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A Brief History of Shooting

A Brief History of Clay Shooting

Clay target shooting traces its ancestry and much of it's terminology to the practise of live pigeon shooting. In this, pigeons (mostly Blue-Rocks) were placed in box traps and shot on a field, which looked much like a modern trap layout.

Gambling was a feature of most live pigeon shoots and the activity acquired a not quite respectable reputation. Nevertheless, great skill was required to do well. Terms like 'Pull', 'Trap', and 'no bird' all stem from box-trap pigeon shooting.

Live pigeon shooting reached its zenith in the Victorian era and is still practised in some parts of the world (for example, Spain, Portugal, Texas, Mexico and Egypt). It was finally banned in Britain by the Captive Birds Act of 1921, although earlier Defence of the Realm legislation had prohibited the activity during World War I because of a fear of carrier pigeons being used by spies to send messages.

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As early as the 1860's glass balls began to be used as an alternative to live birds. They achieved considerable popularity and many shooting wagers involved glass ball targets with shots like Doc Carver and Capt. Adam Bogardus competing for large stakes. In about 1880 the 'terracotta pigeon' appeared (the invention is usually attributed to George Ligowsky) it was a better target than the glass ball but the first birds were literally made of clay and baked in ovens. They proved hard to break but fragile when transported.

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An improved clay 'the composition target' was introduced in the mid 1880s. These were made of limestone and pitch (although plaster of paris was also used in some targets) the composition birds proved a huge success. By the 1890s American shooters were using millions of targets a year (now the world total is an amazing 2 billion).

Trap shooting was the first of the competitive clay shooting disciplines to achieve a wide following.

The first national tournament took place in New Orleans in the USA in 1885. In England, where clay shooting had been introduced in 1883, the Inanimate Bird Shooting Association (the forerunner of the C.P.S.A.) held its first championship in 1893.

Trap shooting became an Olympic event in 1900. Meantime the new 'shooting schools' of famous English gun makers began to use clay targets to simulate the flight of live birds. This practise developed into what is known today as 'sporting clays' (although the first English Amateur Sporting
Championship was not held until 1925).

Skeet, the other popular form of clay shooting, also traces its origins to attempts to simulate game shooting. It was invented by three American bird hunters Charles Davies, his son Henry and friend William Foster during the First World War era. Originally they had a full circle and one trap and called it 'shooting round the clock'.

The idea was to mimic all the angles one might face in the field. Legend had it that the neighbours complained about the fall-out of shot. The circle was cut in half and another trap added. The
modern game was born. The name comes from a Norwegian word for shooting and was suggested by Gurtrude Hurlbutt, a Montana housewife, in a competition arranged by the National Sportsman magazine (to which William Foster was a contributor).

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