History of Clay Pigeon Shooting: The Origins of Trap and Skeet Shooting

Clay pigeon shooting has been a favorite sport of many hunters since it was introduced. Because of its ever-increasing popularity, its rules and the equipment used went through a lot of changes throughout history.

Invention of Trap Shooting: The Early Years

Trapshooting is one of the most enjoyed clay pigeon shooting disciplines. When hunters felt the need to improve their shooting skills off the hunting field, they came up with a unique idea of trapshooting. This sport was first introduced in England in 1750.

Initially, live pigeons were used as shooting targets. Hence today they are still referred to as birds in trapshooting. The reason for choosing pigeons over other upland birds was their abundance.

In the beginning, the birds were released by a manual device, also known as a trap, rather than an automatic trap machine that we use today. Usually, the hunter used to stand at a distance of around 28 to 30 yards from the trap. A trapper would be there to control the string of the trap and launch of the targets. The shooter used to say ‘pull’ to tell the trapper to release the bird. This was how trapshooting was played when it was newly introduced to the shooting world.

The terms ‘bird’, ‘trap,’ and ‘pull’ referred to live or clay target, thrower device, and call for bird release, respectively. These terms hold the same meaning in this modern shooting world as well.

Live birds were the only targets used until artificial targets were created after American Civil War. The purpose of switching to artificial targets was to make this sport affordable for all. However, live pigeons were and are still used in different competitions and regions of the world. Glass balls were the very first kind of artificial birds before clay pigeons were introduced. Some targets were more popular than others, but none of them went completely out of style.


The Groundbreakers of Trap Shooting

When it comes to hunters who promoted trap shooting immensely with their skills and consistent efforts, some names are worth recognition. Captain Adam Henry Bogardus is considered one of the most prominent, competitive, and versatile trapshooters of his time. He had been a winner of several trapshooting championships and exhibited an excellent talent for shooting most targets successfully in the least possible time. He was not only a wonderful trap shooter, but he is also well-known because of his contribution to creating the first practical glass ball.

Another expert trap shooter of the late 19th century was William Frank Doc Carver. His trapshooting career earned him numerous medals. He hardly missed any shots, and he mostly used to practice with glass ball targets filled with feathers. He was fond of arranging matches with his senior trapshooter, Bogardus. In 1883, Carver proposed a series of 25 matches against Bogardus, in which Carver emerged as the winner.

Annie Oakley is also a bright star of the trapshooting world. She was very interested in trapshooting from the age of 8 and made great achievements in her entire 30-year shooting career. Despite a tragic car accident, she continued practicing with great zeal using glass ball targets.

Glass Target Balls

Glass balls were the very first type of artificial target made to serve trap shooters. Charles Portlock, belonging to Boston, was the creator of glass balls. However, Bogardus was the first to make glass ball traps and also established a glass ball manufacturing company. The first trapshooting competition with glass balls was set up in Boston in 1866.

Glass ball targets were filled with colored powder to appear prominently in the air. Sometimes, the filling includes feathers instead of powder. When the pellets hit the glass ball, the feathers disperse all over the place, which makes the experience more like live-bird shooting.

The First Clay Pigeons

Clay pigeons were introduced to replace glass balls to cut down the costly production of glass. Another purpose of creating clay pigeons was to add versatility to shooting angles, which was lacking in the case of glass balls.

These targets looked similar to a regular saucer and flew in the air like a disk, just like targets made today. George Ligowsky introduced these targets in 1880. He used baked clay for these artificial birds, which were a bit hard to shatter into pieces.

After some time, Fred Kimble manufactured clay pigeons using a mixture of coal tar and pitch that made the target easy to break. The final version of clay pigeons used worldwide today can be attributed to both these personalities.

Soon after their inception, clay pigeons became very popular. Keeping the demands of clay pigeon shooters in mind, shooting gear companies also created an automatic trap machine in 1909 that made releasing the targets convenient. Moreover, clay pigeon shooters came up with a double trap shooting style once auto trap thrower devices gained appreciation.


The First Trap Throwers

In the early years of trapshooting, targets were thrown with hand traps. Then hand traps went through some innovation. For instance, a spring-loaded mechanism was installed to project the target. Card rotating traps had also been quite popular mainly for glass ball targets. With time, technology improved and automatic trap throwers were manufactured.

The Grand American World Trap Championship

The Grand American World Trapshooting Championship is one of the biggest sports events, first organized in 1900. For a couple of decades the competition had moved each year from one host city to another. The trapshooting event reached the height of its popularity when the event was hosted in Illinois, where the trap field area was extended generously. As the event moved to different places, it motivated more shooters to explore and polish their shooting skills on such a big platform. Consequently, the number of competitors rose from 20 to thousands over time.

Apart from shooting opportunities, this event introduced a number of versatile shooting products and equipment that enabled a shooter to gain more experience. Annie Oakley and Doc Carver also had been a part of this championship.

Olympics and Trap Shooting Competitions

Trapshooting was officially included in the Olympic Games in 1900. The Olympics host a two-day competition that consists of eight rounds of 25 targets. The shooters have to hit the most targets out of a total of 200 to win the competition. Other than the Olympics, many other competitions are arranged for trapshooters in the US and other countries.

It would be unjust if we were to discuss the evolution of trapshooting without mentioning Vic Reinders. Because of his high expertise, he is included in the Wisconsin Trapshooting Association Hall of Fame and Trapshooting Hall of Fame. Like his achievements, his contributions to trapshooting were also tremendous. He served as a senior worker for a famous trap club for a very long time. In 1941, he worked as a delegate for ATA for about four years. He also rewrote the trapshooting rule book and wrote a column for ATA’s publication.

The Origins of Skeet Shooting

The origin of skeet shooting occurred between 1910 and 1915. Charles Davis and William Harnden were the originators of skeet shooting.

Unlike trap shooting, this discipline involves two targets flying simultaneously in the sky. Hence, the purpose of introducing skeet was to help shooters excel at upland shooting. The word ‘skeet’ belongs to the Norwegian language, which means shoot.

Gradually, when this shooting discipline gained popularity all across the globe, it made its way to the Olympics in 1968. Women have also been allowed to participate in Olympic skeet shooting events since 2000.