Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter – Part 2

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

Author shows correct stance and hold for International-style clay-birding.

A shotgunning champ describes the toughest, most frustrating of all smoothbore shooting matches – and discloses clay-busting guns and methods!

I hear many reasons why more American trapshooters don’t attempt to shoot International trap. They range from the claim that it’s too expensive and requires special equipment, to an admission of a general ignorance of its existence – what it really is – to a lack of facilities for it. And so on. I have no doubt as to the real reason for most trapshooters. I lived with the reason for many years in England, which is one of the very few other countries that shoot a form of American trap – the others being some of England’s former colonies and those countries where American troops are currently based. The rest of the world shoots International.

The reason is simple and based firmly on the delicate nature of human ego. Sadly, there are more people who prefer monotonously to repeat something easy, than those who are searching for the challenge of something that isn’t easy and at which perfection, or near-perfection, more often eludes them than not. I am referring to the many American trapshooters who regularly break high 90’s and even 100’s. Their egos just don’t relish the possibility of the humbling experience of shooting the 60’s and 70’s that result from first acquaintance with International.

Nor do they want the years of hard work necessary to achieve, even occasionally, really high scores at International. It’s a tough game. But the people it attracts are some of the finest people I’ve ever met in the world – and that’s after 22 years of traveling in over 60 countries. The kind of character it takes – or builds – creates an elite body of shooters, who are sheer pleasure to be with.

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

Gun Club for International trap in Paris is typically luxurious.

In Part 1 of this report, which appeared in the last issue of “Popular Guns”, I told about my early yearn of International shooting and about my dismal failures as well as some successes that I experienced after sufficiently long and tough experience. I also described the differences between American and International trap, but perhaps I should repeat the major differences at this point. They’re worth emphasizing.

There are 6 men rather than 5 per squad, and each man changes stations after every shot instead of holding one position for 5 shots. There are 5 stations, and instead of having a single trap for all stations there is a battery of 3 traps for each station – a total of 15 different traps. The possible angles of target flight are wider than in American trap, and quite unpredictable. So are the elevations of target flight. Instead of having every clay bird reach a height of 9 to 10 feet at a distance of 10 yards from the traphouse, each one may vary from a height of 3 to 13 feet at 11 yards.

As if that didn’t make things tough enough, the clays travel nearly twice as fast as in American trapshooting. Instead of ambling along at 55 miles per hour (which is fast enough to frustrate an average gunner) they zip away at an average of 100 miles per hour. Whereas American targets touch ground at a distance of 48 to 52 yards if they aren’t smashed, International targets travel about 77 to 87 yards before touching down. True, you get 2 shots per bird, but even 2 shots are frequently not enough. In fact, this situation is all too often hopeless before you can pull the trigger a second time. In spite of the 2 shots on every pull, scores are always much lower than in trap as it’s shot in the United States.

After my first humiliation, with a score of 62 out of a “possible” 100 in Paris, contrasting sharply with my preceding 96 in England, I could easily have returned to regular trapshooting and never shot another International target. Instead, I stayed with it, and suffered many more humiliations of the same kind. I continued shooting English (“American”) trap till 1961, when I achieved my ambition of getting onto the English Team. Then I stopped shooting English, to concentrate on International.

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

Olympic Trench layout in Italy boasts roofs over shooting stations to ward off rain or sun. Note microphone next to each gunner for release of targets.

At the time, England had only three Olympic Trenches (International traps, which are lined up in trenches so that targets emerge at ground level). All three were privately owned by shooters who were keen enough on International Trap to go to the considerable expense of putting in their own layouts. They were open about once a month (and only in winter) for competitions. With no practice available and so long between each 100 targets, it took me a great deal of time to learn the game and reach the point, in 1969, of setting national records.

I will describe one experience when I managed to break my own record, as it will serve to show what International means to me (or how thoroughly infected with the bug I am!) and perhaps it will also show what this sport could mean to you.

It was the last day of the U.S. Interservice International Trap Championships at Fort Benning, GA, home of the U.S. Army International Trap Team. I had missed the 14th target in the first round and then gone straight, to end the third round with 74/75. I was waiting to go on for the final, crucial round. I moved away from my friends and sat watching the squad before mine, thinking, a little tensely, about the task that lay ahead. My mind went back a couple of months to the final trial for the U.S. International Trap Team in San Antonio, TX. There, a friend and I had jointly set the U.S. Civilian Record by running parallel scores of 25, 24,24 25 for 98/100. I shot in the squad immediately after him and so had to watch him. And then, each time, I had to go out to shoot knowing exactly what he had done. Now, not only could I break that record, but the score would also win me the civilian match aggregate. And I had never even shot a 75-straight before!

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

Young lady keeps score at International event – and perhaps roots for some lucky shooter.

I was shooting well, and was perfectly capable of breaking my own record. But the vital factor is the shooter’s mental attitude, his maintenance of total self-discipline, total self-control, total confidence, a rigidly strict adherence to a routine physical and mental preparation pattern before each shot. And while endeavoring to keep the mind in this keyed-up but controlled state, the shooter must be sure his body remains completely relaxed and doesn’t tense up.

I told myself that the way I would feel in approximately 20 minutes was entirely in my own hands. Nothing and no one else could affect it – unless I let it be affected – which is one of the great appeals this sport has for me. Either I’d come off the line with a big smile which would endure in my memory for years, or the fact that I had let myself down would haunt me.

Several times in the preceding round, I had heard the little demon voices urging me to ease off the terrible internal pressure of the robot-like preparation pattern. “Take a short-cut,” they would say. “You’re shooting great, you don’t have to put so much into it every time. Turn off the heat – it’s killing inside.” But I knew that you get out of this game exactly what you put into it and the most fractional slacking-off would be courting disaster – especially when running straight, as I was.

In spite of distractions, breakdowns and delays – anyone of which would have guaranteed a lost target for me a few years or even months ago – I got through the last round with chronometer-like precision. I had gradually trained myself to take distractions in my stride and re-start each target’s preparation pattern as if nothing had happened. At the crucial time, a new worry presented itself and could have ruined my concentration. As I opened my gun to eject the shell after the 99th target, it seemed harder to open than usual, and the gun slipped from my hands. I caught it just before it would have hit the ground. The 100th target required two shots; but I did break it.

As the sea of well-wishers and hand-shakers engulfed me and the realization of what I’d done began slowly dawning on me, one voice came through the clamor. It was a friend from the Army Team, and he said, “It was the guy who shot in front of you and set the hot pace that helped you.”

“Oh ?” I replied. “Who was that?”

“Me!” he answered, his face showing momentary astonishment, and then understanding – understanding of how totally isolated from everything one must be to shoot successfully. He had a 97. The shooter on the other side of me happened to be the low scorer of the day with a 75. It was just as well I wasn’t aware of him either.

Sgt. Jim Beck of the U.S. Army ran a 100 straight that same day. A few weeks previously, he had been one target behind Olympic gold-medalist Ennio Mattarelli, when this remarkable Italian shooter had won his second world championship in San Sebastian, Spain. That brings us to the choice of guns for this demanding sport, because Mattarelli used the renowned Perazzi – known as “The Ferrari of Shotguns” which he designed, in conjunction with master gunsmith Daniele Perazzi.

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

Author’s Olympic Trench gun is over/under Perazzi, which features fine interchangeable trigger assembly.

In five brief years, shooters using the Perazzi trap guns have racked up an impressive record of National, European, World and Olympic victories that aren’t rivaled by guns of much older manufacturers. I, too, use a Perazzi, and I consider myself married to it “till death do us part” when it comes to trapshooting.

However, it is quite possible to reach great heights with far less sophisticated guns. For instance, Jim Beck also won the Little Olympics in Mexico in 1967 with 198/200, and his team-mate Gene Lumsden won the Coupe des Nations in Milan last year, also with 198/200 – beating several Olympic, World and European titleholders. In common with the rest of the U.S. Army Team, they used Browning Broadways with 32-inch barrels. Before their recent disbandment, the U.S.A.F. International Trap Team almost all used Kreighoffs. With this gun, Ken Jones set a World Record in 1966 at Wiesbaden with 297/300. That score, incidentally, included the world’s first 200-straight and won him the World Championship. Terry Howard, using an F.N., set the fantastic U.S. Record of 299/300, but it did not qualify for a World Record, as there were not five countries competing.

By the way, these military shooters were in their early 20’s when they achieved these remarkable results. It just shows how much time you can shortcut if you are able to shoot virtually everyday.

The internationally preferred specifications are for superposed guns with 29- to 30-inch barrels, topped by a ventilated rib and bored to give 60-65% pattern densities in the lower barrel and 70-75% patterns in the upper barrel. In Europe chokes are generally tighter than in America, as the Europeans are only just beginning to produce pattern-improving shot-cup wads and collars.

The gun should be well-balanced (over the joint pin) so that the weight feels as if it lies evenly between the hands. I think that long-barreled, muzzle-heavy guns are fine for American trap, where only one shot is fired, using the sustained-lead method in which a comparatively slow, deliberate movement is made to the target. With the 100 mph International targets, there is no time for this deliberation and the only, possible method is swinging-through that is, passing the target by accelerating through it and firing at the moment of passing. Also, at International you have to bear in mind the possibility of a second shot and you must have a gun which can be quickly realigned which is extremely difficult with a muzzle-heavy gun.

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

NRA officials set angles and heights for shoot at one of Texas International Gun Club’s Olympic Trenches. Birds emerge from traps at ground level.

As International features height variations from grasscutters to skyrockets, most European guns are made to shoot with a dead-on point of impact. American guns, designed to shoot only a steadily rising target, have a point of impact which throws approximately 60-70% of the pattern above the point of aim. But don’t start carving any stocks down for International – just hold a little more under the really low ones. Also because of the low targets (and the wide variety of possible target directions), it is inadvisable to hold a high gun for International Trap. It is absolutely vital that you recognize and “lock-on” to the target’s flight path from the first possible moment, so hold your gun just below the target’s exit point, indicated by the white or yellow painted flashes.

By the way, leave your favorite pump gun at home; there just isn’t time to operate the mechanism for that second shot. Popular superposed International Trap guns in Europe are the F.N. (European Browning), Beretta, Franchi and Merkel. Occasionally one sees an automatic, and even more rarely a side-by-side, but in the latter case it usually turns out to be a pigeon shooter trying his hand at clays.

Although there is some intermingling between Olympic Trench shooters and pigeon shooters, we tend to be considered the poor cousins. They shoot for money a lot of it – while we shoot for honor and glory … or something!

Shooting grounds in Europe are almost invariably bi-functional, meaning that the pigeon ring and the Olympic Trench layout are combined and can be used for either purpose, as desired. Most pigeon shooters still stick to double guns and double triggers. The reasons (which few of them would admit to) are, I feel, largely traditional with a touch of the snobbery of having a fine English double. The two triggers are merely because it is only fairly recently that a truly reliable single trigger has been made in Europe. It takes a mighty reliable trigger to satisfy the pigeon shooter!

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

General view of T.I.G.C. Olympic Trench (also called “bunker”) shows semi-circular walkway back to first gun station.

One bad habit the European International trapshooter has picked up from his pigeon-shooting cousinis a preference for highly potent, shoulder-jarring, head-lifting shells. The pigeon shooter needs them to break the bird’s bones and thus drop the target within the regulation circle, not outside. But the pigeon shooter fires only two shells and then may wait two or three hours before firing again, whereas the clay-buster will fire 30 to 40 in 15 or 20 minutes. Another point is that the heavy, high velocity loads will maintain effective patterns for the distances required in pigeon shooting, but beyond 38 or 40 yards their patterns deteriorate rapidly and drastically – especially if the shells are not equipped with shot cups or collars.

The standard load for International Trap is 35 or 36 grams of niekel-plated shot (1-1/4 ounces equals 35.5 grams), but the powder may vary enormously. Most people use No. 8’s in the first barrel and 7-1/2’s in the second. The preference for nickeled shot is because, before the advent of the shot-protecting cups and collars, nickeled pellets were less subject to deformation in the barrel than lead and consequently gave better patterns, and were also supposed to hit harder. Research by the Federal Cartridge Co. has shown that although there may be a fractional difference, detectable technically, the only practical place where the nickel pellets will hit harder is in your wallet!

Research, both ballistical and practical, by the U.S. Army Team and the Perazzi factory – backed up by my own experience – has convinced me that the finest shells for International are Remington and Federal, both of which give excellent, consistent patterns. They are followed by the Itahan Baschieri & Pellagri line, the Italian Maionchi line, the French Gevelot, the Belgian Legia Star and the German Rottweil.

Something I haven’t really explained yet is why we shoot this tough International game. I can only answer completely for myself, and must presume that similar reasons motivate my fellow shooters. To me it is the ultimate challenge to the perfectionist – and a challenge that never lets up. For example, a shooter who achieves the top – Olympic Gold – well, you might say that he has arrived. Yes, but for the fleetingest moment of time. No one can evertake that moment away from him, but what of tomorrow and all the other tomorows? The challenge is still there, each target must still be broken. In spite of the humiliation and hurt I have experienced in 15 years of competitive clay-busting, I’ve never wavered from it for a moment. Of course, there have been times when I have questioned my sanity in continuing to voluntarily subject myself to such painful experiences. I have also participated in just about every other major sport and many minor ones, but none can draw me back as I am drawn by International Trap (and International Skeet).

Confessions of an Int. Trapshooter - Part 2 by Derek Partridge

Gunner shows good form, with left knee bent, body leaning forward comfortably. Note distance to trench.

Clay-busting is the one occupation where I’ve found it possible to perhaps achieve and even measure perfection. It is, to me, the ultimate proving of – and most ruthless exposure of – myself.

It is this harsh discipline that keeps the ranks of top International shooters ever thin. However, the requisite concentration is within the reach of anyone who is prepared the invest both time and plenty of hard work. It’s not that difficult to hit one clay, so why not all of them? Lack of concentration – coming from incomplete control of oneself – is the separating factor between the thousands who can hit one and the few who can hit 100 in a row.

Even within the “perfection” of 100 straight, there is a question of degree: Were all first barrel or were some just chipped? Were there some we really didn’t deserve, but Lady Luck helped out? The scoreboard can fool everyone, except ourselves. Only we know if we had complete mastery of ourselves and really shot that perfect score. That’s the challenge that has kept me going through my share of prizes, near-misses and sometimes falling flat on myface!

The only apt description I know for it (apart from a benevolent sickness!) is that it is a dedication of a part of one’s life. Among its great joys is the knowledge that it is also one of the few sports in which you can successfully participate all your life – even from a wheelchair! While in most other sports Olympic medals are won by teenagers and those in their early 20’s the last two Gold Medalists at International Trap were, respectively, 44 and 43. My point about the challenge always being there is borne out by my witnessing two occasions when Gold Medalists broke only 17/25! I also recall my friend, World Motor Racing Champion Jackie Stewart, telling me that he considers top clay-busting tougher than the demands of racing. He should know. Before turning to motor racing, he had won every British and English International Trap championship and also the Coupe des Nations.

Apart from the personal challenge, there are two practical reasons for shooting International. It can give you a chance of representing your country in International shooting competition, and even if you don’t aspire to that but would just like to shoot clays abroad, the odds are about 99:1 that the opportunity will be provided only by International style shooting. So where can you shoot International in America? It is with great sadness that I must record the desolate fact that there are only eight clubs in the whole of the U.S. with International Trap layouts. Around just one European city Milan – there are more International layouts and practically every small town in Italy has one too. No wonder the Italians dominate the world of International Trap. In the last four Olympic Games they have collected two Golds, two Silvers and a Bronze, and tied for another Silver, not to mention two World Titles and several European.

In the absence of sufficient facilities here, what can be done to provide at least worthwhile practice? A.T.A. Modified trap is most certainly no answer, as the targets don’t begin to approach International standards. The only satisfactory substitute is I.S.U. (International Shooting Union) Automatic Trap, formerly knownas Continental Trap. Winchester – Western’s Continental Trap (1579a), costing $652, conforms to International specifications of elevation, angles and distance if International clays are thrown. With regular targets, the distance has to be reduced because American targets will break when the spring is set for International. Winchester also has a conversion kit for the regular White Flyer (1524a), which makes it a 1580 and costs only $175. These are prices that many clubs can afford – and both traps can still be used for regular American singles or doubles. I.S.U. Automatic Trap is now the official sport for the Pan-American and Asian Games. It was pioneered by Mike Tipa of the NRA, from whom layout specifications are available.

As the situation exists in America today, it is up to each individual shooter who is intrigued by the “jet-propelled aspirins” – the real challenge to the shotgunner – to do what he can to stimulate interest among fellow shooters in his own area or club. Apart from the NRA help and information are more than willingly given by Lt. Cool. Tom Gillmoreof the U.S. Army Team, Fort Benning, GA, by Capt. Mike Schmidt of the U.s. Marine Team, Quantico, VA, and by the people running the other clubs. International Trap shooting isn’t easy. In America today, it isn’t even easy to have the opportunity to shoot it. But any and every effort is more than worth-while to enjoy the rewards of belonging to the elite of the shooting world. These trap shooters are an international fraternity of very fine human beings and, above all, good sportsmen.


This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Popular Guns, November 1972 issue. Republished with permission.