Shooting the Breeze

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The tickets for this weekend’s shoot have arrived.

Shooting events have been in the Olympic programme since the first games of the modern era in Athens in 1896. Since then (when there were three shooting events for rifles and pistols), the number of shooting events has varied from 21 in 1920, to none at all in 1928. There are now 17 events in all – ten for men and seven for women.

The targets for the shotgun events have not always been made of clay. Traditionally, real pigeons were covered by the shooters’ hats before being released. In the Paris games of 1900, real birds were used. Shooters were eliminated if they missed twice. The winner killed 21 pigeons in a contest that claimed the life of more than three hundred in total. When using live targets was made illegal, glass balls (which were often filled with feathers) were used instead, until someone came up with the bright idea of using clay.

I remember finding one in a field once when I was a child; I didn’t know what it was. It was black and roughly glazed on one side, but it felt pretty solid, like bakelite rather than clay. To me, it looked like a particularly useless piece of kitchenware. It was too shallow and small to make a decent bowl, but too deep to be a side plate. I finally worked out what it was (with a little help), but even once I knew, I was mildly surprised (and very disappointed) when I dropped it and it smashed into a thousand pieces at my feet.

Of the ten men’s shooting events in the current Olympic programme, three involve using a shotgun to shoot at clay targets:

Trap - Three traps set at different angles and stationed at different heights are used. At the shooter’s command, a clay target is fired from one of the traps (the shooter doesn’t know which one until the clay is airborne) and he has two shots with which to try and hit it before it lands.

Double Trap - Same set-up as above, except two targets are released at the same time and the shooter only has one shot at each.

Skeet - Two take-off points are set up at different heights and at opposite sides of the range. The shooter moves between several shooting stations, which are arranged in a semi circle between the traps. The traps fire single or double targets – the single target can come from either trap, and the double target consists of one clay from each trap - the shooter is allowed just one shot at each target.

To sum up – you shout, “pull” and then shoot the next moving thing that crosses your field of vision. I’ve only tried this once, quite a long time ago, but it was fun then and I expect it will be again.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t imagine that Saturday’s excursion will afford an opportunity to complete an Olympic event (both the trap and skeet events consist of 125 targets being thrown, while 150 are released in the double trap event) but hopefully I will be able to befriend some kind soul who will be willing to donate that much time, effort and equipment to the cause at some point in the future - I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that 400 clays and 400 cartridges (not to mention the use of a gun and facilities for as much time as it would take to get the job done) won’t come cheap.

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Completely unrelated to shooting, but an excellent piece of Olympic trivia I spotted this week, courtesy of Simon Barnes and The Times – if Michael Phelps were a country, he would have finished 16th in the medal table in Athens.


Poll Star said...

I love Simon Barnes. He knows the value of sport.

Anonymous said...

hm. He is a big fan of horseriding though.

And he has a ponytail.

Hmmm. are those two facts linked?


(enjoy the shoot)

SwissToni said...


I must not post anonymously by mistake.
I must not post anonymously by mistake.
I must not post anonymously by mistake.
I must not post anonymously by mistake.
I must not post anonymously by mistake.
I must not post anonymously by mistake.
I must not post anonymously by mistake.