Normand Hays of Kiel loads his shotgun into his car next to his other gear— boxes of shells, his ear protection, and the safety glasses he keeps there ready and waiting for any opportunity he gets to go trapshooting.
At 6:45 a. m., frost clings to the lawn like sugar and glistens in a sun that hangs from a cloudless sky. It’s one of those windless mornings where water reflects surrounding trees so perfectly it is hard to tell where the real world ends and the reflection begins.
On the way, Norm usually thinks about the game, a concept he has learned from professionals called visualization. He will imagine himself standing there in the field, ready to call “pull” and take aim in a split second. What will he work on today? Will it be body position? Balance? Or one of a host of other things?
There are a lot of aspects to think about when it comes to trapshooting. Oh, the game may be simple in itself—just hit the clay pigeon, right?—but so many factors affect the success of a shot.
Take today, for instance—no wind— what appears to be perfect shooting conditions, on the surface anyway. Then again, with no cloud cover to cut the glare, sun may keep him from seeing the target that reels through the air at 42 miles per hour in the two seconds he has to shoot. Or the background may camouflage the fleeting orange disk. Every background is different. And then there’s the color of the shooting glasses or a person’s individual eyesight, their depth perception. So many factors come into play.
“You could have a great day and shoot 100 in a row in the morning,” Norm says, “and go down the road for a hamburger and a soda. Then, in the afternoon, the same guy, same gun, same everything and, ‘What’s wrong here?’”
Thing is, Norm has learned to handle disappointments. If he has a bad day, he knows he has to “shake it off” and go on. It’s just part of the game, something everyone has to adapt to.
“There are so many variables you can’t control,” he says. “Nobody’s ever had a perfect deal. Nobody’s shot, let’s say, the 1,000-round tournament a thousand times in a row. There are 998s and 997s, but they will always miss one.”
Even the pros.
So why does he follow the sport so avidly if it’s that hard to shoot that perfect game?
Because of the good days, the days when he feels that rush of adrenaline.
“It’s a kick,” he says. “It makes you feel good when the ‘check’s in the mail,’ so to speak, because you win the money or you get the trophy or your name shows up on some type of listing.”
Actually, Norm hasn’t been at this game all that long. Oh, he has been around guns, all right. He hunted as a child—bear, deer, you name it. But never any trap.
Then, three years ago this June, he got to talking to a friend at a coffee shop in Howards Grove.
“Come with me out to the range,” his friend said.
And so he did. And after his first shot, he thought, “This is pretty good.”
Being the type of person who jumps into things with gusto, Norm ended up getting a gun, training, and devouring the content of magazines and videos on the subject. Out there on the field every week, he estimates that he now shoots around 10,000 rounds in a year.
Trapshooting can be traced back as early as the year 1750 in England, but it wasn’t until 1831 that the sport became inaugurated in America. At first, live pigeons were used as targets, but in 1880, the clay target (still called a pigeon) was shooting organization in the world and governs the sport’s rules and regulations.
In 2008, 60,192 members participated in 7,151 registered tournaments throughout North America. Over 1,400 ATA-affi liated gun clubs threw 82,480,480 clay targets. Counting target shooters all over the world and including organizations other than the ATA as well, there are 8.5 million enthusiasts worldwide.
So what does it take to be good at this sport, really good? Does a person have to be in top physical form?
“You don’t have to be 6’ 7,” bench pressing 350,” Norm says. “You don’t have to run an under four-minute mile.”
In fact, Norm has shot with people in wheelchairs and others with prosthetic arms who were exceptional at the sport.
“One gentleman I shot with doesn’t have a voice box,” he says. “So to call a target, he clicks a doorbell mounted on his gun.”
Trap shooters can be male or female, they can range in age from 8 to 80, and they come in all body types.
Actually, just about anyone can engage in the sport, anyone capable of holding a shotgun.
“This is a very, very, very simple sport,” says Norm, “but it’s not easy, because there are so many factors involved.”
And so the numbers of participants continue to grow.
Every year, the ATA holds a premier
created. In 1909, the first automatic trap machines were used. Then, in 1919, the American Trapshooting Association (later renamed Amateur Trapshooting Association or ATA) was born.
The ATA is the largest clay target