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Olympic clay shooting competitors will be representing their countries in one of three different clay shooting disciplines: The first Olympic clay shooting discipline “ Olympic Trap “ ( In some quarters still described as “ Olympic trench” ) The second discipline is Olympic Skeet , a later addition to Olympic shooting; and since being introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Games; a third new discipline of “ Double Trap “.
The very first Olympic Trap ( albeit an older 20 target version of it ) competition took place during the Paris 1900 Games. However the history of “ Trap “ shooting began way back in the mid 18th century with ( now viewed as barbaric ) the sport of “ Pigeon “ shooting. This started as an out of season practice by the privileged few who were shooting game birds.
Their style of game bird shooting was ‘Walking Up’ so they wanted to practice firing their guns at birds that were flying away from them. Although Pigeons were their favoured targets, starlings, sparrows and other small birds were used as targets.
The captured birds about to be shot as a moving target were trapped under a hat, bucket, basket or some type of box with a string attached. The waiting shooter called “pull” as the signal for the string to be pulled to release the bird to flight. Hence the Modern terms of “Pigeon” “ Trap” and “Pull”. This type of trap shooting grew in popularity here in Britain, across the Atlantic ; and in other parts of the world where game birds were shot. By the late 18th century it was becoming an established competitive sport with sets of rules; and by the start of the 19th century “Pigeon shooting “ clubs were being formed.
A very famous founder club was the “ Hurlingham Polo and Shooting club formed in 1882.Quickly recruiting a membership of 1500; 500 of whom were reputed to be involved in the shooting. This club still retains the ‘Pigeon’ as it’s emblem, although most modern members will be blissfully unaware of the origins :
During the mid 19th century ; Trap shooting was seen as very fashionable and had become a very popular gambling sport. Towards the latter part of the 19th century, the tide of public opinion both here and in the US was turning against this type of ‘live bird trap ‘ shooting; although it was not finally banned in Britain until 1916, having been banned in the US in 1902.
Since the mid to late 1800s, there had been many attempts to find and popularise ‘inanimate bird ‘ shooting , both here and across the Atlantic; the most popular of which was ‘Glass Ball’ shooting. It appears that the US produced the most efficient type; with one company there producing 6000 within a six month period during 1880. It is also recorded that an American, Bogardus was the first mass producer of a machine (trap) that successfully put these glass balls into flight. Although glass ball shooting was very popular, there remained the constant negative and potential danger of glass fragments; so a replacement was eagerly sought.
During March 1882, the FIELD magazine gave the "Clay Pigeon" an introduction; describing a “ Terra cotta Disc” that was being produced in the USA. History tells us that the disc shape came from an American shooting man who had been watching some boys skim Clam Shells across a lake with extreme efficiency. Yet again the Americans seemed to be in the fore front; producing the first efficient composition clay targets very much as they are today. Before the end of the 19th century many clay pigeon competitions were taking place; and by 1900 there were more than 6000 clubs in Britain and untold numbers in the USA.
Early trap shooting events took the form of one competitor standing behind the centre one of 5 traps which quite quickly became a squad of 6 shooters, with 5 on the shooting positions and the 6th waiting to step up to position 1 as the squad rotated. The squad of 6 remains in the modern form of Olympic trap shooting, with the targets being presented from one of a set of three traps. The Olympic Trench ( Sunken trap-house with it’s roof flush with the ground.) Contains a bank of five sets of three traps.
The Double Trap Olympic competitions utilise two of the centre three traps of the Olympic Trap layout. Two clays are launched simultaneously from these two traps on the call of “pull”. Arguably ‘Doubling’ the challenge of Olympic Trap.
In the next article we will look at Olympic Skeet.