How Trap Shooting Scoring Works – A Guide for Beginner Clay Shooters

How trap shooting scoring works

Trap shooting is one of the most exciting and exhilarating shotgun sports in the world.

Ever since its inception, trap shooting has been part of the Olympic Games, and it’s currently recognized as a standard part of most clay shooting competitions. In fact, the first ever Olympic medal for the shooting was given out in 1896.

When starting out in modern-day trap shooting though, your primary concern would be hitting the clays. But accuracy in shooting is less about the gun and more about the shooter.

So, as you fine-tune your aim and consistently smash those targets, you’ll probably want to know how you’re doing with your score. Unfortunately, clay pigeon shooting has a scoring system that seems quite complex for beginners. It can be a great, fun sport for a sociable competition between friends, but there’s a much more methodical way of scoring a game of trap.

If you have never shot the game before, then you might not know the rules. Luckily, this article isn’t just for trap shooting novices but also for people who want to refresh their memory on how the game is played. Here is everything you need to know about trap shooting scoring.

Trap Shooting Overview

Trap Shooting Overview

The game of clay pigeon shooting has a long and storied history. At first, it involved a row of live captive pigeons placed approximately 50 feet in front of the shooter. A trapper would then release one bird at a time, and the shooter would take aim, attempting to hit and kill the bird.

However, it wasn’t until the 1860s- during the time of the American Civil War- that real birds were replaced by glass balls, commonly referred to as glass targets. And later in the 19th century, clay targets (also known as clay pigeons) became normal, and they’re still used today.

Trap shooting, therefore, is a competitive shooting sport in which participants attempt to hit clay targets that are flung into the air from a spring-loaded trap. The game can be traced back to the late 18th century when it was developed as a way to test the accuracy of muskets and other firearms.

Today, trap shooting is enjoyed by shooters of all skill levels, from beginners to Olympians. Five shooters line up on a trap field with five positions in a row from left to right.

In front of them, there is a trap house partially buried in the ground and at least sixteen yards away from the shooters.

When ready, the shooter calls for the target, which is launched at the specified distance, speed, and height. Registered trap shooting rules state that the clay target speed should be 42 mph, with a minimum distance of 48 yards, and no more than 52 yards away. It should also be between 8-12 feet high and ten yards from the trap.

Overall, trap shooting mimics bird hunting, it’s only that it requires a high degree of accuracy and concentration because the clay pigeons are small and move quickly.

The essence of the game is also much the same as it was back then, although modern competition rules and formats are more structured.

How to Score Trap Shooting?

How to Score Trap Shooting

With that being said, many people don’t seem to understand the basics of trap shooting and how the scores are calculated. It can be a fun sport, but the rules and scoring can be rather confusing. So in this section, we’ll look at the basics of how scoring works and how you can improve your score.

When it comes to clay pigeon shooting, there are three main ways to score points: shooting singles, doubles, or handicap. Even though it may sound confusing for those new to the sport, trap shooting is actually not that difficult to understand.

It’s more like playing darts, only you’re aiming at a 4.25-inch wide disc instead of a small circle. The discs are shot across the horizon, and you have to try and hit them with accuracy. Each disc that you hit adds one point to your score, but if you miss then you lose a point.

There are several different ways to play trap shooting. The main ones include the Olympic trap, (also known as the Bunker trap), and the American Trap, which is broken down into three categories (Singles, Doubles, or Handicap). There’s also the Double Trap, but this is a relatively new form.

In other words, it’s up to you to decide how you want to try and rack up the score points.

Olympic Trap (Bunker Trap)

Olympic Trap (Bunker Trap)

The Olympic Trap, commonly known as bunker trap/international trap, has been around since 1900, although the current form of the game was introduced in 1950.

It’s basically a test of accuracy and precision and involves shooting at a series of clay targets that are hurled into the air. In international trap competitions, men shoot 125 rounds and women shoot 75 rounds. The top six competitors shoot a 25-round final.

Unlike the American trap or DTL (which uses a single oscillating machine), the Olympic trap uses 15 fixed-angle machines that are controlled by a computer. This program is designed to deliver 10 left, 10 right, and 5 straight-away targets to each shooter in a random sequence. A microphone release system is utilized to ensure that all the target release times are uniform.

There are 6 shooters in a round, one at each station. The sixth shooter starts at a holding position right behind shooter number one. Test firing is permitted at the referee’s consent at the beginning of the first round of the day.

Once the start signal has been given, the first trap shooter has ten seconds to call for his target. After making the shot, the first shooter waits for the second shooter to finish firing before moving to station two. Then shooter on station six proceeds smoothly to station one. The procedure continues for every squad member until the round is completed.

The round is usually refereed by someone positioned behind the shooters and uses a horn, similar to what you might find on a bicycle, to signal when a target has been lost.

This person is also assisted by one or two people (who are positioned on either side of the bunker) to keep track of the score. Modern technology has enabled the use of computer screens that show the progress of the round both at the bunker and in the clubhouse.

Major matches usually involve a board (typically 4 by 8 feet) that displays information about the scoring status to everyone present. The board has large white tiles (to show hits) or red (to show misses).

Double Trap

Double Trap

Double trap is a form of trap shooting that is newer than most. It became an Olympic event in 1996 before losing its status as an Olympic event for both genders in 2008.

In this, two targets are launched simultaneously from slightly varied angles from a station of three machines at speeds of about 80 km/h, which is very close to that of American Trap. The targets are released with a delay of up to one second to minimize spot-shooting the first target.

Generally, the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) has a different way of approaching things compared to the American Trapshooting Association as well as the National Skeet Shooting Association (ATA/NSSA).

For instance, while NSSA/ATA rules largely focus on having competitors get a perfect score, ISSF has instead decided to make it so that missing even a single target in disciplines like trap, skeet, and double trap means that the competitor has very little chance of winning.

This allows for Bunker Trap competitors to still have a good shot at winning even if they miss a target or two.

American Trap Shooting

American Trap Shooting

As mentioned, there’re three main divisions in the American Trap: singles, doubles, and handicap. The target is a clay disc that is released by a machine from ground level and out of a small structure called a “trap house.” For singles and doubles, there are 5 stations; each located 16 yards away from the trap.

Trap Shooting Singles

When competing in singles, every shooter takes turns shooting at 5 targets from five different stations, standing at a stretch of 16 yards from the trap. That means in one round, the scorer will have made 25 shots in totality.

The trap machine oscillates up to 27 degrees from the right and left of the center to a maximum of 54 degrees arc and the shooters simply do not where in the arch the targets will show up.

Trap Shooting Doubles

Often practiced by the more seasoned shooters, trap shooting doubles is a challenging and exciting sport that requires precision and split-second timing. Two shooters stand side-by-side at a trap, and each takes turns firing at targets that are released from the trap house.

The targets are released randomly, so the shooters must be alert and ready to shoot at any moment. Else, there’s a risk of missing the target. Every target allows the shooter to score one point when hit before touching the ground.

Handicap Trap Shooting

In handicap competitive events, the trap machine is used the same as in singles, but the trap house is set farther away from the shooter’s stand.

The handicap is one of the most difficult disciplines of trap shooting. It requires the more seasoned shooter and there’s a greater distance between the trap house and the shooter. The shooter’s records are used to gauge the skill and the handicap scope is set accordingly.

Adept shooters are required to be at the 27-yard line, which makes it difficult to achieve a hit and evens out the game for balanced competition. While scoring is much like the other two (singles and doubles), the shooting range may start from 19 to 27 yards.

Good Trap Shooting Score

Good Trap Shooting Score

In trap shooting, like any other sport, scoring isn’t really the only important thing. However, it does help individuals stay focused and motivated. The highest possible score for a handicap event or singles is 25 points if five shots are made from each of the five positions.

In doubles, the score is doubled to 50 as there are 2 targets/two shots in every session and a total of five such positions.

For beginners, scoring between 19-20 points is deemed good. However, if you’ve practiced trap shooting for a while, then a 23 or 24, (or even the total of 25 points) would be regarded as a great score

Keeping a Score Sheet

To keep an authentic score sheet in trap shooting, you will need to understand the basics of the game. In case the shooter hits the target, it is identified as a ‘dead’ target, irrespective of whether the entire disc was broken.

After scoring a dead target, an ‘x’ or ‘I’ is used as a counting mark in the scorer’s score box. However, if the shooter misses the target, it is identified as a ‘lost target’ and therefore marked as a ‘0’ zero.

In case the gun is jammed or doesn’t work right, the person will get an ‘F’ (fail) next to their name. If it happens more than once, then there will be a number to show how often it happened next to the ‘F’.

For instance, if the shooter couldn’t shoot twice, the score sheet would show ‘2F’ on the record. After a gun malfunction, the shooter gets another chance. But if it doesn’t work again (no matter why), then that goes down as a ‘Lost.’

In the event where the target was not launched correctly, then the shot is considered wasted and therefore no score is recorded.

In case you want to rectify an incorrectly entered score, you can do so by drawing a line through the wrong score and writing the actual score next to it as a ‘dead’ or ‘lost’ score.

The shooter’s total scoring is obtained by adding up all columns in the shooter’s raw starting from right to the left. To maintain transparency, the leader of the squad signs the score sheet upon the completion of every trap.

He keeps custody of the score sheet until the subsequent trap location. But if the group is at the final trap, the score sheet is left at the station after signing for the club authorities.

Getting Started With Trap Shooting

Getting Started With Trap Shooting

Trap shooting is a great option for those looking for a fun and challenging shooting sport. It dates back to the 18th century when hunters would release live pigeons from traps (usually a hat placed over the bird). Today, trap shooters use clay discs instead of live-captive birds, but the sport still retains its name.

Trap ranges can be found all over the country, so it’s likely that there’s one near you. With a little practice and by knowing the proper hold and focal points for each station, you can start seeing great results. If you’re planning on trap shooting, below are some of the key things you should keep in mind:

Maintain Your Focus

Focus is key when it comes to hitting clay targets. To enhance your tracking mastery, keep your eyes level with the horizon and avoid leaning your head over the stock. Secondly, do not mount the shotgun to your shoulder.

Instead, mount it to the eye and cheek. With the right stance and a well-fitted gun, you should feel the shotgun naturally rest on your shoulder part. Also, after sporting the target, maintain your focus and never look away while pulling the trigger to fire.

Have the Right Stance

A good stance is important in trap shooting. Depending on which of the 5 positions you’re in, your feet will be in different places. For instance, when you’re in positions one to three, you should keep your lead foot at 1:00.

That said, your lead foot should point at 2:00 for positions 4 and 5, while your other foot stays at around 2:15. Remember your knees should be slightly bent when doing this so you can move your feet easily without losing your posture.

Aim Like You Mean It

If you’re looking to achieve a perfect aim in shooting traps, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances. One of the basic things is your eye line.

Instead of staring at the rim of the trap house, consider peering about twenty yards outside the trap field. This is how you bring your target within your scope, as opposed to hunting it down.

Note that to lessen the amount of error in your, the pivoting involved has to be minimized. So when tracking targets, try to turn in the smoothest way possible from your waist. Keep your gun firmly in your shoulders while doing this; you shouldn’t use your hands to turn the gun around. Also, as mentioned before, never look away while firing even after acquiring the target.

Patterning Your Shorts

Patterning is key to understanding how your gun will perform at different distances. The best way to pattern a gun is to set up a large piece of paper target or cardboard at ten, twenty, and thirty yards. Then, take shots with the 3 main chokes. This helps to determine where your shots will hit.

Practice Makes Perfect

It turns out that the best way to enhance your trap shooting knacks is to, well, practice trap shooting! Accuracy in clay target shooting is less about the gun than the shooter.

This game requires excellent hand-eye coordination and muscle memory to hit moving clay targets. If you’re getting ready for an upcoming competition, make sure to expend a good deal of time practicing so you can sweeten your skills.

Understand Your Gun Completely

Understand Your Gun Completely

In trap shooting contests, participants are mostly using 12-gauge semi-automatic shotguns or break-open models that are set up in single-barrel or under/over designs.

You might also come across other models like the semi-automatic shotgun and auto-loading shotguns that are designed purposely for competitive trap shooting.

These trap guns are typically a bit sturdier and heavier as they don’t need to be swayed as fast as in other forms of events, for example, Olympic skeet.

They’re also made to shoot a bit higher, so you can see the targets right over the muzzle, and still potentially be able to strike them.

Get the Right Gun For Yourself

Obviously, in trap shooting, having a suitable shotgun for your body is essential. Note that you’ve got only a second or so to take your shot after yelling “pull,” so make sure you have a gun that is both accurate and responsive, and that fits you well.

Here’s a tip to ascertain the fit of your shotgun: first, close your eyes and lift the firearm to your shoulder and face. Now open your eyes. In case you saw that the beads are in line with the ventilated rib, then the shotgun is the right fit.

However, if they’re not in line, or if you spot the rib somewhere between, the shotgun doesn’t suit you and you might want to contact your gunsmith for some stock adjustments.

Reduce Recoil and Ensure Hearing protection

The accuracy of a gun is greatly affected by how well it can handle the recoil. Too much recoil can make a shot to be off- you can miss your target even with a slight margin. And unfortunately, there’s no room for errors in trap shooting.

This explains why bird hunters and many competitive shooters use silencers in their shotguns, which effectively lessens the kickback of a gun. Not only do they recede recoil, but they also curb loud, troubling noise (which could harm your hearing), making it easier to take an accurate shot.

Trap Shooting vs Sporting Clays

Trap Shooting vs Sporting Clays

Sporting clays is yet another common type of shooting competition.

Compared to the more structured five-position courses found in trap shooting, sporting clays provide a more dynamic experience as it closely resembles a real-life hunting experience, where competitors move through a scenic, varied course. Stations may include trap or skeet-style targets or even something else entirely.

Trap vs Skeet

Well, both trap and skeet shooting are popular clay shooting competitions. However, while trap uses a single trap machine to fire a single target, skeet shooting involves two machines where that launch dual targets in a way that they crisscross each other.

Scoring in skeet shooting might be a bit complex because the shooter might need to hit one target, a target combo, or both targets. Trap, on the other hand, is considered simpler mainly because the shooter only needs to hit a single target with a single shot.



To get started in trap shooting, all you really need is a shotgun, some hearing and eye protection, a shotgun shooting vest, and of course a few boxes of shells. Luckily, most experienced shooters are more than happy to help out novices, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions when you find them at your local clubs.

Plus, you’ll likely make some new friends, find some mentors, and develop some new shooting skills that you can be proud of. Meanwhile, scoring in trap shooting can help you and your squad members stay focused and motivated, making the whole thing fun and interesting.

Now that you’ve got the low-down on trap shooting, it’s time to get out there and give it a try. Remember to have fun while you’re doing it, and don’t stop your swing even if you miss.

The most experienced trap shooters always keep their guns moving even after they shoot. By mimicking their fluid motion, you’ll quickly learn to resist lifting your head after the shot- which could make you stop your swing and miss the target.

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