By: Tom Lounsbury.
Trapshooting was first developed as a competitive sport during the 18th Century, using flintlock fowling pieces (the forerunners of today’s shotguns) firing shot. This would be done using live pigeons, with the birds being placed in a wooden box, called a “trap”, on the ground out in front of the shooter. Upon the shooter saying “pull”, a cord attached to the box was used to release the pigeon. Several traps were spread out in different spots, and the shooter had no idea which trap was going to release the pigeon. The typical range being shot was 16 yards, but this could vary some according to different shooting contests and challenges.
The use of clay targets began in 1875, and the earlier terminology from using live birds, such as “trap” for the device releasing the clay target, which was in turn called a “clay pigeon”, carried on. What also remains is when the shooter is ready and yells “pull”, which is reminiscent of when a cord was pulled to release a live pigeon. Trapshooting would become a very popular sport in America, and was a key reason for numerous gun clubs being formed around the country. This would also eventually lead to national competitions and a top early competitor was none other than Annie Oakely. Having been an exhibition shooter for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she also enjoyed competitive trapshooting, and was a formidable competitor until 1922. Yep, folks, she made it very clear that trapshooting wasn’t a “for men only” sport! In fact, women are still making their mark known in the trapshooting arena, and they represent a fast growing dynamic in the shooting world today, which certainly works for me.
Although I thoroughly enjoy trapshooting, I have personally never seriously competed, and my only experience thus far has been at trapshooting events for the general public, and usually as a writer covering the event. At one particular gun club, there was a special contest where the winner got a frozen turkey. It turned out, there was only an elderly gentleman and myself with identical high scores and still in that particular game. He was shooting a smooth-working Model 12 Winchester pump 12 ga, and I was using my 12 ga side by side, double barrel “meat gun”. For some reason that I have forgotten, he was the lead shooter, and whatever of the 5 stations he selected and broke the clay pigeon, I had to duplicate, and it was what is termed a “sudden death”, so to speak, if he hit and I missed. It was certainly a good natured atmosphere, but filled with a competitive spirit I much enjoyed.
Our final contest went on for about 3 more shots at different stations, with me successfully following suite, when the old gent reached up and took his false teeth out, put them in his shirt pocket, and then walked back far enough to double the range, while I followed him to take my turn after he shot. He then reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a maroon shell and loaded it. Up to that point, we had been both shooting the same red shells sold by the gun club, and I knew matters were about to get real interesting, and yep, he powdered his clay pigeon.
Well, folks, I had a trick up my own sleeve and was none too worried. Up to that point, I had been using my right barrel with a more open modified choke, and this time I loaded my left barrel with its tighter full choke, and yelled “pull”. Actually, my shotgun and load were fully capable of the shot, but just as I touched the trigger, my clay pigeon caught a sudden updraft, which does happen, and I shot right under it. Wind or no wind, I got whupped fair and square! It was quite a memorable occasion going up against an obviously well-seasoned shotgun shooter, and nothing beats a good old fashioned shooting contest.
I had been hearing about high schools getting involved with trapshooting events, which was good news to my ears, and recently decided to check it out. I found myself at the Richville Conservation Club that was hosting the Reese High School Trapshooting Team, which entails 12 students. When I arrived, it was a beautiful sunny evening, and the students were standing in a circle while Matt Lefler, who is a Reese teacher and in charge of the program, and members of the Richvville Conservation Club, were discussing firearm safety and how things were going to take place. In no time at all, the shooting would commence.
I had the advantage of sitting on a raised platform behind the shooters with score keeper Cindy Schoenow, of Reese, whose daughter, Annalise, is one of the shooters. Having a birds-eye view behind the center of the 5 stations let me see how everything would transpire, and it went like clockwork. Each shooter would fire from each station for 5 shots, then on command would move to the next station. In the end, all would have a chance to fire from each station. One thing I noticed right away was that a suddenly gusting headwind could cause the clay pigeon to lift right at the shot, something I’m all too familiar with, but I was very impressed with the consistent accuracy I was witnessing. All the kids were definite “shooters”, firing pump, semiauto and over/under 12 ga shotguns, either their own, or borrowed from a family member. 18 year old Annalise Schoenow has been competing with the Reese team since 8th grade, and she had switched from a 20 ga to her dad’s Browning pump 12 ga, which she used to deftly bust clay pigeons on a regular basis.
I would discover that 15 year old Isaac Terry of Reese, was serious enough for the sport to work all last summer for a farmer in order to earn enough money to buy his own shotgun, a dandy Stoeger semiauto 12 ga. I also witnessed 15 year old Justin Rogner of Reese rarely missing a shot, and it turns out he was only shooting just so-so in the beginning, and then the lights suddenly came on! He would bust 24 birds each time, despite challenging wind gusts. All the kids would fire 50 shots to acquire their scores, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them eagerly and skillfully blazing away! Gun safety, of course, was a priority throughout the entire session and carefully monitored (as well as some expert coaching) by members of the Richville Conservation Club.
I had originally thought that the different high school trapshooting teams would be meeting to compete, but that isn’t the case at all. They actually only shoot on gun ranges in their area, and scores are documented. A whole bunch of Michigan High Schools are involved, with the Thumb area being well represented. They all belong to the Michigan State High School Clay Target League (miclaytarget.com) which oversees matters.
Funding for the Reese Trapshooting team is provided by fundraisers being performed by the Reese Adventure Club, and shotgun competition isn’t cheap, due to the cost of ammunition involved, with the 5 week season typically costing over $2000. Everything starts out with six practices, twice a week, followed by the actual scoring shoots once a week, and at about $200 a shoot, it all adds up. But local support has made funding not to be a problem at all.
The Reese High School, under the guidance of Matt Lefler, has long promoted getting students involved in various outdoor activities and conservation efforts through the Reese Out of Doors Club, and the Reese Adventure Club, something I find as being quite commendable. The Reese High School Trapshooting Team is definitely a good fit, and all the activities involve both boys and girls participating.
The Reese Trapshooting team has been holding their own, mostly in the middle ground, during the previous statewide competitions, but this spring, they have truly blossomed and are presently in the lead. I saw firsthand why, because all the students involved are serious and dedicated to honing their shooting skills, which definitely impressed me.
All I have to say, folks, is that I sure do wish there had been a trapshooting competition like this when I was in high school, admittedly, a very long time ago.