Shooting sports

Shooting sports


Trap is the oldest and most popular shotgun shooting sport in America. Trapshooting derives its name from the device, called a trap, which throws the clay targets into the air. Participants shoot at the clay targets thrown from a trap house located in front of the shooter. The trap rotates in a random sequence, presenting the shooter with a variety of going away shots, angling to the right, left and flying straightaway.

Trap is usually shot in squads of five shooters. A round of trap consists of 25 targets per shooter. A trap field has five positions, or stations, numbered consecutively from left to right. Five clay targets, sometimes referred to as "birds," are thrown for each shooter at each position, with one shot being fired at each bird. After firing five rounds in rotation, each squad member moves one station to his right, with the shooter on station five moving over to station one.

Equipment: The typical gun for trapshooting is a 12-gauge with full or improved-modified choke and ventilated rib barrel 30 to 32 inches long. Although many top trap shooters favor over/under shotguns, single barrel, pump and auto-loading shotguns are also common. Registered trap is always shot with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Ammunition: The shotshells used in trapshooting may vary slightly with shooter's preference and wind conditions. The standard load contains 3 drams of powder and 1 1/8 ounces of No. 7 1/2, 8 or 8 1/2 shot. Loads with only one ounce of shot are also popular.

While most trapshooters enjoy practice and informal shooting, many trap enthusiasts shoot "registered trap." To shoot registered targets, you must 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. Top trapshooters gather each year to participate in the Grand American World Trap Championships. Nearly 6,000 shooters, including some 1,500 youths, participate in the competition. For more information, contact the Amateur Trapshooting Association at www.shootata.com. To find a trapshooting facility near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.

Another organization that introduces and promotes trap shooting to juniors is the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The organization administers a national youth trapshooting league as part of its Scholastic Clay Target Program. Learn more at www.nssf.org/sctp.


Skeet is a shotgun sport designed by a Massachusetts businessman seeking to improve his wingshooting skills by duplicating the target angles he often missed when grouse hunting. The short-range game developed an enthusiastic following. Two trap houses are required in skeet, a "high house" at the left of the field and a "low house" at the right. Both traps throw targets at fixed angles. High-house targets start at a point about 10 feet above the ground, moving to the shooter's right. Low-house targets move in the opposite direction starting from a point about three feet off the ground.

Skeet is usually shot in squads of five shooters. A skeet field has eight positions, or stations, seven of which are numbered consecutively from left to right in a semi-circle around the field. Station eight is located in the center, almost directly between the trap houses, offering very challenging-and very exciting-targets.

A round of skeet consists of 25 targets. Some stations offer single targets, others doubles. There are 16 single targets, two from each station. A round also includes eight shots at four double-targets from stations 1, 2, 6 and 7. The first target missed is repeated; the repeat target is called "the optional." If no miss occurs in the round of 24 shots, the optional is taken as a single target; usually shot from station eight.

Equipment: Skeet is shot with different gauge shotguns, including 12, 20 and 28 gauge and 410 bore. As the gauge gets smaller, the game becomes more difficult and the scores are proportionately lower.

Ammunition: Virtually all skeet shooting is done with shotshells loaded with No. 9 shot.

Informal skeet shooting is popular, but those that really get hooked shoot "registered skeet." In registered skeet, the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) records your scores. Your previous scores determine the classification in which you are placed. To shoot registered skeet, you must be a member of NSSA. However, you can shoot skeet recreationally without registering targets or becoming a member. For more information, contact NSSA at www.mynssa.com. To find a skeet-shooting facility near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.

Sporting clays

Sporting clays is a challenging clay target game designed to simulate all kinds of field shooting. Nearly everyone who has shot it agrees that sporting clays is one of the most exciting and challenging shooting sports that can be enjoyed by anyone who owns a shotgun. On a sporting clays course, shooters are presented with a wide variety of targets that duplicate the flight path of game birds, such as flushing, crossing, incoming and other angling shots.

Courses are laid out in natural surroundings and typically include five or more shooting stations. Like golf, shooters move from one station to the next to complete the course. At any station, targets may be thrown as singles, simultaneous pairs, following pairs (one target right after the other), or report pairs (the second target launched at the sound of the gun being fired at the first). To further challenge shooters, target size may vary from the standard trap/skeet clay bird to the smaller "midi" and "mini" targets, or a flat disc-shaped "battue" target. There are even special "rabbit" targets that are thrown on edge to roll and skitter across the ground.

Sporting clays allows for both a pre-mounted or low gun approach and a full round usually consists of 50 or 100 targets (depending on the number of stations) with several targets normally thrown at each station. At most stations, shooters call for each target(s), which may be released with up to a 3-second delay.

Equipment: Sporting clays is essentially a field game. The most popular guns for this game, especially on the competition side, are the 12-gauge autoloaders and over/unders. Hunters who prefer a 20-gauge may certainly use their smaller gauge guns on a sporting clays course. Skeet, improved cylinder and modified are the chokes most often used in this game.

Ammunition: Trap and skeet shotshells (shot sizes No. 9, 8 and 7 1/2) are the appropriate loads for sporting clays.

Sporting Clays is the fastest growing disciplines of the clay target sports. You can participate recreationally or shoot competitively. For those that want to try the competition aspect contact the National Sporting Clays Association at www.mynsca.com for more information on how to start. To find a sporting clay facility near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.

Rifle sports

Bench rest

Bench rest shooting is the ultimate form of precision marksmanship-a careful blend of custom-crafted rifles, precision reloads and keen-eyed shooters. Bench rest matches are fired, as the name implies, from a sturdy shooting bench with the rifle supported by a front and rear rest. A course of fire consists of either five or 10 rounds, shot at a single target to produce a measurable group. The size of the group is all that counts; there are no scoring rings on the target. The goal is to put five consecutive shots into a single hole no larger than the diameter of the bullet itself. Although this hasn't been achieved yet, some have come mighty close. The smallest group on record measured a scant .009 inches over bullet diameter at a distance of 100 yards.

For centerfire rifles, the target ranges are 100, 200 and 300 yards. The more-recently added rimfire class shoots at 50 and 100 yards.

Once the shooter settles into position and the "commence fire" command is given, he or she is allowed up to seven minutes to fire a five-round group, or 12 minutes for a 10-round string. Groups are measured in thousandths of an inch at their largest outside diameter. From this measurement, the actual caliber of the bullet used (in thousandths of an inch) is subtracted from the measurement to produce the actual group size.

For more information, contact the National Bench Rest Shooter's Association (NBRSA) or go to Benchrest Central at www.benchrest.com. To find a shooting range near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.


Silhouette shooting involves firing at steel outlines of animals from various distances up to 500 meters. Unlike most conventional target games that utilize paper targets and numerical scoring rings, most every shot fired at a metallic silhouette produces an immediate and clearly visible result. Even misses produce a cloud of dust. All silhouette shooting, whether using centerfire, small bore, air rifle or muzzleloader, is fired from an off-hand position. Accessories such as adjustable or hooked butt plates, palm rests, shooting coats or slings are not allowed. For each five round stage (one shot, left to right, at each target in a bank of five) a shooter is allowed a maximum of 2 1/2 minutes.

For more information contact the National Rifle Association (NRA) at www.nra.org. To find a shooting range near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.


Position shooting, as the name indicates, requires competitors to shoot from various positions during different match stages. Two governing bodies regulate this sport. International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF), the governing body for international and Olympic competition, specifies three positions: standing (off hand), kneeling, and prone (lying down). The National Rifle Association (NRA), governing body for U.S. match shooting, uses the same positions, plus a sitting position. A typical match will consist of several stages fired at different distances from each position. The target is a round bullseye with numerical scoring rings radiating outwards from center 10-ring or X-ring.

Firearms: Both rimfire and centerfire rifles are used in position events. Smallbore shooters engage targets at ranges from 50 feet to 100 yards, while high-power shooters shoot targets at ranges up to 1,000 yards. Air rifle events have become popular in recent years, with targets set at 10 meters (33 feet).

Time limits vary with the stage and yardage. For example, high-power shooters firing at 600 yards are allotted 20 minutes for 20 shots, while the rapid-fire stage, fired at 200 yards, allows 60 seconds for 10 shots.

For more information, contact ISSF at www.issf-shooting.org .
Find a shooting range near you: www.wheretoshoot.org

Handgun sports

Action pistol

Action pistol shooting is a game measuring the speed at which a competitor can hit one or more targets, starting from a position in which the handgun is securely holstered. The targets may be paper targets with scoring rings, metal plates that fall when hit, or even bowling pins that must be completely swept from a tabletop. Targets may be stationary or moving.

Action courses vary, often including both scored targets and falling targets within the same match. Match directors constantly endeavor to come up with new and more challenging courses of fire, and as a result, there is no "typical" action course.

Firearms: For the most part, action pistol events are dominated by semi-auto centerfire handguns. This is due to their speed of fire and ease of reloading. The most popular caliber choices are 9mm, 45 ACP and the 10mms. Although semi-autos are often preferred, revolvers see their share of use.

For more information contact the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) at www.uspsa.org . To find a shooting range near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.

Handgun silhouette

Silhouette shooting is a shooting gallery on a grand scale. Scoring is simple: topple a target from its stand and it's a hit, anything else is a miss. The targets, metal silhouettes of chickens, pigs, turkeys and sheep, are placed at ranges varying from 10 yards to 200 meters. Targets are arranged in rows of five. In a conventional centerfire handgun match, chickens will be at 50 meters, pigs at 100, turkeys at 150 and the sheep at 200 meters. Matches may consist of 40, 60, 80 or 120 scoring shots. Reduced sized silhouettes at shorter ranges allow shooters to fire the course with .22 rimfire handguns and air pistols as well.

There are two governing bodies for metallic silhouette handgunning in the U.S. and the National Rifle Association. For more information, contact the International Hangun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) at www.ihmsa.org that provides a directory of contacts in each state and affiliated country to assist new shooters or clubs getting started. There is also a rulebook available for download. To find a shooting range near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.

Precision pistol

Of all the shooting disciplines, few require the intense level of concentration that is the hallmark of precision pistol shooting. In this demanding sport, shooters are permitted to use only one hand while engaging targets at ranges varying from 10 meters to 50 meters. Possibly because of this challenge, precision pistol shooting ranks as one of the most popular recreational uses of the handgun today.

Precision pistol is the catchall phrase used to describe the traditional one-handed handgun marksmanship currently practiced by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF). The latter organization provides the courses of fire used in the Olympic Games. All courses of fire are shot on paper targets printed with circular scoring rings that range in value from 10 points to one point. An individual match consists of 30 or 60 rounds, with the accumulated point value determining the competitor score.

For more information contact the National Rifle Association (NRA) or USA Shooting at www.usashooting.org.
To find a shooting range near you visit www.wheretoshoot.org.

Olympic shooting sports

Shooting sports have been part of the Olympics since the modern Olympic Games began in 1896. That year, in Athens, shooters competed in two rifle and three pistol events. By 2000, in Sydney, shooting sports had grown to include 17 events in four Olympic disciplines: rifle, pistol, running target, and shotgun. Participation has grown, too. While only four nations competed in the shooting events in 1896, 423 shooters from 100 different nations participated at the 1996 Atlanta games.

In order for a shooter to compete in the Olympics, they must shoot a minimum qualification score for their respective event at one of the International Shooting Sports Foundation's supervised championships. These events are held during the four years between Olympiads.

Women have been allowed to compete in Olympic shooting since 1972, but women competed with and against men through 1980. Beginning at the 1984 Games, women-only competitions were held in three events, but Olympic trap and skeet remained mixed until 1992. At the 1996 Games, trap and skeet events were conducted for men only. However, a new event-double trap-was added in 1996 that allowed men and women to compete together.

USA Shooting is the organization responsible for training and selecting the shooting teams to represent the United States at World Cup events, World Shooting Championships, Pan American Games, Olympic Games and other international shooting competitions. In addition, USA Shooting manages development programs and sanctions events at local, state, regional, and national levels, including the national shooting championships.

The International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) is recognized as the world governing body for shooting. For more information on how to get started in the Olympic shooting sports, contact USA Shooting at www.usashooting.org.