Trap Shooting Safety Tips

Trap Shooting Safety Tips

Trap shooting is one of the fastest-growing shooting sports, and it’s a great way to spend time outdoors and hone your shotgunning skills in a friendly environment. Since the sport’s physical movement requirements are relatively limited, trap is very popular with older shooters, younger shooters, and even wheelchair users. In a previous article we’ve gone over the basics of trap shooting and how to get started. In this article we’re going to focus specifically on tips and procedures to keep you (and everyone else) as safe as possible on the trap field.

Please note: Different trap ranges, clubs, and organizations may have varying rules and procedures. It is your responsibility to learn and follow all relevant safety and specific procedural rules for whatever trap-shooting discipline you’re engaged in. However, the tips and advice below will be generally applicable and should keep you out of trouble.

Know and follow the four basic rules of firearm safety

Whenever you’re around firearms, whether for hunting, target shooting, recreation, or defense, it’s important to adhere to the four rules of gun safety. There are several ways that instructors and firearms safety experts have elaborated these rules over the decades, but the main principles are:

  1. Treat all guns as if they’re loaded unless you personally, immediately, and visually verify otherwise. Another way to put this is all guns are always loaded.
  2. Never allow the muzzle/barrel of any gun to point at anything you are not willing to shoot and destroy. This includes the shooter’s legs, feet, hands, other people, etc. (See more on this, specifically regarding trap shooting, below).
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

Trap shooters can sometimes get complacent regarding muzzle discipline (again, see additional discussion below) or keeping their finger off the trigger when loading/unloading or preparing to shoot. Remember to keep your finger out of the trigger guard and off the trigger until your muzzle is pointed downrange and you are calling for the bird.

Learn and follow the range’s rules about transporting firearms into and out of the facility

Different trap clubs and ranges often have different rules about how they prefer that you bring your shotgun into the facility, so call or check their posted rules on their website before you go. Some may require all guns to be cased when brought into the facility. Most we’ve found prefer you walk in with an uncased shotgun. However, in every situation, the shotgun should be completely empty/unloaded and the action should be open. In the case of break-action shotguns (like common single-barrel or over-under double-barreled trap shotguns), the action should be broken open so everyone can verify the barrels are empty. In the case of pump or semi-automatic shotguns, the action should be open fully and the bolt locked to the rear (for semi-autos). A chamber flag for semis or pumps may or may not be required, but generally, an open, empty shotgun is acceptable.

Familiarize yourself with the rules of trap shooting

Unfamiliar places and experiences can cause nervousness or anxiety for many people, which can create potentially unsafe circumstances. If you’ve never shot trap before, go with an experienced mentor/buddy or read up on the proper procedures before you go. This will help you be able to focus more on safety rather than being rattled or confused by the game or rules.

Keep your shotgun’s muzzle pointed either down or straight up when moving onto the trap field

Your range or club may have preferences here as well, but generally range safety officers prefer that your shotgun be carried with the muzzle/s pointed down toward the ground, or straight up in the air, when moving to and from the trap field and between the 5 positions (called posts). Be aware of your muzzle and never allow it to point at other shooters, whether the action is open or not.

This video demonstrates how to be safe while trap shooting.

Wear quality ear and eye protection at all times

Some ranges may not specifically require eye protection on the trap range, though most do, and all reputable ranges require hearing protection. It’s not just a good idea for your own protection and for liability’s sake, but it can be a safety issue. Shooters who forgot to wear earplugs might unintentionally jerk the trigger or move their muzzle in an unintended direction when an unexpectedly loud shot startles them. Shooters without eye protection might get a ricocheting pellet, grain of powder, or piece of metal in their eye which might make them drop their gun.

Note that the International Trap rulebook specifically requires both competitors and spectators to wear eye protection at all times:

  • Safety glasses are compulsory, without any exceptions, for all shooters, referees, staff and anyone else in the immediate vicinity of a stand. Any shooter on a stand not wearing safety glasses is considered absent.

You only get one set of eyes and ears. Take care of them, and wear appropriate protective gear.

Keep your shotgun’s action open at all times unless shooting

There’s a reason most trap shooters (and clubs) prefer a break-action shotgun. It’s easy to see that the gun is completely empty and safe with the action hinged open. If you’re moving around the facility with your shotgun, even if you’re done shooting for the day, keep your action unlocked and open for everyone else’s safety and peace of mind, even though you’ve confirmed it’s unloaded. If you shoot a pump-action or semi-automatic, the action should be unlocked and the bolt retracted fully to the rear.

Don’t load until you’re at a designated firing point, right before your turn to shoot

On any shooting range, you should never load your firearm until directed to do so by the range safety officer (if present). In the case of trap shooting, you should only load your shotgun immediately before your turn to shoot. This means your shotgun is empty and the action is open until the squad member immediately before you has taken his/her shot/s. At this point, you can point the muzzle downrange, load, mount the gun to your shoulder, and call for your bird.

Use the proper ammo

Many ranges specify a maximum shot pellet size of 7.5, and may even specify a maximum load (such as 1 1/8 ounce, 3 dram equivalent). This is to prevent projectiles from traveling farther than is safe. (The larger the pellet, generally the farther it remains potentially harmful to objects downrange.) No buckshot, slugs, or steel shot (unless specifically permitted at your range) should be used. High brass or magnum loads may also be prohibited by your club or range. Be sure of your ammunition and don’t even bring prohibited ammunition to the range. If you can’t find any specific prohibitions in the rules at your local range, stick with lead shot, low-brass, 2 ¾” loads with pellets no larger than 7.

It’s also a well-known fact that a 20-gauge shell will drop into a 12-gauge chamber far enough for a 12-gauge shell to be chambered behind it. This is very dangerous. Be sure to use only the proper cartridges for your gun, and don’t bring any others to avoid mixing things up.

Only load one shell at a time unless shooting doubles

This rule may vary depending on your range, but generally, the one-in-the-gun rule is enforced for trap shooters. In most American trap games, you are only permitted to take one shot at each bird, and so should only load one cartridge into the gun for each clay target. If you are shooting trap doubles (where two clay birds are launched at each pull call, you may load two cartridges, but no more than that. (Note: International Trap allows a follow-up shot to be taken on singles in case your first shot misses, so obviously you may load two if you’re shooting an International Trap competition.)

Pay attention, and be ready when it’s your turn to shoot

You might find yourself daydreaming, thinking about the game, or paying attention to another shooter’s score. You might be worried about your job or your children. Leave these thoughts behind at the firing line. Be present, and discipline your mind to be alert and ready when it’s your turn to shoot. You shouldn’t be checking your texts or digging for your shells when it’s your turn to call for the target. The extra pressure to hurry up might get you rattled enough to make a potentially dangerous mistake. Pay attention, be efficient, and things will be a lot more pleasant for your squad members… and for you.

Position your feet so you can safely swing the shotgun

We go into more detail on this topic in our article on getting started in trap shooting, but improper foot placement can actually become a safety issue in some situations. ATA rules require that you have at least one foot on the front/back center line of the station (the concrete pad just behind the post). It’s technically against the rules to stand with both feet on one half or the other of the concrete pad. It’s unlikely in a non-competition setting that anyone will be specifically watching where you place your feet. Still, for safety and stability’s sake, you usually want your non-dominant-side foot (your left foot if you shoot right-handed) to be in the center-forward position of the concrete pad. Your other foot is comfortably positioned next to it in a stable, athletic position that allows you to comfortably swing your gun across the entire potential area where the clay target may be presented.

This is the key point here. Make sure your feet are positioned where you don’t have to twist yourself off balance to swing your shotgun anywhere within the designated/legal shooting area. If you trip yourself up with a loaded gun in your hand, bad things can happen.

Don’t follow through too far

Follow-through is the practice of continuing the swing of the shotgun until after you’ve broken the shot. This is a valid practice, but make sure when you’re swinging through after your shot that you stop that swing well before your muzzle gets close to any other people.

When moving positions, turn your shotgun away from other shooters, and walk behind them

When you are changing positions from post 5 (the far right) to post 1 (the far left), always turn your body (and your shotgun muzzle) away from other shooters, and walk behind the other shooters at their posts. Your club may specify whether your muzzle should be pointed down at the ground or straight up while moving between stations. Follow those rules.

Don’t share guns or pass them around on the firing line

Swapping or sharing guns during a round should never be done. You may be shooting with friends and they may even offer to let you try a couple shots with their gun. This might be fine in a backyard pasture clays situation, but on a real trap range, don’t do it. The risk of dropping a gun is higher, and having to manage the gun being swapped in a safe manner can be difficult. When your squad is at the posts and you are shooting your round, you should all be focusing on safely and efficiently shooting your 25 shots each, not messing around with trying each other’s guns. The range rules may or may not specifically prohibit this. It might be generally understood that you shouldn’t do it. Regardless, don’t do it.

Don’t chat with, taunt, or distract other shooters

Maybe your shooting buddies like to playfully taunt or talk smack to each other when on the range. However, this is not the time nor the place. Feel free to bust each other’s chops afterward in the clubhouse or on the way home, but when you’re on the trap field, keep conversations to a minimum, focus on safety, and don’t goof around. It’s impolite at best and can be a distracting safety issue at worst.

Never shoot under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Firearms and alcohol don’t mix. Never use drugs or alcohol, including prescription medications that may alter your perceptions or behaviors, when on the range.

Don’t track another shooter’s birds, particularly from behind

You might be tempted to get a little practice by mounting your shotgun to your shoulder and taking some practice swings at another shooter’s target. Don’t do it. It’s a huge distraction and other shooters may assume you don’t know what you’re doing and are trying to take a shot out of turn. As noted above, keep focused on the game, with your shotgun action open and in a resting position, until the shooter before you has taken his/her shot and it’s your turn to shoot. Then you can load, take your shooting stance, and call for your clay.

Pick up your hulls or place them in a pouch/bin

When your squad is done shooting (not during a round), be sure to pick up all your empty shells. This may seem more like an issue of common courtesy rather than a safety issue. However, most trap fields have concrete pads, and round/cylindrical objects (like spent shotgun cartridge hulls) can be very dangerous if someone steps on them and loses their footing, especially with a loaded shotgun in their hands. This is another reason that a break-action shotgun is generally preferred over pumps and semi-autos, which can launch empty hulls toward other shooters.

If you shoot a semi-auto, fit a shell catcher

A semi-auto used for trap may be fitted with a shell catcher that partially obstructs the ejection port and prevents the shell from being launched out of the gun and possibly hitting or distracting other shooters. After each shot, the shell is caught near the ejection port and it can be manually removed by the shooter and placed in a bag or bin. A simple rubber band around the receiver can often accomplish the same thing. Pump shooters can prevent launching empties all over the place by opening the action slowly after each shot, and manually removing the hull from the ejection port.

Purchase or borrow a shooting vest, satchel, or belt pouch to hold your ammunition

Don’t place your box of shells on the ground and bend over to fish out a cartridge 25 times during a round of trap. It’s annoying, distracting, and possibly unsafe, if you’re not super careful about maintaining your shotgun’s muzzle in a safe direction while bending over. Don’t do it. A shooting vest or belt pouch is inexpensive and much more convenient. Even a cheap fabric or leather satchel/purse/handbag will work (and you might get some style points). The better shooting bags, vests, and pouches will have a divider in the main pocket to keep your loaded ammo separate from your empty hulls.

In case of a malfunction, follow the instructions of the range safety officer

Though fairly rare, malfunctions, misfires, and squib loads do occasionally happen on the trap field, particularly if your ammunition is old or has been stored improperly. Your club may specify exact procedures when a misfire or blooper happens. If there is a safety officer present and you experience a malfunction, misfire, or squib, call a cease fire and ask for help. Keep the shotgun pointed downrange and don’t open the action until instructed to do so. If there’s no safety officer present, inform your squad what’s going on, keep the shotgun pointed downrange and wait at least 15 seconds in the case of a misfire before opening the action. Most ranges will have a squib rod accessible. NEVER look down the muzzle to see if there’s an obstruction. That’s what the squib rod is for. (Also, a break-action shotgun’s barrels are easily examined from the rear when the action is open.)

Retain misfired shells (duds) and give them to the RSO

In the case you have a misfire or dud cartridge, don’t throw it in the trash barrel. Retain it in your pocket and give it to the range safety officer or range manager for disposal after you are done shooting for the day.

Keep your cool

It’s rare, but you might find you are squadded with a shooter who is rude, obnoxious, annoying, loud, or doing things you consider unsafe. Tempers can run high. If you find yourself in this situation, simply ensure your gun is safe and empty, leave the area and find a range safety officer or manager and explain what’s going on.

Never touch or handle another shooter’s gun without permission

This should go without saying, but some adults still find it difficult to keep their hands to themselves. Don’t ever touch or pick up another person’s shotgun off the gun rack without asking permission. This is not only common courtesy, but it can be a safety issue in the case of unfamiliar or unconventional actions and safety mechanisms. Additionally, the International Trap rulebook specifically prohibits touching another shooter’s firearm without permission:

  • When the shooter is not using his gun it must be placed vertically in a gun rack or in a similar place. It is forbidden to touch the gun of another shooter without permission.

Shotgun barrel rests / toe pads or not? Are they safe?

Ah, finally we arrive at one of the most hotly debated issues in trap shooting. Should you use a barrel rest/toe pad on your shoe? Is it perfectly safe? Or is this a crazy-dangerous practice? The fact is that resting the muzzle of an open, empty, break-action shotgun on the toe portion of your shoe is a fairly common practice in the trap-shooting world, even among world-class competitors. It is also true that technically this violates one of the four (and some would argue, the most important) basic rules of firearm safety: Never allow the muzzle of your firearm to point at anything you are not willing to destroy. (Also, treat all firearms as if they are loaded.)

Many ranges include a rubber muzzle pad on the ground at each shooting station where shooters may rest their muzzles. However, resting the muzzle on a toe pad or simply on the top of a shoe is reasonably common, particularly in local, non-competitive environments.

If your primary exposure to firearms and shooting is via trap shooting, resting your barrel/s on your toe may seem normal to you and you might not think twice about doing it. However, if you have entered trap shooting after being experienced in other shooting disciplines and competition, you may find it absolutely insane to rest the muzzle of your shotgun on your foot, and it can be very distracting to watch other shooters do it.

It can be argued (and is the stated position of people who use these devices) that an open, empty, break-action shotgun is simply an inert metal tube that poses no threat to anyone, and this is objectively the case. However it’s also true that more than a few trap shooters have lost toes or feet to stupidity and carelessness on the trap range. You will likely not convince anyone to change their opinion on whether this practice should be allowed or not.

So is it legal? The Scholastic Clay Target Program (which regulates many high-school and college-level clay target organizations) specifically prohibits the use of toe pads or muzzle rests on your shoes:

Special SCTP Safety Rules for All Disciplines

  • Toe Pads: The use of toe pads is forbidden. It is a violation to rest the muzzle on the foot. Violation of this rule may be grounds for disqualification.
  • Foot Wear: Shooting in flip-flops or opened-toed/heeled shoes/sandals is prohibited. Violation of this rule may be grounds for disqualification.
  • Muzzle Control: While on a shooting post or station, the muzzle must never cross any part of the shooter’s anatomy or any other person’s anatomy. Violation of this rule may be grounds for disqualification.

The International Trap rulebook makes no mention of toe rests or pads, though several North American trap organizations that participate in International Trap have published rules stating that toe rests are prohibited. However, while the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA) rulebook discourages resting the muzzle of your shotgun on your toe/shoe, it doesn’t specifically forbid it:

  • While not prohibited, the practice of resting the muzzle of a shotgun on a shooter’s toe is ill-advised and is discouraged.

If the safety rules regarding loading the chamber only when the gun is pointed downrange are strictly adhered to, we can see little real danger from people using toe rests with open, empty, break-action shotguns. However, we wouldn’t use a toe rest with a semi-automatic or pump shotgun. It freaks us out, and it may bother other competitors also, since they can’t really ensure the chamber is completely empty with these shotgun designs. So overall, we’d recommend you use the rubber ground pad provided by the range, or perhaps one of the magnetic muzzle pads that can easily be moved from stand to stand with the muzzle, and removed by standing on the protruding portion of the pad with your foot (obviously without pointing your muzzle at your foot in the process).

Store your trap shotguns in a USA-made safe from Liberty

We hope you have a great, safe day at the trap range! When you’re done, be sure to clean and lubricate your shotgun properly, and store it (and all your other guns and valuables) in a quality gun safe from Liberty. Check out our interactive online catalog, or stop by a Liberty Safe showroom near you.


*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


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