An Introduction to Down the Line Clay Target Shooting

by John Tonkin

There are three main clay target shooting disciplines; trap or down the line (DTL), skeet and sporting.

New shooters usually start shooting trap.

In trap shooting the clay target is launched from a trap house 15 meters in front of the shooter.

The target is 110mm in diameter and shaped like a frisbee. At launch the target spins which helps it to fly. The target is launched at a speed of approximately 80k per hour; it reaches a height of 5 meters and travels 48 meters from the trap house.

The targets are launched from the trap and will fly away on any number of flight paths covering an arc of up to 90 degrees.

The object of trap shooting is to break the target before it lands.

The most commonly used shot gun used in clay target shooting is the 12 gauge under and over. The commonly used trap load is 28 grams of number 7 shot. This load contains 320 lead pellets each of which is 2.5mm in diameter. When fired a swarm of pellets first fly at a velocity of approximately 300 meters per second. The spread of the swarm is controlled by the degree of constriction (choke) at the end of the barrel. Trap shooters use a choke which will give a spread of approximately 1 meter at a distance of 35 meters, which is the distance at which most targets are broken.

Because the shot swarm takes approximately 0.1 seconds to reach the target and the target is moving, the shot swarm has to be directed ahead into the target path. This concept is known as lead or forward allowance. Lead is achieved by moving the gun barrels through the target flight path before the shot is fired. If the gun is fired when the barrels are pointing directly at the target, by the time the shot arrives the target will have moved on and a miss behind the target will result.

Initially it is recommended that only one shot is fired at each target. Experienced shooters will fire a second shot if the first misses.

Safety is paramount when shooting so please review the firearms safety code before proceeding to the trap field.

The trap field layout is shown below

Shooting commences from station 1 through to station 5

A round of trap consists of 25 targets. Once a shooter has shot at a target he must wait for the next shooter on his immediate right to shoot before moving to the next station.

All guns must only be loaded immediately prior to shooting. Semiautomatic and pump guns are considered loaded if there is a cartridge in the breach or magazine. Shooters using break guns (over and under or side by side guns) may walk from stations 1 through 5 with cartridges in the breach only if the guns are broken. When walking from station 5 to station 1 all cartridges must be removed from the gun and the breach must be open.

Correct shooting stance allows the shooter to move the gun to any target promptly while remaining balanced. Body weight should be predominantly on the left foot and the torso leaning slightly forward. Horizontal gun movement is achieved by rotating the body. Vertical gun movement is achieved by elevating the arms. Feet should be roughly parallel and shoulder width apart. The foot placement is adjusted from station because the relationship of the shooter to the target changes as he moves from station 1 through to station 5.

On station 1 the straightaway target flies down the right hand boundary line whereas on station 5 the straightaway target flies down the left hand boundary line.

As a guide to foot placement toes should be parallel to the line of flight of an extreme left hand target from station 5. Another guide is to stand with toes parallel to station 5 walkway.

Foot Placement

Gun mounting technique is important. When the shot gun is mounted correctly the shooters right eye should look directly down the midline of the rib on top of the gun. The shooter should be able to see the bead on the far end of the rib. The shooters cheek needs to be in firm contact with the comb on top of the stock. The shooters head should be near vertical and not leaning over towards the stock too much. The stable placement of the right eye is very important because the right eye is the rear sight on a shotgun. If you move the rear sight up the gun will shoot high. That is if you lift your head as you shoot you will shoot high so you must keep your head firmly down on the stock.

The butt of the gun should be placed on the shoulder in such a way that it rests in the pocket formed where the shoulder joins the chest (the delto pectoral groove) not directly over the shoulder joint.

The top of the stock butt should be level with the top of the shoulder muscle(trapezius) in line with the shoulder pocket. The junction of the middle third and upper third of the stock butt should be level with the collar bone (clavicle).

Prior to shooting you need to align your gun to a hold point. It is suggested that the hold point is level with the top of the trap house.

The following diagram shows recommended gun hold points for each station.

After you have brought your gun to the hold point you need to bring your eyes to a look point. The look point will vary from person to person. To begin with try looking at an oval area centred about 500mm above the trap. It is important to take your eye focus off the gun and using a soft focus look out to where you can see the target clearly. Some shooters look at background such as trees or grass in the middle distance.

For station 3 the look area is shown below.

Now you are ready to shoot. Make sure your safety is off and call 'pull'. The target will emerge from the trap. As soon as the target is in clear focus move the gun to the target and pull the trigger. Remember to swing the gun through the target path to obtain lead. Do not check your aim by looking back to the gun as this will result in slowing or stopping the smooth movement of the gun. Once you call pull only look at the target and watch it break over the gun to ensure that you keep your head down on the stock.

If you have loaded two cartridges and only fired one, immediately break the gun or remove the second cartridge if using a semiautomatic gun.

Remember to have fun and good shooting.