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Courtney Sargent, Deseret News
Al Robbins wears glasses and ear plugs for protection while he takes his shots at clay pigeons.

Live pigeons were the first targets. Then, for more challenge, smaller sparrows and quick-flying quails became the objectives. To calm public opposition, aim was taken on glass balls, then on a number of different materials, including tin. Eventually, trapshooters settled on clay.

Now, millions of clay pigeons are launched each year, shot at and, in many cases, turned into dust by flying BBs.

Trapshooting is a sport drawing lots of attention these days — and more and more shooters, too.

Brent Epperson, manager of the Lee Kay Center's trap/skeet shooting facilities in West Valley City, and a member of the U.S. trapshooting team, believes with fewer bird-hunting opportunities, a need to practice and the fact that trapshooting is entertaining, "are growing the sport."

"There are not that many pheasants around these days. Luckily, we have great marshes for ducks. But a lot of people have converted from bird hunting to trapshooting. Those still bird hunting are using trap to keep up their skills. I'm also seeing a lot of first-time shooters," he said.

The first mention of shooting shotguns at escaping pigeons was in England in 1793. For more of a challenge, gentlemen shooters went to smaller, quicker birds.

The first shoot in America was written up in 1831.

From there it evolved into the sport it is today.

Trapshooting is not a difficult sport to figure out.

There is a trap house 16 yards in front of the shooter and a machine that delivers clay discs — 4 1/2 inches in diameter — at speeds around 40 mph.

The shooter stands in ready position, butt of the shotgun cupped in the shoulder, muzzle pointed at the edge of the trap house and attention focused to the field ahead.

On command — any word will do, but the most common are "pull" and "target" — a trap machine dispatches a clay pigeon within a 90-degree span in front of the house. This could be everything from a straight away shot, to a hard right or hard left, all thrown in random order.

It then becomes the responsibility of the shooter to break the clay pigeon. A single BB hitting the target and taking out no more than a chip is a hit. A miss is a "lost" target. A solid hit can turn the disc into dust.

A trap line consists of five shooters standing at five locations 16 yards behind the house. The better the shooter, the further back he or she stands. The maximum distance is 27 yards. A complete round consists of five shots taken from each of the five locations for a total of 25 targets.

For new shooters, Epperson advises they divide the trap-house roof in fifths. Shooters start from the left position and start by pointing at the left corner of the house, then following the clay pigeon up as it's released and shoots. From the center, a shooter aims at the center of the house and from the far right starts out aiming for the right corner.

And then:

"If you're shooting a field gun, cover the target with the barrel and shoot. If you're shooting a trap gun, aim a little below the target and shoot," said Epperson.

"The important thing to remember is to shoot the target on the rise, not while it's falling. The mistake new shooters make is they try and shoot the target like they would a rifle. That is, they try to aim, follow the target and wait too long."

A field shotgun is one used for hunting. Many of the new shotguns these days come with interchangeable chokes, from full to modified. A full choke shoots a tight BB pattern, while a modified choke shoots a wider pattern.

A competitive shooter like Epperson shoots an extra full choke. He said he sometimes shoots up to 1,000 rounds a day, "and when I start to get off target, I can see it right away and adjust."

The shooting center also has a different thrower called a "wobble trap."

This, said Russell Sapsford, is a very different shooting experience.

"This trap can throw a target three feet off the ground or one very high, hard left or hard right," he explained. "It gives a bigger variety of targets. A lot of shooters like this because they really need to concentrate on the target. Sometimes they can get in a groove when they think they know where targets are coming from regular trap. This makes them concentrate."

There are 16 trap houses at the Lee Kay Center and four skeet stations. Shooting takes place on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Other trap centers can be found by going online to www.claytargetsonline/list.php/UT-28k.