this facility for shooting, attending classes or taking part in special events," Toczylowski said. "Those numbers just show how important it is that we have public ranges in the metro area so that people have a safe place to go and shoot."

Where To Shoot

The Missouri Department of Conservation operates four supervised shooting ranges:

  • Bois D'Arc-Greene County, (417) 742-4361
  • Busch Memorial Wildlife Area-St. Charles County, (636) 441-4554
  • Henges Range and Training Center/Forest 44-St. Louis County (636) 938-9548
  • Lake City Range-Jackson County (816) 229-4448

In addition to trap and/or skeet fields, these facilities typically offer a covered rifle/pistol range, a shotgun patterning range and an archery range. Exact configuration varies by location. All are open to the public, but a nominal fee is charged to use the ranges. Shooters are encouraged to call ahead for specific information, such as range hours and availability.

Also, the Department offers many more unsupervised firearms and archery ranges on its areas. For information about Conservation Department unsupervised shooting ranges, contact your local Conservation office, consult the "Missouri Conservation Atlas" or go to www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges on the Web.

For information about trap and/or skeet shooting, visit the Missouri State Skeet Association's website, www.geocities.com/Colosseum/ Mound/2436/moweb.htm, or go to www.motraps.com, or call or e-mail association president Mike Rodney at (573) 946-0903 or mrodney@aci-boland.com.

The Missouri Trap Association's website address is www.motraps.com or you can write to RR1, P.O. Box 396, Linn Creek, Mo. 65052-0396 or call (573) 346-2449.

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