Trap shooting has been around since the 18th century. A publication known as Sporting Magazine states that by the year 1793, trap shooting was "well established" in England. The first recorded organized trap shooting in the United States is likely to have taken place at the Sportsman's Club of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1831.
Originally, live birds were used as targets, released from under hats. Glass balls came into use as targets in the 1860s and began to partially replace live birds, but live targets are still used in some parts of the United States. The glass ball targets were invented by Charles Portlock, of Boston, and were used by notable shooters such as Annie Oakley, Doc Carver, and Capt. A. H. Bogardus. Most of the glass ball targets were made of colorless glass and had a diameter of 2+1⁄2 inches (6.4 cm). Some targets were filled with colored powder to indicate a hit and add a visual effect. For the shooters who liked live game sport, targets were filled with feathers.
Bogardus took up glass ball and clay pigeon shooting in 1868, and went on to win many championships. He was known as one of the most successful trap shooters in the early years of the sport. In the spring of 1883 he was defeated by a competitive shooter named Doc Carver. Carver idolized Bogardus and other renowned shooters. He attempted to attract the great Bogardus, but it wasn't until six years later that the two legends finally came together for a match, and the winner was the less-experienced Doc Carver. Carver won 19 out of 25 matches. In most of those matches they used Ligowsky targets.
In 1880 "clay" birds (disks) were invented by a man named Fred Kimble, although George Ligowsky took credit for the invention. The Ligowsky target was used widely in the early trap shooting community as a replacement for the glass ball targets. The downside of the Ligowsky targets was that they were too hard to break when hit. Fred Kimble made a more breakable target. Unlike the Ligowsky target, which was made of hard baked clay, the Kimble target was made of coal-tar, pitch and other ingredients.
There were many different types of target throwers, also known as “traps,” like one made by Bogardus, which was made to throw glass targets. This trap was able to throw the targets for a distance of 28 to 35 yards (26 to 32 m). It was operated by a person behind the shooter, who pulled a string and released an elastic spring, launching the target. The first automatic trap machine to launch clay targets was used in 1909. Following the invention of the automatic trap machines, doubles trap was introduced. It was a big success in the competition community. In the 1912 Olympics, Jay Graham became the first American to win the gold medal in doubles trap.
Three years later, in 1915 the American Amateur Trapshooting Association (AATA) was formed with John Philip Sousa as president. This organization was the first organized and run by amateurs. When the AATA was disbanded in 1919, it was absorbed by an organization called the American Trapshooting Association. In 1923 the American Trapshooting Association was renamed Amateur Trapshooting Association, and the same organization is still active today.
Trap shooting, often called “American trap shooting” to distinguish it from other forms of trap shooting, is but one of many sports based on shooting small disks launched into the air. These disks are of various sizes. They are shaped somewhat like a Frisbee and fly in a nice arc through the air. They are made of various combinations of substances so that they break when hit. Well, sometimes they don’t break, but they’re supposed to break. The matter of “hard” clay pigeons is a constant source of complaint. Clay pigeons are commonly called “birds”. In addition to trap shooting, people also shoot other games involving these disks, such as skeet, sporting clays, 5 stand and wobble trap. This last is like trap shooting, except the trap machine is set up to very both the direction of the clay pigeon’s flight and the angle of elevation.
Trap is shot at the MSI trap range. A trap range has at least one, and perhaps many, trap fields, each of which has a little structure called the “trap house” that houses the machine that throws the birds into the air. This is called the “trap machine,” and sometimes just the “trap.” The trap machine throws the birds in a random pattern limited to a 44 degree horizontal arc, with the birds exiting the house at about 47 miles per hour and traveling about 50 yards before hitting the ground. The trap range uses either a hand release run by the score keeper, or voice calls that respond to the shooters’ voices to send an electric signal that causes the trap machine to launch a bird. Each trap field has five shooting stations in an arc, each station being 11 degrees away from its neighbor. The shooting stations are paths radiating out from the trap house with distances from the house marked from 16 to 27 yards. A round of trap is 25 birds, 5 birds being shot from each station in rotation.
Trap shooters commonly shoot three events: singles, handicap and doubles. Singles are single birds shot from the closest distance, 16 yards from the trap house. Since the birds are usually about 15 to 25 yards out by the time the shooter fires, even the 16 yard singles are 31 to 41 yards away. Handicap is like singles, except it is shot from various distances, depending on one’s ability, between 19 and 27 yards. These birds are 35 to 52 yards away, depending on one’s handicap and reaction time. Since very few shooters with slow reaction times ever earn a 27 yard handicap, that 52 yard figure is an exaggeration. 27 yard shooters actually shoot their birds at 47 yards or less. As you might imagine, a little disk, 40+ yards away and flying at 40+ miles per hour can be a difficult target. Doubles are two birds launched simultaneously, shot from 16 yards. Doubles are even more difficult and are, by far, the most fun. A round of doubles at MSI is 15 pairs, or 30 birds.