number of novice and experienced shooters have mentioned to me they’ve been struggling with improving their scores at trap Handicap or when trying to overcome the intimidation of trap Doubles. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have learned when a shooter is having problems, regardless of the game, a simple return to the basics is usually the best place to start.
By going back and working through the shooting basics, from setup to follow–through, you can usually isolate and identify the root cause of a problem and start working on a recovery plan. Many times the problem is so simple the shooter just didn’t see it. It may take the skilled eyes and experience of a trusted shooting friend or coach to pinpoint the exact issues, but if you’re struggling with a problem, a check of your basics can often help.
Improving At Handicap
Let’s start by reviewing some basic target criteria so you can better visualize what you’re dealing with. Singles and Handicap targets travel at 42–43 m.p.h. at a distance of 49–51 yards, an angle spread of not less than 34 degrees (17 degrees right and left of center) and at a height of roughly 17–18 feet off the ground at their flight apex. There is a “breaking zone” in which all targets are usually broken, regardless of the post or yardage a shooter may be on. This zone is centered roughly 20–25 yards out in front of the traphouse, with a height between 13–18 feet above the ground and a total width of around 24–26 yards (12–13 yards left and right of center).
The key point to remember is, no matter which post or yardage you’re on, the only thing that will change is your “visual perspective” of this breaking zone. That means all of your concentration, focus and target–breaking action should fall within the boundaries of this zone. As you envision this zone, remember it’s only your perspective that changes as you move back in yardage or from post to post. It’s like sitting up front in a movie theater as compared to sitting way in the back row. The dimensions of the screen never change; it’s only your perspective of the screen that changes as you move back or from right to left.
As you move back, the breaking zone will appear slightly smaller. With the zone visually decreasing, some shooters get a false sense that everything slows down slightly. In truth, as your zone perspective diminishes, you need to react to the target a little quicker.
You have several options at this point, but whatever approach you choose, it must include increased focus and concentration on being smooth and accurate. One thing that has worked for me is holding a slightly lower gun to maximize your field of view. You can pick up and get on the target a little faster, move through it a little quicker and easily apply the correct lead required before you take the shot.
As you gain yardage, only slight changes should be necessary to your overall shooting approach. Everything you’ve established regarding a comfortable shooting position, setup, call, movement to the target, breaking point and follow–through should not require any major changes. A few minor changes or subtle adjustments may be needed based on the variables presented at your new yardage. Extra practice will be required to reestablish your shooting confidence at each new yardage.
As I gained yardage, Posts 1 and 5 were always my most difficult to resolve. I would practice Post 1 by setting the machine to throw only hard left–hand targets and would stay on that post until I had perfected my rhythm, timing, leads and consistent target breaks at the new yardage. I simply reversed that approach for Post 5 and set the machine to oscillate as normal for practice on Posts 2 through 4.
You must make certain at the new yardage your pattern is still giving you the correct speed to the target, point–of–impact (POI), density and spread you’ve come to trust. Extra time on the patterning board will be necessary to determine exactly what adjustments, if any, to your gun, load and choke will be required. At short yardage, your perspective of the breaking zone changes very little from shooting Singles at the 16–yard line. That’s why shooters are often advised to shoot their short–yardage Handicap the same as they do their Singles, using the same gun, load and choke combination. As you move back into mid–yardage and long yardage, the changes in your breaking–zone perspective become more apparent and some minor adjustments will be required each time you move. As you move back into the longer yardages, it becomes even more important to apply extra focus and concentration on being smooth and accurate!
A trick if you’re struggling at any yardage is to practice a few yards forward of your registered mark. Find a point where all your breaks are even and consistent, then start moving back one yard at a time, rebuilding your consistency, accuracy and confidence as you go.
As you gain yardage, a key factor is figuring out the proper amount of lead needed. This can be the most difficult factor for some shooters to resolve. Once your patterning–board work is done, the only way to perfect the new leads required is to go out on the trap field and work from post to post. Start by applying sharp focus to the leading edge of each target, then add small increments of lead (6"–12" at a time) until your target breaks are even and consistent.
A major key to success when moving back is how well you can make all the slight adjustments necessary for the changing perspectives involved. You need to plan on spending quality practice time to reestablish and perfect every aspect of your Handicap game. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. Plan your work and work your plan, and soon everything will come together for you.
Overcoming Doubles Intimidation
The best way to overcome the intimidation of trap Doubles is to step back and analyze exactly what is going on within the game itself. Once you understand the simple mechanics involved, you can start developing a detailed approach to shooting the game, which will allow you to overcome that feeling of defeat before you even get started.
The best approach is to divide and conquer… then pull all the pieces back together into a game plan. First, figure out the basics of what’s actually going on, and then you can envision a shooting plan in your mind to properly address each aspect of the game, post by post. By approaching Doubles in this manner, confidence can slowly build, scores will improve and soon you’ll forget about being overwhelmed or anxious.
Doubles targets are set to leave the traphouse around 39 m.p.h. and travel a distance of 44–51 yards. Target height is set at 8–12 feet, measured at a point 10 yards out in front of the traphouse. The angle of the target spread is set at not less than 34 degrees, which is 17 degrees right and left of the centerline of the field.
Target angles appear to change because the shooter is moving from post to post. From Post 1, the right–hand target will virtually be a straightaway, with the left–hand target angling to the left. The opposite is true from Post 5, where the left–hand target is virtually a straightaway and the right–hand target will be angling off to the right. Keep in mind, whether in practice or competition, shooting at Doubles targets that are not properly set will make it difficult for you to establish or maintain the consistent timing and rhythm needed to post good scores. Make sure the club you shoot at sets targets properly so you are prepared for other venues, too.
On Posts 1 and 2, the shooter will usually break the right–hand (straightaway) target first then swing to break the left–hand (angled) target. Set up comfortably where you envision the best possible break point on the left–hand target, then stay in that setup position, swing back and hold your gun slightly below where you want to break the right–hand target.
On Post 3, target sequence is up to the shooter’s personal preference. I stay with breaking the right–hand target first and then swing to break the left–hand target. On Posts 4 and 5, I just reverse my setup position and break the targets from left to right. When applying this setup technique, you’ll find your swing becomes smoother and less constricted and you will become more accurate and successful.
Regardless which post you’re on, try to be aggressive when breaking the first target. This gives you some additional time to comfortably break the second target. Here’s where you can apply the “90–10 Rule.” This means 90% of your focus and concentration is on breaking the first target, with only 10% applied to the second target.
One key to Doubles is keeping your head down and locked into the gun. Only after the first target is broken should you shift your eyes to pick up the leading edge of the second target. At this point, you can shift all your focus and concentration to the second target, then swing smoothly through, apply the proper lead, break the target and follow through. Again, stay focused and be aggressive on the first target (be sure to break it!), then shift your entire focus and remain smooth and in control on the second target.
There seems to be a tendency for some shooters to overdo it when it comes to loads and chokes. A reliable 12 gauge with 1 ounce of No. 8s at 1,150–1,200 f.p.s. should be more than adequate. With a single–barreled auto or pump, a Modified choke usually works just fine for both shots. If you have two barrels, you can use an Improved Cylinder or Modified choke for the first shot and a Modified or Improved Modified for the second shot.
Doubles is a game of accuracy, timing and rhythm. You need to spend some dedicated practice time in order to learn the game and be successful. Doubles targets are pre–set at fixed angles, speeds and heights, and your practice efforts should be focused on perfecting this game, one post at a time. As you fine–tune your setup, focus, timing and rhythm, your confidence will build, scores will improve, and you’ll start having fun. Soon, Doubles will no longer be the intimidating game you thought it was.
Frank Neumayer has been shooting shotguns since he was 12 years old. He has hunted all types of upland birds and waterfowl in all kinds of weather and terrain throughout the Northwest. He has enjoyed many years of shooting in small club and league shoots, state and zone shoots and world–class tournaments all over the country. He’s been an A–AA Class shooter in both the PITA and ATA and earned his way to the 27–yard line in both associations. He also enjoys shooting skeet and sporting clays. Frank has won his share of trophies, but the thing he loves about shooting is being with good friends and offering a small pointer or two to someone who’s new or struggling. He’s quick to admit he doesn’t have all the answers, but he loves to share what he has learned and help shooters improve their clay–target shooting and enjoyment of the shotgun sports.