Early Trapshooting Associations

In 1890, Idaho and Wyoming became states; Dwight D. Eisenhower was born; Civil War general William T. Sherman lay close to death, few in Georgia were upset; and the clay target had finally replaced the live pigeon and glass ball as the standard target for trapshooting. Here, at last, was a target that again sailed like a bird, and many of the old time pigeon shooters began to compete after an absence of years. Targets were sold and slipped into wooden barrels. They were relatively inexpensive, averaging about a penny apiece. Most everyone could afford to shoot "the elusive clay," a term used by manufacturers.

Gun clubs literally appeared overnight. Traps were set up on fairgrounds, ball fields, amusement parks and racetracks. Tournaments were sometimes held on the roofs of tall buildings, with a screen catching the targets, and shot dropping to who-knows-where.

Everything was in place except for a minor detail—organization. There was none. The rules at one club were different from the ones on the other side of town. Guns weighing over 8 lbs. were barred from some clubs and allowed at others. Ten-bore shotguns could be used as long as shells contained no more than1 1/2 oz. of shot. Other clubs wouldn’t allow 10-gauges at all. Target flights varied as much as 20 yards from club to club. Great arguments often arose.

Finally, a group of interested individuals got together to form an organization and comprise formal rules. They called themselves the American Shooting Association and began operations in New York in January 1890.

The first governing body was composed of those employed by companies who produced trapshooting-related products. Among them was L. C. Smith, founder of the famous gun company; Charles Tatham, owner of the largest lead shot processing plant in the country; and Capt. A. W. DuBray of the Parker Gun Co.

DuBray was a retired career army officer and decorated Civil war veteran. He ended up out west with General George Armstrong Custer in the 7th Calvary. A week or so before Custer started on his infamous Little Big Horn excursion, DuBray was transferred to another outfit. He, along with the rest of America, read in the paper what Sitting Bull did to his former compatriots. Shortly thereafter, DuBray resigned his commission and began more peaceable employment as Parker’s head sales representative. He was once quoted as saying, "Irate customers are a lot easier to work with than irate Indians."

The American Shooting Association promptly produced a 24-page rule book that, for the first time, outlined what was and wasn’t legal. Disputes were settled by referring to the rule book. Arguments sub-sided (somewhat).

These were days of great change in the wildlife populations of America. The passenger pigeon, once so numerous in the sky that their multitudes would hide the sun, became totally extinct. The heath hen was gone, as were most of the buffalo, antelope and Whitetail deer. The gun, ammunition, powder and shot companies were justifiably concerned. To make matters even worse, there were people in Washington who talked about setting daily limits on waterfowl and game birds.

It didn’t take the gun-related companies long to read the writing on the wall. The future looked bleak. Survival might just depend on this new clay target game called trapshooting.

By 1892, other companies recognized the potential profits in this new sport and joined the ranks of the American Shooting Association. Colts Patent Fire Arms Co., Winchester Repeating Arms Co., Union Metallic Cartridge Co., American E. C. Powder Co., Hazard Powder Co. and the Chamberlain Cartridge and Target Co. all became affiliated. One of the first things they did was to change the name to The Interstate Manufacturers’ and Dealers’ Association. In 1895, the name was shortened to The Interstate Association. Organized trapshooting in America was now in the hands of the major suppliers of trapshooting products. 

Elmer E. Shaner, a former schoolteacher from Pittsburgh, Pa., was managing tournaments for the Pennsylvania State Sportsman Association when the new Interstate Association asked him to serve as secretary-treasurer of their group. He accepted, and offices were set up in Pittsburgh.

As far as anyone knows, Shaner never pointed a gun at a target, but he was the driving force in trapshooting for the next 21 years. His honesty and integrity were known nationwide. Once Shaner disqualified the president of the association for being late for his squad. When asked if this might have been politically incorrect, Shaner responded by saying, "Hell, I could have fined him too!" He managed the first 19 Grand Americans and devised a system for keeping averages, which resulted in the first official average book published in 1913. Shaner was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1969.

By the early 1900s, the Interstate Association had added many new industry members, including DuPont, Marlin Firearms Co., Western Cartridge Co., Peters Cartridge Co., and Laffin and Rand Powder Co. Under Shaner’s guidance, trapshooting rules were revised in 1902. Some of the more interesting ones deserve mentioning.

  • Rule 6, Section 5: A contestant must be at the firing point within three minutes after being duly notified. Unless he can show just cause for the delay, he may be fined $1 by the referee, or he may be disqualified or both.

  • Rule 7: Challenge—A contestant may challenge the load of another contestant on receipt of a written challenge and $5. If the contestant is wholly innocent, (after examinations of other cartridges) the innocent party shall be given the $5 put up by the challenger. If guilty, the $5 is returned to the challenger.

During 100-target events, shooters shot 20 targets over five fields (25-bird events became popular in the early 1920s). The term "inning" denoted a contestant’s time on the firing line, commencing with his first call of "pull" and ending when he had completed his last shot. Thus, what we now call a round of 25 was an "inning" to our forefathers.

Two shooters in conversation some 90 years ago could have sounded something like this: "I say, old man, how did you handle the elusive clays today?" "A pity it was," came the reply, "I gave up two early in the fourth inning."

There were no formal plans for traphouse construction. Traps could either be set on level ground or below ground and hidden by whatever means club management decided. The formal rule didn’t do much to protect the poor trapper. It said, "Pitts and screens shall be used to properly protect the trapper. The screens shall not be higher than necessary.

Generally, three traps were in each house set four feet apart. The far left trap threw a left angle, the center trap a straightaway, and the right trap a right angle. A rope was attached to the release of each trap.

At the call of "pull" the puller pulled one of three ropes. It was his option as to which one to pull. This three-trap setup was known as the Sergeant System.

Some of the old-timers told horror stories about a few questionably honest pullers. If they were "entertained" the night before with a sip of the grape and/or a few bucks, it seemed the donor often drew a high percentage of straight-aways during the next day’s contest. During the early years, the shooter was at the mercy of the puller. He still is, but for a different reason.

As the Grand American gained popularity and moved from city to city each year, Shaner and the Interstate Association made changes and additions. Grand entries had to be made two weeks in advance of the tournament, making the work of the handicap committee considerably easier. The Doubles Target Championship was established in 1911. Three years later, the state champions were brought together to compete against each other for the National Amateur Championship. We now call it the Champion of Champions. The same year, a former Winchester representative from Pittsburgh named Jimmy Lewis came up with a new and fairer money distribution system. We know it today as the Lewis class.

The close of the target year in 1918 marked the passing of the name Interstate Trapshooting Association and the birth of a new name, the American Trapshooting Association. The continued development of new gun clubs in Canada made the name American more logical and significant. Headquarters were moved from Pittsburgh to New York City. Elmer Shaner, the man mainly responsible for trapshooting’s successful gains and increased popularity, resigned, as he did not wish to move from his lifetime Pittsburgh home.

The American Trapshooting Association was still under the thumb of the manufacturers, even though amateur shooters were named figurehead presidents. By the early I 920s, there were many who thought the association should be run solely by amateurs. The end for manufacturers rule came in 1923 when the Amateur Trapshooting Association, as we know it today, came into existence and permanent homegrounds were established in Vandalia, Ohio.

I have wondered many times where our game would be today if the manufacturers hadn’t passed the sword on to amateur rule in 1923. Was it a mistake? Could not the corporate brains of executives responsible for the bottom line at companies like DuPont, Winchester, Federal, Remington, Beretta, Perazzi, Krieghoff and others, done a better job? That’s a question that will never be answered. But there are those with pretty strong opinions.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 14:21