TRAP SHOOTERS CHECKLIST
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SAFETY FIRST AND FOREMOST!
- TRAP RANGE ETIQUETTE AND SAFE GUN HANDLING (1 and 7 on the checklist)
Trap range etiquette and safe gun handling begins when you arrive at the trap range and continues until you depart the trap range. As you start to unload your vehicle and travel to the gun rack adjacent to the shooting stations ensure your shotgun action is open.
Pump action and semi-automatic shotguns shall have the slides and bolts in the back/open position and be placed in the gun rack in that condition.
Break open shotguns, either single shot or doubles, shall be carried in the broke/open condition and shall be placed in the gun rack in either broke/open or closed condition.
When removing the guns from the rack to walk to assigned shooting stations shooters must immediately break open the shotgun prior to walking to the shooting station. One step away from the rack is allowed for time to break/open the shotgun. Two or three steps and you should expect to be talked to by the duty range officer or range manager.
Note 1: For those shooters who wish to gun rack their shotguns in their vehicles prior to, between, and after rounds of shooting shall ensure the actions of those shotguns remain in broke/open condition. If unattended, the shotguns and ammunition shall be kept in a separate place in the vehicle.
Note 2: Exception to the rule of maintaining shotgun actions broke/open unless it is your turn to shoot: The Range Safety Officer or Range Manager may allow closed and verified empty/safe shotgun handling for the purpose of training and check of gun fit, gun hold, eye dominance checks, etc. The two person rule; one person being the range officer or range manager and the other being the trainee, is in effect for a safety check that the shotgun to be handled is verified empty/unloaded prior to handling with action closed.
Penalties for walking around a trap field/range, or to and from vehicles, with a closed action, range from verbal reprimands to removal from the range. THIS IS A SAFETY ISSUE AND SHALL BE ENFORCED WITHOUT COMPROMISE
- EYE DOMINANCE AND GUN FIT (2 on the checklist)
You have all heard and read about; one eye shooters, two eyed shooters, right eye dominance, and left eye dominance, as these relate to the shooting sports. Assessment of your particular physical status to determine your best starting point in clay target shooting of moving targets may require you to make some changes. We all have developed habits over time, some good and some bad, that affect our shooting abilities to some degree. Maybe habits from some previous training as a youngster that may or may not have been fully understood at the time, or some really good habits from rifle and pistol shooting, when applied to shotgun sports, they do more harm than good, and don't really apply. Why does eye dominance have to come before gun fit? We cannot really know how the gun fits or should be made to fit until we figure out whether you will be shooting right or left handed. I don't care if you have a whole gun cabinet full of right-handed rifles you shoot and shoot well, if you are left eye dominant and want to shoot at moving targets with a maximum success rate, you need to learn to shoot a shotgun left handed. The long range goal is to eventually shoot with both eyes open. This allows the shooter/hunter to have the optimum field of view including the increased peripheral vision that only comes from shooting with both eyes open.
Yes, even left eye dominant folks out there who have shot rifles right handed with one eye closed for years can make the change and will be rewarded for the effort by greater success and less frustration when shooting moving targets both on the clays course and in the field. Don't throw away the rifle/pistol shooting methods and experiences. Just file them in a separate chapter of your shooting mind set. One set of procedures for rifle and pistol and a separate set of procedures for shotgun clay and wing shooting.
Whatever the reasons you are interested in some help from the checklist for shooting moving targets, the suggested methods described here are presented as brief as possible to get into the clay target shooting sports, trap shooting in particular, with a minimum of cost and frustration, easier to remember and in black and white for later reference. Use the checklist as a reference to backtrack into the details and find the particular portion you are not executing properly rather than feeling you have to start from scratch as you did in the beginning.
- Establish whether your going to shoot right or left handed. This should be governed by your eye dominance. Right eye dominant shooters should shoot right handed. Left eye dominant shooters should shoot left handed. Why is this important? One important key to shooting moving targets is to be able to shoot with both eyes open. This enables you to have an unrestricted field of view within the limits of your peripheral vision or left and right side vision. Picking up the targets movement and flight path as early as possible from its first sighting is key to not feeling rushed in the smooth swing on the targets track, the trigger pull, and follow through. When forced to, or choosing to, shoot with one eye closed, you are severely restricting your field of view. Target tracking on the closed eye side of the trap field will be picked up slightly later after its release from the trap. A set processing time for each persons mind to compute the target track, start the smooth swing, determine the correct lead, pull the trigger, and follow through is usually the same amount of time for each shot. Picking up the targets first appearance later than a two eyed shooter will automatically stress the shooter to think that time is running out to make the shot happen, and will sometimes make shooters take bad shots at longer than normal distances.
- One way to determine eye dominance is by holding your arm out in front of you with thumb and index finger forming a circle similar to the OK hand signal. With both eyes open focus on an object in the distance as seen through the opening formed by your fingers. Without moving your hand and arm close your right eye. If the distant object no longer appears in the circle your right eye is your dominant eye and you should shoot shotguns right handed if at all possible. Now open both eyes and again focus on the distant object. While maintaining that view through the circle move your hand and arm back towards your face while keeping the object in view within the circle. When you have finished moving all the way back to your face your hand will be against your cheek and your finger and thumb will be circled around your master or dominant eye. Some folks have little or no difference in eye strength and have no noticeable difference in eye dominance. For those cases and for those who have decided not to change their preference for right or left handed mounting of their guns there are some helpful processes that minimize the effects of eye dominance switching back and forth from eye to eye during a shooting session. One trick is, for example, a right handed shooter can tape or rough up their shooting glasses left lens. Or if using shooting glasses with removable lenses, insert a darker shaded lens in the left side.
- Now after establishing eye dominance, and whether right or left handed mounting of the gun is right for you, we move on to gun fit. We are all different in shape and size and for that reason seldom will two guns off the rack fit the same person. Specific dimensions such as length of pull; the distance measured in inches from the trigger to the gun butt, and height of comb; the distance from sight plane to the top of comb, and cast off/cast on; the amount of stock displacement away from the shooters face from the line of sight through the shotgun sights when that line is extended back towards the butt of the shotgun. Weight of the shotgun and length of barrel are also considerations for each person to determine proper gun fit. End use of the shotgun may also affect the final decision. For example a shotgun designed for specific use such as Trap may not be the proper choice for Sporting Clays or Skeet. Trial and error are the most common methods used to find a shotgun or a rifle that really fits. Sometimes it takes years and lots of money to get to that proper fit. There is a better way in the use of a "Try Gun". Most likely in your club there is a person who rebuilds gun stocks, or replicates gunstocks. Make contact with that person. Most likely they will have one or will know who has. A "Try Gun" is a mechanical marvel in design being fully adjustable in all the critical parameters used to determine proper gun fit. Once the Try Gun is fitted to you and adjustments locked in, the measurements highlighted above can be identified and used to replicate a stock that fits you. You will be armed with better information when searching for the perfect fit other than just throwing up the shotgun and checking the hands on feel. For a web check of adjustable stocked shotguns, search on "Try Guns"ťand check one of the hits being a model 12 winchester pump action try gun.
- One of the best ways to check gun fit at home for no out of pocket expense is the mirror check. The mirror check substitutes the mirror for the eyes of the stock maker above who would normally be looking at your body and eye position behind the "Try Gun" when determining your best gun fit dimensions. Using your present shotgun that you intend to use for Trap shooting (UNLOADED AND CHECKED 3 TIMES TO BE UNLOADED!!), stand in front of a mirror big enough to reflect your upper body with shotgun shouldered and pointing directly at yourself in the mirror. With eyes closed; shoulder the gun, slightly arch your back, leaning with weight slightly forward on front foot (left foot forward for right handed shooters) in a comfortable stance as if ready to shoot. Now open your eyes and without moving your head from the initial position check the alignment of the shotgun front and middle sights and shotgun rib slope for alignment with your target in the mirror being your eye you are sighting with. If you can repeatedly mount the gun with eyes closed and assume the normal stance as described above, open your eyes and not have to make any corrections of head movement to achieve the target (your sighting eye in the mirror), then you are at a point where gun fit with that particular shotgun will be sufficient to begin the next phase of the process to successful trap shooting.
We have eye dominance and gun fit hopefully behind us so now we move on to the clay target game of Trap and the particular tricks of the trade so to speak to make you a successful trap shooter. You have the basics now to move from in front of the mirror to taking up a shooting station on the trap field. Next we will cover using the proper eye, proper gun fit and proper stance to the field.
- STANCE AT EACH SHOOTING STATION and INITIAL GUN HOLD (3 on the checklist)
There are five shooting stations on a trap field. Each shooter will stand on each of the stations and be presented five targets from the trap machine at each of the five stations. The trap machine will randomly throw targets traveling away from you with some at angles to the left and right. Markers on the field or clusters of broken targets on the ground to the left and right show the extent of the angles for the far right and far left target presentations. The position of your feet when taking your place on the station is very important since that establishes the foundation of a proper stance.
- Take your assigned spot at the shooting station. Position your feet shoulder width apart with left foot forward for a right handed shooter, slightly arched back, and shift your weight slightly forward to the front foot. Determine the far left and far right sides of the field within which the targets will be presented. Draw an imaginary line from the approximate middle of the left and right field positions back to your shooting station. Imagine another line between your feet. Try to maintain a 45 degree angle under you where the two lines cross. This will enable you to swing comfortably on any target presented and not be twisting against your own body mass.
- With the initial stance established as described above now bring the shotgun stock to your cheek and shoulder. Establish a sight picture having front sight and middle sight, if equipped with middle sight or bead, in alignment such that an up-side-down figure eight is formed. This sight picture has to be maintained throughout the swing, the shot, and follow-through while your eye focus is shifted to the flying target. The best way to ensure the sight picture is maintained without having to continuously focus on the position of the beads is to lock all the upper body muscles for the remainder of the shot. Your swing from that point on will be controlled by the larger waist, hip and leg muscles providing a much smoother swing than would be possible if just using your arms and hands to throw the gun towards the targets track. Using only arm, neck and shoulder muscles to control the swing leaves more room for unwanted motions such as jerking and twitching the gun and not desirable for a smooth swing.
- With the gun mounted select an initial hold point on the trap house roof slightly above roof line. Divide the roof line into five equally spaced points with the right and left corners being two of the points. Station one your hold point will be the left corner slightly above the roof line. Station five your hold point will be the right corner slightly above the roof line. Station three hold point will be the center and slightly above the roof line. Stations two and four hold points will be the points between the center and left, and center and right corners of the trap house roof line respectively. We have covered the mechanics of the process now we move on to the last checklist item before we say PUUULLLLL. That is eye focus and concentration.
- EYE FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION (4 on the checklist)
With all the mechanics in steps 1 through 3 above understood and practiced now we move on to the last checklist item before we say PUUULLLLL. In summary, to this point; we have chosen the right gun that fits, we are in the right stance, we have the right sight picture, and all the upper body muscles are locked and ready to begin the smooth swing to the target using our waist and lower body muscles to control the swing.
Now is the time to shift eye focus from the gun barrel and sights to the spot out in front of the trap house where the target will first appear as a flying object verses a streak of color traveling across the sky. That spot is different for each shooter since each shooter has different degrees of eye sight ability. Use the first test target thrown at the beginning of the round to determine the best spot to focus on for your individual sight ability.
This would be the time you would think hollering PULL would have to be next. Not quite. There is the mental aspect of the clay target sports that is extremely important and given little attention by most shooters until they have spent some time agonizing over missed targets, even after shooting for many years and executing everything by the book flawlessly. Why did I miss that easy going away target on the 24th or 25th shot at the end of what I thought would be a perfect 25 straight round? You missed a target because you THOUGHT about all these numbers, scores, mowing the lawn, or people talking in the background, rather than thinking about NOTHING. How hard could it possibly be to think about NOTHING? It takes concentration for the human brain to think about nothing. Even at night our minds race through events of the day or past and future plans.
One tool or trick to use for a combined eye focus and shift up in level of concentration is to focus and concentrate on the target in flight as hard as you can to attempt to see the circular ridges on the target while it is in the air. When I am shooting on days that there are lots of distractions both home and at the range, I actually silently repeat to myself "look for the ridges, look for the ridges" after calling for the target. Not many people have the ability to actually see those ridges at those distances but the level of focus and concentration that has to be used to try to see them is the level of effort that will make for better and more consistent scores. In other words you force yourself to make the priority be the flying target instead of the lawn needing mowing at home. OK, so it is not really thinking about nothing, it is however a good tool to raise the level of concentration to that required for consistent success at trap shooting.
I must add a disclaimer to this, however. Limited use of that concentration to the time just prior to calling for the target is the key to not wearing yourself out. If that level of focus and concentration is used from the time you stand up on the shooting station until the end of the round or rounds, you will be mentally burned out before the day is over, maybe even before that one round is over. Key to successful use of the focus and concentration method is to allow or force yourself, if necessary, to relax between shots. Only dial in the focus and concentration at the higher level just prior to calling PUUULLLL for the target.
And yes, finally, now it is time to call for the target. Why say PUUULLLLL? That's next on the checklist, and that's why it gets its own spot on the checklist.
- CALL FOR THE TARGET - PUUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLL (5 on the checklist)
Leaving number 4 on the checklist we are finally ready to call for a target to be thrown. Some good things to remember; you have to see the target to start the correct swing on its flight path. Have you watched shooters call for the target and see them immediately start swinging the gun even when no target is released? Not a good thing and a bad habit that some shooters don't even realize they are doing. Until the target track is determined it makes no sense to begin the swing since its flight path at that point is unknown and most likely you have started to swing the gun in the wrong direction. By doing this you have added another step to bring the gun back to the actual targets flight path and then have to start swinging faster than normal to catch up. An added step is not a good thing and usually makes the shooter feel rushed in their shot and can snowball into more bad decisions of swing speed, when to pull the trigger or bad leads applied to the target, all of which can lead to missed targets. Be sure you are seeing the target before moving the gun from the initial hold point. Check yourself from time to time, when the trap machine malfunctions and no target is released when you say pull. Are you moving the gun when no target is in the air?
Why say PUUUULLLLLLL and not just PULL? The fact is you don't have to say pull. You can make any kind of a noise on the line and the automatic voice release system or the scorer will release a target for you to shoot at. The exaggerated PUUUULLLLL that I have used in this presentation is used as an example of how critical it is to maintain smoothness when calling for the target. If you make quick and exaggerated motions in the process of calling for the target, no matter what sounds you choose to use, the possibility of inadvertent gun movement is amplified by the exaggerated flexing of your diaphragm and chest muscles to create the sound. This can create extra movement of the gun as you transition from calling for the target to seeing the targets flight path and beginning your swing towards the target. Bottom line, say whatever you want to call for a target, but make it as smooth an event as possible. What happens after you call for the target? That's next.
- SWING AND FOLLOW-THROUGH (6 on the checklist)
Successful clay target shooting shares a number of things with success in the game of golf. One of those things is proper swing and follow-through. Maybe you have heard the phrase in golf of "swing through the ball". A similar phrase applied to trap shooting of "swing through the target" is associated with this checklist item. After completing all the checklist items up to and including calling for the target we are now faced with tracking the target, establishing the proper lead, smoothly but decisively pulling the trigger, and maintaining the swing for some small amount of time after the trigger is pulled. Don't stop the swing when the trigger is pulled!!
Rifle and pistol shooters bring to the table some trigger management techniques that sometimes cause problems when applied to shooting at moving targets. Stationary targets allow time for the slow squeeze "let it surprise me" method of trigger pull. Moving targets, and having shotgun three dimensional teardrop patterns with numerous pellets making up the shot string, will allow a firm but smooth trigger pull at just the right instant to get the shot pattern launched at the right time. Proper timing of the trigger pull is more important in the clay target sports than the element of surprise when the gun fires.
Common problems in swing and follow-through and some ways to correct them:
a. Stopping the swing when the trigger is pulled. Shot string will pass behind the target almost every time. If the target does break at times the swing is stopped and no follow-through occurs, it only means the established lead on the target was incorrect to start with. If the swing had not stopped at the trigger pull, chances are the shot string would have passed the target way out in front due to more lead than necessary applied to the target. A method to avoid stopping the gun is to follow the target if it does not break, or follow the broken target pieces if it does break when you shoot. This will keep the gun moving right on through the act of pulling the trigger. While staying on the target track for several heartbeats after the shot in the case of a miss, sometimes you can assess the cause for the miss during that brief moment. Did I stop the gun; pick my head up off the stock, swinging to fast or to slow, flinch, etc?
b. Un-mounting the shotgun from the shouldered position immediately after pulling the trigger. In a hunting situation this practice is not conducive for making a second or follow-up shot. In practicing trap single targets the effects of this bad habit is less damaging unless your practice is intended to be applied at some future point to shooting doubles trap. Immediately pulling the gun off your shoulder after the first shot is the same as lifting your head off the stock to look at the target while swinging. Remember on a shotgun your eye position in relation to the shotgun is the equivalent to the rear sight on a rifle or pistol. You would not remove the rear sight of your rifle or pistol after the first shot when follow-up shots are anticipated. To shoot the second target in doubles with any success you have to keep the gun mounted, swing to the first target then smoothly continue to swing towards the second target to make the second shot without removing the shotgun from your shoulder. So why not practice that way.
c. Chasing the flying target with the gun barrel while focused on the sights and not the target. Once the sight picture is established be sure to shift your focus out to the spot in front of the trap house where the target becomes a flying object vice the streak of color when it first emerges from the trap house.
- RANGE ETIQUETTE AND GUN HANDLING (1 and 7 on the checklist)
Trap range educate and safe gun handling continues when you depart the trap range. When the days shooting is done and you are packing up the shotgun(s), cleaning them and walking them from the gun rack to secure them in their cases, ensure your shotgun action is open. It is a checklist item that is repeated here for good reason only in reverse order from arriving at the range. Everyone is more tired now than when they arrived earlier in the day. These are the times requiring more emphasis than ever on safety.
Pump action and semi-automatic shotguns shall have the slides and bolts in the back/open position, checked to be unloaded before placing them in the cases for storage in vehicles.
Break open shotguns, either single shot or doubles, shall be carried in the broke/open condition and shall be checked to be unloaded before being placed in the gun cases for storage in their vehicles.
When removing the guns from the rack to walk around the trap range in the cleaning and break down process while storing the shotguns, shooters must immediately break open the shotgun prior to walking any distance on the field. One step away from the rack is allowed time to break/open the shotgun. Two or three steps and you should expect to be talked to by the duty range officer or range manager.
Note 1: For those shooters who wish to gun rack their shotguns in their vehicles prior to, between and after rounds of shooting shall ensure the actions of those shotguns remain in broke/open condition until they are checked one last time to be unloaded and cased for storage in their vehicle. If unattended the shotguns and ammunition should be kept in a separate place in the vehicle.
Note 2: Exception to the rule of maintaining shotgun actions broke/open unless it is your turn to shoot: The Range Safety Officer or Range Manager may allow closed and verified empty/safe shotgun handling for the purpose of training and check of gun fit, gun hold, eye dominance checks, etc. Two person rule, one person being the range officer or range manager and the other being the trainee, is in effect for safety check that the shotgun in hand is verified to be empty/unloaded prior to handling with action closed.
Penalties for walking around a trap field, or to and from vehicles, with a closed action, range from verbal reprimands to removal from the range. THIS IS A SAFETY ISSUE AND SHALL BE ENFORCED.
- DRY FIRING EXERCISES AT HOME (8 on the checklist)
DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PERFORM THESE EXERCISES WITH LIVE AMMUNITION LOADED IN THE SHOTGUN CHAMBER OR IN THE SHOTGUN MAGAZINE!!
Dry fire exercises are intended for those trap shooters who want some added homework designed to boost performance and stamina. Dry fire exercise methods carried over to the clay target sports from rifle and pistol shooting can be of great benefit.
Trap shooting when carried to the extremes of the sport involves a great deal of both mental and physical stamina. A practice day may involve shooting 100, or up to 400 or more targets for that day. Registered shoots can be just as demanding if not more so because the mental level of focus applied when prize money is on the line. It can also be more tiring since the registered shoot days are usually longer than a practice day.
It is expensive to always practice with live ammunition. Some dry fire practice sessions at home can be very helpful and at the same time not cost as much as live fire practice.
We have already covered the shooting stance practiced in the mirror exercise to help determine proper gun fit and sight picture.
Note: To avoid damage to the shotgun use a snap cap inserted in the chamber in use so the firing pin has something to hit against rather than bottoming out in the bolt or receiver of the gun.
- Practice pointing at stationary clay targets in the house or garage. Place an actual clay target on the mantle or on a shelf elevated to above your head when standing. Mount the (UNLOADED!) shotgun swing up to the target, swing past it, and pull the trigger. Un-mount the gun and repeat the process. This will help establishing the muscle memory to always shoulder the shotgun in the same way, in the same spot on your shoulder, and with not stopping the swing when the trigger is pulled. Executing as many repetitions as you can without lasting distress and stiffness will build the muscles in your upper body used to manage the weight of the gun. This will help build stamina for the long days of practice and registered shoots.
- Swinging and follow-through dry firing at stationary clay targets in the house or garage. Place an actual clay target on the mantle or on a shelf elevated to above your head when standing similar to the single target placed above, but instead place two targets at that level placed the width of the room apart on the same wall with your position in between them at a distance equal to the length of the room, say the average living room, den, or bay of the garage. Imagine the trap house being in the middle out in front of you. Mount the (UNLOADED!) gun as you would normally and practice starting from the normal hold position on the trap house roof line, call for the target, and smoothly swing out to the target. As the barrel of the shotgun passes the target, establish a lead, pull the trigger, and follow through. Duplicate every move that you would normally execute at the trap range except no live ammunition is used.
- Using the right muscles. Practice mounting the (UNLOADED!) shotgun in your normal stance and intentionally focusing on locking up the upper body muscles in use to create your stance. Now, with those muscles locked from any movement or twitching, swing normally as instructed in (a) or (b). Use only the larger waist, hip, and leg muscles to make the shotgun barrel track or swing to the targets. Execute the shot and follow-through. This exercise adds smoothness to your swing automatically by eliminating the smaller muscle movements in you upper body from adding roughness to the swing. When locked up the upper body muscles of the shoulders and arms will also be more likely to hold the proper, head on the stock, relationship that is needed to be constant throughout the entire swing.
- Changing shotguns. When necessary repeat the mirror check and (a) through (c) above to prove to yourself you have made the required adjustments to the new or different shotgun to have it fit you and feel comfortable. Avoid spending money and time on live fire practice with a gun that doesn't fit or feel right.
Run through the checklist each and every time you step up to the shooting station, until it is a part of your trap shooting mindset, then forget it. Remember you have to be thinking about just seeing the ridges on that flying target, and nothing else, just prior to calling for it.
Some time from now, when you are having not so good a day shooting trap, and the scores don't seem to be improving as you would like, break out this checklist and review it. Yes, I mean get it out of the shooting bag and read each portion through until you spot the one or two little things you are not doing or not completely executing.
Start on the front page with the quick and dirty bullets. Narrow down the area of trouble then go to the details in the follow-on pages. Pick out the smaller points to focus on for some specific corrective actions. That is what the checklist is meant for. It is created to help instructors, new shooters, and veteran shooters pick out the good from the bad without feeling that starting over is the only way to proceed. No need to start all over again to learn the game of trapâ€¦ because that just isn't so!! Experience that works for you is priceless and should not be set aside. Usually once the small detail is identified the corrections needed to get back on track are small also. No need to panic. Have a great time in your pursuit of excellence in the clay target sports and rememberâ€¦
THINK SAFETY FIRST AND FOREMOST!
MOST ACCIDENTAL SHOOTINGS ARE WITH GUNS
THAT EVERYONE THOUGHT WERE UNLOADED...!