Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter – Part 1

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 1 by Derek Partridge

Author’s pet trap gun is this Perazzi; note detachable trigger assembly.

Here’s why the world’s greatest shotgunners become addicted to “skyrockets,” “grasscutters,” “jet-propelled aspirin tablets”.

“Pu-u-ul”, I yelled. I had got about as far as “Pu…” when jet-propelled aspirin was ejected from a barely visible slit in the ground out in front of me. Just about the time I was completing “…u-ul”, what I had to presume had been a clay pigeon was smashed – by its return to earth! I lowered my unfired gun, turned around and somewhat shakily informed the world in general: “You must be joking!”

That was my first International Trap target, back in 1958. At that moment, on the beautiful grounds of the Circle du Bois de Boulogne, Paris, my whole shooting world fell apart. My reputation disintegrated, my confidence vanished! I had been hunting since 1950 and had won a reputation for naturally speedy reflexes when hunting the canny English wood pigeon – a bird similar to America’s bangtail pigeon in size and flight characteristics. My first trap clay had been shot in 1954, although I did’t start shooting trap seriously till 1957. Adapting my hunting skill to clays, I had become something of a boy wonder. After only a year, my last score in England, before leaving for France, had been 96/100.

The English version of trap is harder than the American game. The trap oscillates through twice the angle variation, and even at the time I began competing, all traps incorporated an interrupter mechanism. Although we fired two shots at each clay, scoring on a point system of 2 for first-barrel kill and 1 for second (later modified for 3 and 2), conditions were difficult enough so that 100-straights were about a once-a-year wonder.

Consequently, I had left for Paris brimming with confidence and eager to show the Continentals what I would do with their much vaunted Olympic Trench – the term used by the rest of the world to describe Interntational Trap. I was undoubtedly cocky, probably unbearable so! I imagine my fellow English shooters, who were already experienced in Olympic Trench shooting, were just waiting for a little bag of hot air to be deflated! They didn’t have to wait long.

From the moment I arrived at the magnificent Parisian shooting club, picturesquely situated in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped ice skating lake, I became subdued.

The interior of the vast club-house, which looked like a medieval chateau, was festooned with crystal chandeliers; the walls were paneled with beautifully figured wood; the cutlery in the sumptuous restaurant was real silver; fine vintage wines were served in crystal goblets, and the cuisine was close to Maxim’s lofty level (as were the prices). The shooters were men of eminence. Counts and Barons abounded, and their women were breathtakingly, elegantly beautiful. There was also a fully equipped armory and a suite of offices for the club’s executive officers. Outside were paved paths and walkways, neatly trimmed lawns and well-tended flower beds. All very impressive to a youngster from a sleepy English village.

I summoned up enough courage to ask where was the semi-circle of shooting stands – and what about the traphouse, for either was in evidence. They showed me where the shooters stood in a straight line, spaced farther apart than for American trap, and then they pointed out the equivalent of the traphouse. From the shooting stands, all you could see was a slit in the ground which looked to be about 20 yards long, with five yellow flashes painted at the exit points on both sides of the slit, in front of each shooting stands. Between the stands and the slit was flat expansive of concrete. The targets were thrown from an underground trench – hence the term Olympic Trench (Olympic, because it is the Olympic shotgun sport). I notes that the targets became visible to the shooter when they appear at ground level.

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 1 by Derek Partridge

Author toes line at International shoot. Partridge is Technical Director of U.S. International Trap & Skeet Association, has served on England’s International trap team, and at 9th Interservice meet he set new U.S. civilian record of 99/100.

At this point, let me say a bit more about my first feeling being subdued by such grandiose surroundings (which, as I later discovered, are the norm for good International Trap and pigeon shooting in Europe). Up to that time, I had shot at only one club in England that even boasted a clubhouse. That was Bisley, home of the National Rifle Association, and I suspect the trap clubhouse was a left-over from the Olympic Games held there many years previously. In America there are a vast number of shooting clubs, run either as franchise operations of major arms manufacturers or as privately owned commercial concerns. They key word is “commercial”. These clubs, open most days of the week, cater to a large number of shooters. Americans hunting fraternity outnumbers its English counterpart by a ratio of about 37 to one, and the American population is approximately four times as large. Per capita income is considerably higher in America, as is the amount of leisure time available to the average individual.

In England, on the other hand, the small number of hunters (of whom trap shooters comprise a smaller proportion than in America) and the renowned bad weather must make it obvious why we have no commercial shooting clubs. We do have a handful of shooting schools, catering strictly to the wealthy game hunter who regards most clay shooting as very “infra dig” (beneath their dignity) – a strange turn of fate, as in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s such hunters were the men who pioneered live-pigeon shooting, the glass balls and finally clay pigeons. The shooting schools generally have no provisions for conventional trap or skeet, but only layouts which closely simulate various types of walked or driven game encountered “up on the moors” and “in the spinneys”. So, we “infra dig” clay busters have been left to our own resources.

In each locality, a few of the keener ones are likely to get together and induce one of their number – usually a farmer – to loan them a field for one Sunday a month. In many cases these dedicated groups spend all Saturday setting up the shooting layout. A few, more fortunate, have a permanent traphouse which, during the intervening weeks, is boarded up against the predations of wandering cows, horses and sheep. In my experience, no club boasted more than one trap. (Even today, the largest British club has only 4 American trap layouts). The puller cocked the trap and then released the target when the shooter called for it – more or less. The traps were inevitably irregular in performance and provided some quite remarkable tar-gets – which subsequently proved valuable to me in shooting International targets! Our shooting stands were stakes driven into the ground and you could only hope that the cows had avoided the area in the preceding weeks. Otherwise you found yourself standing in what we euphemistically called “a bit of good luck”. Clubhouses were virtually non-existent. Sometimes the “keen types” would put together a wooden shack, or sometimes a tent would be found. More usually, club transactions took place out of the back of someone’s station wagon or an a camping table.

So it was no wonder I felt subdued in the impressive atmosphere of the Olympic Trench surroundings – and that was before my firs, jet-propelled aspirin frightened the daylights out of me! Although I managed to fire my gun at the second target, I might just as well have left the shells in my pocket, for my shots just made pretty patterns on the calm surface of the skating lake while the clay splashed down in-tact. My first 100 looked like this: 14, 14, 15, 19 – for a dazzling 62. So much for my recent 96! I think I beat one competitor, a lady who had just taken up shooting.

 Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 1 by Derek Partridge

One of America’s few layouts.

D. Lee Braun, America’s leading trapshooting authority, described the sport as “tough, fast, exacting and keenly competitive”. It’s all of that, but let’s see how it compares with the International form of the game. The American trap target travels at around 55 mph for a distance of about 48 to 52 yards. It has only one elevation which, at a point 10 yards from the traphouse, is 9 to 10 feet up. The widest variation in flight is 22 degrees either side of center. Until the recent (and partial) adoption of the interrupter, it was possible to place one’s gun at a precise point in mid-air above the traphouse, do a little mental timing, call for the target and know that it would fly exactly to that spot. Admittedly, a man had to practice quite a bit in order to master the trap’s timing, but it was done with fair frequency.

The Olympic Trench has 15 traps, in five groups of three – one group in front of each shooting station. In each group, the left-hand trap will throw a right target and the right-hand trap will throw a left target. Both must be within a 90 degree arc based on the center line. The center trap will throw a target somewhere within a 22 degree arc.

Each group of traps is set to that, on the target’s appearance to the shooter at ground level, they converge over the yellow or white flash painted on the lip of the trench. The flashes denote the position of the center of each group of traps.

Each one of the 15 traps is set to throw not only a different angle, but also a different height. Elevations vary from 3 to 13 feet above ground at 11 yards from the trap. By the time the clay birds reach shooting distances they will be grasscutters or skyrockets.

The required target distance is between 77 and 87 yards – at best angle of elevation. Allowing for the differing trajectories of high and low targets, this will cause a slight variation in speed – yet another variable factor. Their average speed is 100 mph. And there are several clubs in Europe where the targets are thrown a full 100 yards.

There are six shooters in a squad instead of five. They change position after each shot, so that one is constantly in rotation between stations 1 and 5. This insures that the shooter has different battery of traps for every shot. Because the selection of which trap fires is governed by an electronic control box, and because the whole selection is changed every five shots, and because the angle and height of every trap is changed on each day of a competition – it is quite impossible to have any idea which target will come out when you call.

The only exception to this is when a target comes out of the trap broken, in which case the shooter must receive the same target-angle in replacement. This is because the electronic box is designed to give shooters an equal selection of targets during each 100 and this must be maintained for fairness.

In addition to all the other difficulties, the targets are slightly smaller and harder than standard American ones, in order to withstand the shock of being ejected at twice the speed of their American counterparts. I wonder what terms Lee Braun could possibly find to describe this truly “tough, fast, exacting and keenly competitive” sport!

Now let’s take a look at comparative scores. Thousands of American trapshooters (and their English colleagues) regularly break scores in the high 90’s, with not infrequent 100-straights from 16 yards. Even from handicap distances, right up to 27 yards, 100-straight is no longer such a rare phenomenon. In the 1968 North American Clay Target Championship, 44 shooters broke 200 in a row. The eventual winner, on a miss-and-out basis that demanded sheer stamina as well as skill, had to break another 383 targets. This meant that one man, competing in a national sporting championship, produced a perfect score and yet finished in 44th position, while the winner had to smash a total of 583 without a miss! I cannot imagine any other competitive sport in the world where such a farcical situation would be tolerated – or ever allowed to come into existence. It could only happen with clay-bird addicts. And it’s the same with American skeet. After beating all the other 250-straighters at the National Skeet Championships, two men broke 1,050 targets without a miss. The two exhausted, sore-shouldered gunners were declared, finally, to be co-winners.

By comparison, the whole history of International Skeet shows just one 200-straight, and in International Trap, 200-straight has been achieved only twice in International competition and twice in National – despite the fact that International Trap allows two equally counting shots at each target. (How often one wishes for three)!

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 1 by Derek Partridge

Author’s pet trap gun is this Perazzi.

Conclusion? Something is drastically wrong with the American forms of trap and skeet. Difficult though they may seem to average gunners, they’re actually too easy for the big-time competitors. Winning has become a matter of how long your weary feet and arms can hold up in prolonged shoot-offs, and the only real winers are the shell and target manufacturers.

In International, conditions are so tough that there is almost always a clear-cut winner, providing a far more satisfactory ending to any sporting event. Even if there is a shoot-off, it is generally settled in one round, rarely going to two and almost never to three. I believe a fellow shooter from California and myself hold a record for the longest International Trap shoot-off: We ran an unprecedented 25, 22, 24, 23 before my final 24 just beat his 23. All right, maybe I was merely lucky on that last round, but the fact is that pure skill rather than any stamina or strength is usually the deciding factor.

Another interesting comparison is provided by the time taken to break targets and their distance from the shooter. The average, experienced American trapshooter breaks his targets at around 35 yards, and takes between 9/10-second and 1-1/10 seconds. His average, experienced International counterpart fires his first shot between 36 and 38 yards, and if he misses his second shot will be between 41 and 45 yards. His average time for the first shot is 6/10- to 7/10-second and he will fire his seconds shot 3/10- to 4/10-second later. This means that the will have fired two shots in the time the American shooter has taken to fire one. And remember that the International target is going twice as fast and nearly twice as far!

There are a few more differences the American sportsman out to know to enable him to feel at home on his first International layout. International is shot only from 15 meters (16-1/2 yards). There is no handicap system, and the previous description of what comprises International Trap should be sufficient explanation! In International and National championships, there are no classes; everyone shoots from scratch. Classes, but no more than three, are introduced for other competitions. Squadding is done by drawing lots and is changed each day, so there is no squad rhythm and each person takes his own time.

Usually, International Championships are over 200 targets. The most ever shot in one day is 100. This is partly because most clubs have only one bunker (due to hight cost of installation), making it impossible to get through more than 100 pulls per man in a day. Often at such clubs it takes three days to shoot 200 targets, in stages of 75, 75 and 50. Today, more clubs are putting in two layouts, and there are also a few clubs with as many as four. However, we still never shoot more than 100 in a day and never will, as the strain and concentration of shooting that many International targets is enough to leave most shooters completely exhausted.

This exhaustion is primarily due to the amount of concentration required and only in small part to the use of heavier shells and the opportunity of two shots at each target. Many shooters fire at bits left from the first-barrel kill as practice for when they will need the second shot, and also to train themselves to keep their heads down on their stocks. It is generally considered that taking both shots, whether needed or not, helps a shooter maintain a smooth second-shot rhythm. And firing he second barrel becomes almost a reflex action.

One of the most important differences is the use of a microphone target-release system in International. This was developed because of the very critical nature of the shooting-timing required, which could easily be ruined by a fractionally fast or slow pull from a fallible human puller. At first, a trapshooter’s frequent reaction to the microphone release is that when he calls for his bird the ejection is so fast, by comparison with the delay from a human puller, that he never even fires his gun! That’s exactly what happened to me in Paris. Even for seasoned International shooters, when the system was first tried, it was found necessary to build a fractional time delay into the release mechanism. All microphone systems today come with an adjustable micro-second delay mechanism. And a human puller still partly controls the process. When the puller sees that the shooter is ready, with the gun in his shoulder, he depresses a button or lever which opens that shooter’s microphone circuit.

Refereeing and scoring are meticulously carried out. There is an official central referee with a score-keeper. In addition, there are two flank referees, who are shooters from the previous squad, each with an official scorer. All referees are stationed on elevated seats to insure a perfect view of targets. The decision of the central referee is final, but the two flank referees often help him decide whether an extreme-angle target, passing directly in front of them, was broken or not. Lost targets are signaled by a horn or buzzer. Hearing that sound is a mortifying experience!

As I have briefly mentioned International Skeet, I will equally briefly touch on its different from domestic skeet. The Olympic form is called I.S.U. Skeet, and, like Olympic Trench, it must conform to standards laid down by the International Shooting Union. The standard American layout is used, but targets are thrown 72 yards instead of traditional American 55 (which has recently been increased to 60). The butt of the gun must be touching the hipbone and be clearly visible as such under the shooter’s elbow. It may not be moved until the target appears, which can be immediately or at any time up to three seconds of delay after the call to pull. This is more like American skeet used to be – before they made it easier. (Similarly, American trap targets once traveled unpredictably through 90 degree arch – before they made that easier, too). Why clay-birding was made easier I cannot possibly imagine, as to me it is the greatest disservice that could have been rendered to such fine sports.

In the next issue, I’ll relate a coupe of my own International ups and downs, then give you some tips on guns, loads, and the shooting approach needed for success in this ultra-challenging shotgun game. I’ll also try to astound you with some seemingly impossible scores that have been racked up in this seemingly impossible sport, and will give some advise about getting started in International. There aren’t many International Trap facilities in the U.S. but if I can win enough converts among America’s dedicated scatter gunners perhaps we can begin – slowly but stubbornly and surely – to change that situation for the better.


This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Popular Guns, November 1971 issue. Republished with permission.