Trap shooting etiquette: 5 rules for proper clay pigeon shooting

Trap shooting etiquette 5 rules for proper clay pigeon shooting

Clay pigeon shooting is a sport with a long history that dates back to the 16th century. Today, it is deeply popular, with hundreds of thousands of people partaking all across the country. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors and build camaraderie with your fellow shooters.

However, like any other sport, there are some principles in clay target shooting that you should keep in mind so that you and your fellow shooters can have the best time possible.

This applies to both starters and skilled shooters alike; there are certain rules of etiquette and safety that you should follow when going in for a game of trap.

That said, though, it can be a little hard to learn how to shoot perfectly probably due to the many different expectations for proper conduct. So, in this article, we will discuss some of the most important rules of etiquette that you should keep in mind while at the shooting range.

Rules for Proper Clay Pigeon Shooting

Rules for Proper Clay Pigeon Shooting

As you may already know, there are 4 common disciplines of clay pigeon shooting. These are skeet shooting, trap shooting, sporting clays, and 5-stand shooting.

They are all marksmanship sports, of course, but success in them depends on a few different abilities, such as good form, sound decision-making, and excellent hand-to-eye coordination, just to mention a few.

Initially, these shotgun sports were developed as a means to help hunters train outside of the field, but today they are seen as a challenging course to test shooters’ skills while enjoying nature. And in our opinion, blasting a few rapidly moving targets is a great way to pass time.

Here are the 5 rules of clay pigeon shooting etiquette:

  • Always wear your safety glasses while you are on the shooting line. Safety has to be your top priority.
  • Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to fire. Don’t ever point your gun at a person or anything that you are not intending to shoot.
  • Don’t drop any spent shells on the ground. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the main one is that it is unsportsmanlike and it potentially creates a safety hazard.
  • Don’t walk in front of the person who is currently shooting. Always void unnecessary movement.
  • Learn the rules and principles of the shooting club

Observe the Basic Rules of Gun Safety

Observe the Basic Rules of Gun Safety

There is a massive responsibility that comes along with wielding a shotgun. So, whether you are shooting in the field or not, you should always adhere to the right gun handling etiquette.

Seek to understand the basic firearm safety rules before joining and always be sure to ask for clarification or additional information when needed. Check out these four tips for gun safety:

First, always keep the finger off the spur until it’s time to shoot, and be sure to show that the action is open. Also, you should always point the muzzle in a secure area. Even when the rifle isn’t loaded, the muzzle should be kept over the bar, particularly in a five-stand shooting.

In case you are using a semi-automatic shotgun, be sure to get a shell catcher or rubber band so that your empty shells don’t end up striking the person next to you.

And for those using pump-action shotguns, use caution when ejecting the empty shells to avoid hitting the other shooter near you.

All firearms should be treated as if they are loaded. Never point or direct your gun at anything that you’re not ready to destroy. Always keep your action open until getting ready to compete.

Keep the Action Open Until Calling for The Target

You will need to maintain your course of action until you call for the target. It’s very important to not “jump the gun” especially when taking part in competitive events.

Timing is paramount for safety as well as for helping you keep a nice rhythm. In skeet shooting and trap shooting, you should always load one shell at a time, holding off on loading your firearm until it’s your turn.

In sporting clays or five-stand shooting, never load your firearm until you are within the rage, and always keep your action open as you approach the shooting line.

Contain Your Shells and Stay Quiet

Yes, the person right next to you is your rival, but being a distraction is offensive (not to mention risky). No matter how you shoot, try to be as quiet as you can and try not to show any signs of excitement or annoyance when it’s not your turn.

Consider purchasing a shell holder or pouch to keep your shells close at hand while on the course in order to avoid this. It’s good to have a system in place to stop rounds from ejecting from semiautomatic weapons and striking the ground or shooters nearby.

Understand the Rules of the Club

Of course, each club has its own set of shooting rules aside from the known shooting rules and etiquette. Ask if there is a dress code (most clubs have safety-oriented guidelines, like no sleeveless shirts or open-toed shoes) and if there are any shell size restrictions.

Keep in mind that for you to join the course, you’ll have to wear the appropriate ear and eye protection. Fortunately, most clubs will provide these accessories for hire or loan.

Local clubs are probably the best place to turn when starting off in clay shooting. Aside from the stated pre-set course and equipment, these clubs mostly provide the shooters with all the fundamental tools needed to learn the sport; from setting the right foundation for proper gun handling abilities to honing your skills.

Despite this, majority of the first-time shooters tend to be intimidated by the idea of heading to the gun club as a beginner. But if you spend some time learning basic gun club etiquette before going in, you’ll be very well on track for a great day at the shooting range.

In other words, safety, avoiding shooter distraction, and adhering to club rules are crucial in all forms of clay pigeon shooting. And you’ll be on your way to a good shoot as long as you remember these three essentials.

Here are some additional guidelines for shooting sporting clay, trap, skeet, or five-stand.

Trap Shooting Etiquette

Trap Shooting Etiquette

One shell at a time, please. As you wait, you can have a shell in the chamber and the action open. Then when it’s your turn, you can close the gun and say “Pull” loud enough to be heard through ear protection to signal your target.

In case you are working with the voice-activated throwers, you will need to be otherwise silent as these systems are highly sensitive and may unintentionally launch a target if other unintended vocalizations are used.

When you are done shooting, some shooting clubs ask that you pick up your empty shells or hulls. Others doesn’t have that problem, but of course if you do, they’d likely appreciate your assistance!

Skeet Shooting Etiquette

Skeet Shooting Etiquette

If you have to chat between gunners and shots, that’s okay but be sure to keep that conversation to a minimum, especially when someone is really firing.

Again, wait until it’s your turn and make sure you’re standing on the concrete pad before loading your gun. You can choose to load one or two shells for each of the singles on stations 1 through 7. Station 8 should only load one shell at a time.

Sporting Clays Etiquette

Sporting Clays Etiquette

You may want to have a bag and a shooting vest for this. The shooting of sporting clays might take 1.5 to 3.5 hours. Therefore, you’ll need a means to carry all ammo, drinks and snacks. You can think about renting one of the push carts there as well; they’re useful that way!

Check through your scorecard to determine how many pairs you will be shooting at that particular station.  Then keep the in an appropriate area.

If there are containers for empty hulls at the stations, place your empty hulls in them. If you are shooting a semi-auto shotgun, you may not have to worry about picking up your spent shells.

If you are familiar with your team members, feel free to share advices, support, or even smack talk.Or simply say “great shot” and observe what happens in a case where you are not familiar with your squad.

Now let’s get closer to the various terminolgies as used in clay pigeon shooting.

American Trap Shooting Association

Commonly known as ATA, this is a discipline of clay pigeon shooting in which only one trap is used to launch a target. It is comprised of five shooters who take turns firing at targets that have been released from the tarp, standing in a line behind it. Every trap shooter in this sport will eventually make shots at 5 targets from every stand.


The Federale Internationale de Tir Aux Armes Sportives de Chasse, also known as F.I.T.A.S.C., is the organization that oversees the sport of sporting clays internationally. It’s where targets are fired over three or four stands in rounds of twenty or twenty-five.

Singles and doubles matches are played in a different order on each stand (pairs) and the shooter must wait until the target has been called for, staying in their line of sight before mounting the gun to the shoulder. Until the target is visible, the gun must be held at a 25 cm below the shoulder position.


This is a sport in which the targets are shot at sharp angles to the shooter and at closer ranges in comparison to sporting clays and trap shooting.

Sporting Clays

Sporting clays involve the use of different targets to imitate the practice of shooting at live game. As such, it is possible to employ almost any trajectory, distance, angle and speed. The different varieties of clays include the standard, rocket, mini, super-mini, rabbit and battue.


This refers to a specialized flat target used in various forms of shooting, including FITASC Sporting, Sportrap, English Sporting, and Sporting Clays as known in the USA.


This is basically a tiny, round, white item that sits on top of the rib at the very end of the barrel. It serves as the shooter’s almost-subconscious “sight.” There may occasionally be another bead in the midpoint of the rib to help match up the front bead with the shooter’s eye.


This is a state of the firearm when it is not use. It is where the barrels are not fully extended into the stock and the chambers are clearly empty. Note that unless your gun is on the shooting stand and you are ready to fire, it should always be in this position.

Shot Shells/Cartridge

The ammunition or rather the shells used to break the clay targets is known as a cartridge or shot shell. A primer incorporated in the cartridge, which ignites the shot powder to releases the shot from the gun’s muzzle.


This refers to the constriction or designed obstruction at the end of the barrel. It is used to either narrow or widen the shot pattern as it leaves the firearm.

Clay Target

This is basically the target. It is the pitch and lime round dish target that comes in diameters ranging from 60mm to 110mm.  These clay targets can be black, white, pink, orange, or any other color.


When playing the games of trap shooting and skeet shooting, a shooter will have to fire once at each of two targets.

The targets can be released in pairs (i.e., one after the other along the same trajectory), simultaneously (two targets launched from two different traps at the same time, one on each trap), or on report (the second target is launched immediately the first shot has been fired at the first target).


This is where a gunman only fires at a single target.

Hearing Protection

It’s always crucial to safeguard your hearing from harm that may be caused by the cartridge firing report. Ear protection can come in the form of earbuds that completely enclose the ear or sponge or even plastic plugs that are put into the ear. This is a compulsory requirement for both shooters and observers in shooting disciplines.

Eye Protection

Eye and ear protection go hand in hand. All shooters and spectators are required to wear eye protection while on the club grounds to ensure protection against stray bullets, powder burn, and clay shards.

In addition to reducing sun glare and enhancing contrast, specialty glasses also serve to make it easier for the shooter to view clay targets.

Clay Shooting Etiquette

Clay Shooting Etiquette

Alongside all other discussed courtesy rules, clay shooters must obtain permission from the owner before handling another person’s firearm.

Actions are always open when carrying a gun. Guns are only pointed at targets or down range; not anything else. And before leaving the range, shooters must wait for the last shooter to finish.


The order the shooter gives when they are ready to compete. Some shooters just grunt, while others call “ready”! Some would even yell “Hup!” when ready to make the shot.

Dead/Lost Target

A target is deemed “dead” when it is hit (i.e., a visible chunk is observed to come off the clay in flight). Meanwhile, a target is referred to as “lost” or “zero” or “bird away” if a shot was made at it but missed.


When a target leaves the trap broken, on the incorrect trajectory, or not at all as a result of a machine fault, this situation is usually referred to as a “No-Bird.”

Gun fit

It’s crucial that every shooter has their gun “suited” to them. It makes sure that the shooter sees a perfectly straight sight image and that the firearm does not “kick” when fired.


As the name suggest, this is a team or group of shooters who participate in a competition or a round of clays together.


In Trap, Skeet, or 5-Stand shooting, rounds typically consist of 25 targets whereas in the case of sporting clays, there are normally 50 or 100 targets.


This is the position that the shooter will make their shots from.


This refers to the location where shooting occurs.


This is where one point is awarded for each target hit in clay target shooting.


This is the term used to describe how the shooter moves the gun when making the shots. A good swing and follow-through are crucial just like in golf and tennis.

Over & Under

This refers to a shotgun with “side ribs” that connect the two barrels such that one barrel lies on top of the other.


This is the metal plate that is flat and rests atop the barrels. And since it is non-reflective, the shooter won’t be distracted by glare or such when mounting the shotgun to fire.


This refers to a shotgun with two barrels that are placed side by side.


The shooting trap is the device used to throw clay targets into the air. Trap is also used as the name of the popular clay pigeon discipline (Trap Shooting) whereby targets are launched at shallow angles away from the shooter.

Trap House

The structure or location where traps are kept on a skeet shooting or trap shooting range.

Trap Shooting Arms and Equipment

Trap Shooting Arms and Equipment

In most cases, a 12 gauge shotgun is used for trap shooting. Of course, you can use rifles with smaller gauges (such as 28, 20, 16, and even .410 bore), but no exception is made.

Trap shooting may also involve the use of other shotguns like the general-purpose model and specialty, target-based shotguns, which can have one or two barrels.

Most shooters especially those who compete in all sub-events often use a combination set of a double and single barrel for shooting both double and single targets respectively.

Self-loading shotguns or semi-automatic shotguns are preferred for recreational shooting due to their versatility and low apparent recoil when shooting singles, doubles, and handicaps.

Note that shotguns for trap shooting can be different from field and skeet guns in a number of ways, and they typically have a greater “point of impact” because the targets are meant to be hit as they move.

In contrast to earlier guns, which employed chokes with a “set” constriction, the majority of trap shotguns produced today come with replaceable choke tubes. These could be “modified,” “enhanced cylinder,” or “full choke” and they come in a range of constrictions

Moreover, unlike ordinary field guns, which are made to be lighter, and not subjected to as many shots, trap guns are made to resist the strains and stress of continuous and prolonged repetitive use. They can easily withstand hundreds of shots in a single day of events.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Clay pigeon shooting is a fun and exciting sport, but it does have certain rules and etiquette that must be followed to keep it fun and safe for everyone.

As soon as you start blasting a those clays, you’ll want to go back repeatedly to keep raising your scores and even stand a chance to compete in competitions at nearby clubs.

You’ll also have the opportunity to meet other shooters and hone your skills. The largest trap shooting association in the country is the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA), and its website provides a list of clubs and competitions that take place across the country.

Sharing is caring!

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

Related Posts

Subscribe To Our NewsLetter!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x