Youth Trap—How to Join In the Fun Right Now

Youth trap shooting is one of the fastest growing participation sports for teens in many areas. And joining in the fun is easier than ever. Here’s how to get started.

Youth Trap—How to Join In the Fun Right Now
Photograph Courtesy of Paul Erhardt—Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation
With 40,000 young trap shooters scattered across the U.S. today, it’s easy to find a youth shotgunning program near you.

In the world we live in today with guns socially demonized and most schools being gun-free zones with zero tolerance, who would have imagined that in many places the fastest growing high school participation sport is trap shooting?

It’s true; Minnesota, Iowa, Oregon and perhaps others have reported that trap shooting at the high school level is growing at a remarkable rate, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Many years ago shooting was the most popular sport in America. Participation was extremely high and it was often the way families spent time together on a day off. Now it looks like  recreational shooting may be making a comeback. 

Trap shooting is a sport with no boundaries. Age and gender don’t make a lot of difference and anybody can be competitive. If you are not the competitive type, you can just have fun shooting targets. It’s impossible not to smile when you powder a clay target. Teenagers learning to shoot trap will hopefully expose their families to the sport and it will continue to grow. So how do youth trap shooters get started? Here are the basics to get your teen breaking clays on the trap field right now.

Getting Started

Your first stop should be to your local shooting range to see if they offer any introductory classes. Most gun shops can help you locate a shooting range. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) also has a range finder on their website. Just plug in your zip code and it will list shooting locations near you.

Another handy source to check out is the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SCPT), which manages the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) across the United States. SCTP is a youth development program in which adult coaches and other volunteers use shooting sports to teach and demonstrate sportsmanship, responsibility, honesty, ethics, integrity, teamwork, and other positive life skills.

SCTP was developed as a program by the National Shooting Sports Foundation until the SSSF was created in 2007 to operate the SCTP.

NSSF’s Chris Dolnack calls this “Little League with shotguns.” He also points out that this program is a great feeder program for collegiate shooters and even for the Olympic team, so you just never know where this can lead. Perhaps you can become the next Kim Rhode.

Kim is a six-time Olympic medal winner. Most recently, she won the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, making her the first Olympian to win a medal on five different continents, the first Summer Olympian to win an individual medal at six consecutive summer games and the first woman to medal in six consecutive Olympics.

I watched her win her first gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 and was the first to interview her after that win. She had just turned 17 years old. Perhaps the next 17-year-old Olympic shooter is just waiting to pick up a shotgun and get started.

5 Great Entry-Level Shotgun Picks:

Photograph Courtesy of Remington Arms Company, LLC
Remington’s new V3 line of autoloaders offers soft recoil and a variety of stock options. Synthetic-stock models, like the V3 Field Sport Compact shown here, are compatible with an adjustable length-of-pull system to create a custom fit for any shooter. The author’s favorite entry-level models are listed below.

1. Remington Model 870

This pump-action shotgun has been a standard for years. Trap shooting legend Rudy Etchen was the first to ever break 100 straight targets using a pump shotgun. He used a Model 870. Rudy went on to win a lot of championships with the pump gun. The Remington Model 870 is inexpensive and all but indestructible. It’s been breaking clay targets for nearly 70 years and is still a great choice.

2. Remington Model 11-87

This gas operated semi-auto offers affordable dependability. I have been shooting an 11-87 since it was introduced in 1987 and it’s never given me a bit of trouble.

3. Hatfield USA SAS

This is a very low-priced shotgun that will get you in the game. Made in Turkey, mine required a little breaking time, but after 100 rounds it’s working fine. Best of all, you can buy it for $250.00 from the bigger retailers!

4. Tristar Sporting O/U

Break action, over/under shotguns have a safety advantage in that they can be broken open until you’re ready to shoot and it’s very easy for everyone on the field to see that the gun is safe. Most are very expensive, but Tristar can get you into a completive shotgun for well under a grand.

5. Franchi Affinity Catalyst

Often semi-auto shotguns are big, thick and a bit hard for smaller people to handle. This one has a stock that is optimized to feel right in a woman's hands. That means it fits well with a youth shooter, too. The Affinity Catalyst's drop, cast, pitch and length-of-pull are all tailored to a woman's build. Franchi shotguns are well respected in the shooting world and the price for this one is low compared to the value returned.


Big Numbers in Youth Trap

Photograph Courtesy of Paul Erhardt—Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation
Youth trap shooting isn’t just a boys sport, either. Women are competing at the highest levels in youth shooting competitions.

Ben Berka is the President & Executive Director of The Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation During a recent interview he said that there are about 40,000 youth trap shooters in the U.S. today. SCPT works with about 18,000 of those youth shooters across the country. They also have 4,000 volunteers to help run the programs. 

SCPT’s National Championship, held in the Cardinal Shooting Center in Marengo, OH each year, hosts 3,000 shooters and they launch over a million clay targets during that eight-day event. I asked him how an interested person could get started. 

“Just go to our website and plug in your location,” Berka said. 

“We work with both schools and clubs, so the odds are there is a shooting facility near you. If not, consider starting a shooting club. We provide assistance in getting started, finding instructors and we even have discounted equipment packages thanks to our sponsors.” 

The website is very user friendly and there are emails and phone numbers listed for personal contact if you need more detailed help. Ben took time out from a bird hunting trip to talk to me. In my world, that’s true dedication to the job.

What is Trap Shooting?

Photograph Courtesy of Trap & Field Magazine, the official publication of the Amateur Trapshooting Association
Young shooters of all ages are discovering just how much fun it can be to shoot trap. Even if you’re not competitive it’s still fun to bust clays with a shotgun.

Trap shooting is a shotgun sport in which the shooter attempts to hit and break a series of flying targets moving away at various angles. The sport dates back to the late 18th century. 

There are reports that that by 1793, trap shooting was "well established" in England. Back then real birds were used; usually passenger pigeons, which were extremely abundant at the time. Birds were placed under hats or in traps and were then released as targets. 

In the 1860s live bird  targets transitioned to glass balls. They were often filled with colored powder to create a dramatic effect when they were hit. In the late 1800s clay targets were introduced and they are still in use today, although most are not really made out of clay. Modern targets are made from a mixture of pitch and ground limestone. Somehow, though, “clay pigeon” rings better off the tongue than “pitch-and-powdered-limestone pigeon,” so the name stuck.

There are a multitude of variations for trap shooting, but the basic game is for the shooter to fire at 25 different 4.25-inch diameter saucer-shaped targets during a “round” of trap. The shooter gets ready and calls for the bird, usually by saying “pull.” The bird is released and the shooter attempts to break the clay target in flight. 

American Trap is the most popular sport here in the U. S. and can be broken down into three categories: singles, doubles and handicap. The targets are thrown from ground level from a machine in the center of the course and located inside the trap house. 

For singles and doubles, there are five stations, 16 yards behind the trap house. In singles, each competitor shoots at five targets from each station. The trap machine oscillates left to right so the bird’s direction is unknown to the shooter before it is released. 

In doubles, the machine throws two targets simultaneously with each competitor shooting at five (5) pairs (10 targets) from each station. 

In handicap events, the machine operates the same as in singles, but the shooters stand farther away from the trap house.

Guns & Loads

The equipment list to get started is pretty simple. In addition to a shotgun and ammo, the shooter will need:

Eye and ear protection.

A bag that fits on your belt and is designed to hold the shotshell ammo is very helpful.

Most shooters wear a brimmed hat to help keep the sun out of their eyes. 

Later you may wish to add a shooting vest with pockets for shells and a built-in recoil pad. 

Odds are high that for your first time you can borrow a shotgun from one of the instructors or perhaps one that is owned by the club. How a shotgun fits you is important to the success and enjoyment of this sport, so it’s probably best to try a few shotguns until you find one you like. 

Top shooters use shotguns that cost many thousands of dollars, but a new shooter can be well served with a much less expensive shotgun. An inexpensive single-shot shotgun can work well to get you started, but you won’t be able to shoot double trap with it. So, it’s best to buy a gun capable of at least two shots. 

Many experienced shooters recommend a gas operated semi-auto shotgun for new shooters because that design tends to mitigate felt recoil. While target loads do not have a lot of recoil and are easy for everybody to shoot, the cumulative effect of shooting 25 to 100 targets in a single session can have a negative impact on your shooting performance. The down side to a semi-auto is that they tend to be a bit heavy. On the other hand, pump action and over/under shotguns are extremely popular and they tend to be lighter in weight, which helps to reduce fatigue.

Trap shooting is a healthy way to enjoy the outdoors and the shooting sports. Give it a try. Who knows, you might just be in Ohio next year shooting for a world championship position or even standing on the podium at the Summer Olympics.

About The Author: Bryce M. Towsley has been writing about guns for 36 years and has published thousands of articles in most of the major firearms magazines. He has hunted all over the world and is a competition shooter in several disciplines. Towsley has several books available on guns, shooting and hunting as well as an adventure novel, The 14th Reinstated. Signed books are available on his website