SPORTING CLAYS - The True History of the Game

Discussion in 'History Buffs' started by HistoryBuff, Feb 28, 2016.

  1. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff State HOF Official Historian Forum Leader Founding Member Member State Hall of Fame

    “Sporting Clays” – The Not So New Game of 1980

    The history of our shooting sports is absolutely amazing and we should all pay closer attention to what was written in the old days if we really want to learn the truth about any topic.

    For some years now, I’ve been compiling the history of the new game dubbed “sporting clays” when it was supposedly introduced in 1980.

    Do a quick Google search of the “history of Sporting Clays” and see what you come up with. Every link you are directed to will explain that the sport was created in England, and that it was first shot in the United States in 1980. Every shooter enjoying this sport today believes these reports to be factual. But is it really true?

    Some of my close friends can attest that a few years ago, I shared with them, a two-part article about the history of the game. Here’s what I said in my opening paragraph:

    “Many writers note the sport was introduced to American shooters in an article about that appeared in the July 1980 issue of Field and Stream magazine. Others state that the first sporting clays shoot was held at the old Remington Gun Club, at Lordship, Connecticut, for the purpose of introducing the sport to writers for outdoor sports. Well, I’m sorry, but in my view; those writers just did not take the time to do a little research of our scattergun history.”

    My writing offered a slow-walk back in time, a descent from 1980 to 1913 describing different shooting courses across the country where every conceivable target presentation in sporting clays were challenging shots for shooters long before the so-called introduction of “Sporting.”

    Yes, there were “quail walks,” tower shots, incomers, outgoers and crossing targets. About the only target angle I haven’t come across yet was the rising teal, but I would not be surprised to find an old article on it in the future.

    To support my claims I’ll post a few reports, diagrams and pictures. I hope you find them interesting and welcome the true history of Sporting Clays, Duck Skeet, Single- Trap Gun Games, Multiple-Trap Gun Games, Skee, Scrap, Traphunting, Claybird Golf, Joker Trap, etc.

    Let’s start with the 1970’s and ‘60’s when the Campfire of America organization, in Chappaqua, New York already had a sporting clays course on their grounds that featured tower shooting as well as upland game shooting. The fellow who told me about it said they played recordings of ducks just before a target appeared out of the tower and a quail recording just as a target appeared from the brush. This club has been in operation for over 100 years and in 1911 staged a “quail walk” event that was won by Eugene DuPont, one of the shooting brothers of the DuPont Powder Co.

    Duck Skeet became a somewhat popular game in 1950. Here’s a diagram from a flyer I have in my library. I found articles showing this game was actually being shot in Indiana in 1940.

    DUCK SKEET - 1950.jpg

    The "Bob White Walk-Up" was introduced in an article in the Shooter's Bible No. 41 in 1950.

    1950, Bobwhite Walkup Article, Shooters Bible No.41p.81 .jpg

    The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturing Institute (SAAMI) annually put out a booklet entitled, “Handbook on Shotgun Shooting.” I have several editions, the earliest year, 1939. Here’s how they constructed shooting stations back then.

    1939 WALK-UP, SAAMIp.87.jpg

    1939 QUAIL SHOOT, SAAMIp.86.jpg

    1939 COVEY RISE, SAAMIp.85.jpg

    During the entire 1930 Grand American handicap at the ATA’s Valdalia, Ohio homegrounds, Russell W. Elliott set up a sporting clays course directly across the street. Great shooters and Hall of Famer’s such as Joe Heistand, Ted Renfro, Frank Troeh, E. F. Woodward and R. A. King and his son Rufus who won the Grand American Handicap that year at age 14, participated. The shooting game he created, he called “Traphunting.”

    1930 TRAPHUNTING with R. W. Elliott, S.R., 06SEP1930p.278.jpg

    In 1922, Russ Elliott patented his Artificial Quail Trap with Chamberlin Cartridge and Target Co. and that same year George S. McCarty (2nd ATA President) made a serious attempt to introduce a “grouse shoot” event into the Grand American Handicap program.

    1922, Artificial Quail Trap, S.R., 30DECp.727 .jpg

    And shooters began favoring a change in shooting conditions.

    1922, MORE DEMANDING TEST OF SKILL, S.R., 30DECp.728.jpg

    Du Pont’s Trapshooting Club Handbook published in 1914 offered novel events designed to be more challenging as well as interesting.

    More To Follow
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
  2. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff State HOF Official Historian Forum Leader Founding Member Member State Hall of Fame

    Edward Cave designed a shooting course in 1913, calling it “Clay Bird Golf.” Shortly thereafter he utilized hand traps calling his new game “Modified Clay Bird Golf.” Stories of both these shooting systems appeared in “Country Life” magazine in September & November 1913.

    As you will see, not only are there two towers but many shots are being made over water.


    CLAYBIRD GOLF.01.jpg
    CLAYBIRD GOLF.02.jpg
    CLAYBIRD GOLF.03.jpg

    The earliest Tower shooting event I have found happened in 1903. The Great Pinehurst Gun Club erected a tower and here's the report:

    Addition to Trap-Shooting Equipment Pleases Sportsmen
    C. A. Lockwood Wins Inauguration Event – T. Sterling Beckwith
    and A. E. Lard Take Sweepstakes

    The winter’s program of trap-shooting fixtures was brought to a formal end Thursday morning, with a special event, thirty targets thrown from the new tower. The event was one of the most unique and interesting of the season, plainly indicating that the addition of this feature to the trap-shooting equipment is to be a permanently popular one. The attendance was large and in the company assembled were many women.
    These towers are not uncommon in Europe, but it is believed that Pinehurst has the only one in the country. It has been built at the suggestion of Mr. Lard, who has found tower shooting decidedly popular across the water. The idea is to produce conditions like those the sportsman finds in duck and similar shooting.
    C. A. Lockwood, of Brooklyn, N. Y., won the event, with a score of sixteen. A. E. Lard, of St. Joseph, Mo, and I. C. Bates Dana, of New York city, tied for second place, with thirteen and M. H. Wilson, of Cleveland, O., and Herbert L. Jillson, of Worcester, Mass., were tied at twelve. T. Sterling Beckwith, of Cleveland, O., was fourth with eleven, and Col. P. H. Mayo, of Richmond, Va., fifth with nine.
    There were five events, five birds to the left, right, overhead, and unknown angles, and five pairs of doubles, in the order named.

    Believe it or not, a “walk up” event was on the program for the 1884 Clay Pigeon Tournament” at Chicago, Illinois, sponsored by Ligowsky Clay Pigeon Company.


    At the great clay pigeon tournament in Chicago next May, match No. 6 for the Ligowsky sweepstakes, entrance $5, double birds, fourth notch, is to be shot under the following novel conditions: Five traps screened to be placed at irregular points in front of the score, which must be placed 30 yards for farthest trap. The trap judge will prepare 13 strips of folded paper, containing each a number from 3 to 15 respectively, from which the shooter will draw one slip, which the judge will privately examine, and allow the puller only to see. The shooter is to walk in a general right line, from the score toward the traps, upon receiving the reply ‘yes’ from the puller to his query “are you ready?” When the shooter is underway the number of steps indicated on the drawn slip, the puller will pull any two traps, one after the other.”
    SPORTING LIFE, December 5, 1883, page 7

    So, the next time someone tells you that new game called Sporting Clays was introduced in the United States in 1980 . . . kindly explain to them that we've been shooting this sport for over 125 years.

    Enjoy Our Sport !
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
    Roger Coveleskie and Don Cogan like this.
  3. History Seeker

    History Seeker A NoBody Official Historian Founding Member

    Great and informative article HB !

    Thanks, and I plan on sending this to many of my Sporting Clays friends.

  4. wpt

    wpt Forum Leader Forum Leader Founding Member

    WOW, the man is amazing .... WPT ... (YAC) ...
  5. Rosey

    Rosey Mega Poster Founding Member

    Great info Ken. Very interesting.
  6. Don Cogan

    Don Cogan Past OSTA President Past OSTA President Founding Member

    What a great post and fun to read. Thanks HB. I agree with WPT that you are amazing!
  7. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff State HOF Official Historian Forum Leader Founding Member Member State Hall of Fame

    Let's all offer our thanks to those who did it and those who recorded it.

    I'm only a messenger who likes to compile and present a few reports which will allow folks to look at subjects from another angle.

    I feel I'm being given far too much credit. I don't feel "amazing," but I do feel honored each time somebody says how much they enjoyed reading what I wrote.

    Thanks everyone.

    BRAD DYSINGER The Philosophist Member Trapshooting Hall of Fame Founding Member Member State Hall of Fame

  9. jlmccuan

    jlmccuan Member

    Chuck Dryke, father of olympic skeet shooter Matt Dryke, held the American Shotgunning Championships at Sunnydale shooting grounds for many years prior to 1980 with 180 ft tower shots, stations on top of the skeet high house, crazy 50 yard crossing true pairs and a wide variety of other fast, long and difficult shots. Approximately 125 targets each day over three days. Money was paid to the high guns on each station rather than overall score, although there was a Calcutta for high overall. This was followed by a day of flyers both as 25 traditional box birds from low gun (international skeet rules) and triple rise team events and ending with several 5 bird races.
    History Seeker and wpt like this.
  10. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff State HOF Official Historian Forum Leader Founding Member Member State Hall of Fame

    Thank you jlmccuan,

    I appreciate learning of more novelty shooting events held prior to 1980. From early on trap shooting was found to be monotonous, especially when it went from tournaments of several 5,10, 15, 20 and 25 target events to 100 and 200 target events. Shooters wanted tougher shots and a better way to practice for hunting season. So, they devised games and ways to have more competitive target presentations.

    I have one story on file of shooters standing on the roof of the clubhouse shooting at targets from the trap field.

    Truly appreciate your post.

    wpt likes this.
  11. Rob Greenside

    Rob Greenside Mega Poster

    Fantastic article on "clay bird golf." Who would have guessed there were shooting games designed such as this as far back as your history lesson indicates.
    Great work History Buff !!!!!!!
  12. Drew Hause

    Drew Hause Active Member

    Sporting Life, December 5, 1883 “A Walking Shooting Match”
    At the great clay pigeon tournament in Chicago next May, match No. 6 for the Ligowsky sweepstakes, entrance $5, double birds, fourth notch, is to be shot under the following novel conditions: Five traps screened to be placed at irregular points in front of the score, which must be placed 30 yards for farthest trap. The trap judge will prepare 13 strips of folded paper, containing each a number from 3 to 15 respectively, from which the shooter will draw one slip, which the judge will privately examine, and allow the puller only to see. The shooter is to walk in a general right line, from the score toward the traps, upon receiving the reply “yes” from the puller to his query “are you ready?” When the shooter is underway the number of steps indicated on the drawn slip, the puller will pull any two traps, one after the other.

    The New York Times, August 17, 1884
    “Close of the Clay Pigeon Tournament at Metropolitan Park”
    The most important event at the clay pigeon tournament in Metropolitan Park yesterday was the Ligowsky clay pigeon field contest, or walking match, as it is familiarly called. This match is shot from 10 traps, which are placed at various angles, four and five yards from each other. Five traps constitute the first and five the second field. Two single birds are sprung from the first field and one single and one double from the second. By a system of drawing lots the number of steps each competitor shall walk, and also the order in which the traps will be sprung, is determined. These, however, are for the puller, as the shooter does not see them until he has scored. When ready, the competitor starts 12 or 14 yards from the traps, and walks toward them. According to the distances drawn the puller springs the traps and the marksmen must fire.
    There were 17 entries for yesterday’s match, in which five traps were sprung for each man. Dr. Gerrish and C.M. Stark, of Exeter, N.H., G.T. Tidsbury, of the Massachusetts Rifle Team and Mr. Luther, of Worcester, tied at first, each killing 5 out of 5. On shooting off the tie Dr. Gerrish won by making the same score. Prize, $13.55. W. Zeigler, of the Jersey City Heights team, took second prize by breaking 4 out of 5 pigeons, and C. Wilbur, of the Massachusetts Rifle Team, won the third place with 3 out of 5 birds.
    There were several sweepstakes and individual matches during the afternoon. A very pretty one was between G.H. Wurm, Gerrish, Dickey, Jenkins, Stark, Luther and Wilbur. Sweepstakes $2, entrance fees all to go to winner. Wurm started off with a straight 7 killed. Stark, however, tied him, while the others made one or two misses and fell out. In shooting off the tie Wurm missed 4 birds and Stark won easily with only 2 misses. Another sweepstakes match at 18 yards resulted in Messrs. Wurm, J. Von Lengerke, and Remington making 7 birds out of a possible 7. They did not shoot off the tie, however, but divided the money. In another match Holden, of Worcester, killed 7 out of a possible 7.
    The tournament closed yesterday, and in point of shooting was a success. There was not much public interest taken in it, however, and the gunmen did not have very large appreciative crowds to witness their performances. As many of the sportsmen were compelled to go home, a proposed dinner at Coney Island today was given up.

    New York Times, Sept. 1, 1892 “A New Feature Introduced at the Keystone Tournament”
    New London, Conn., Aug. 31, 1892. – The tournament of the Standard Keystone Target Company was continued today, with an attendance far beyond expectations. In some of the events the entries ran over forty. Shooters were present from all sections of Connecticut, and a very large contingent from New Jersey and New York is on hand.
    There is one new feature connected with this shoot that has not been seen at any previous one. One half of the events are shot under what is known as the novelty rule. Here the targets are thrown from eight traps, expert rules, and from some of the traps targets are thrown as incomers. Heretofore all targets have been thrown away from the shooter. Under the new rule there is considerable amusement and but few straight scores are made.

    Edward Grossman, “Field Work at Clay Birds” Outing, Sept. 1912
    How to Give the Trapshooting Game a New Flavor of Variety and Excitement

    Arms and the Man, November 6, 1913
    “The Shotgun As A Means Of Sport - Clay Bird Golf”
    Mr. Edward Cave, writing in Country Life in America for September, presented what he called “Clay Bird Golf.” He described it as a fascinating new outdoor game which combines the best elements of golf and of shooting. He indicated a way to lay out the course and presented a system of scoring and rules for the game.
    Our interest in this subject is such that we shall have more to say about it later on. It may be observed now, the essential principle of it is that one goes from place to place with a companion and fires either at singles or doubles thrown from concealed traps at unexpected moments and with a variety of angles and lines of flight, including overhead birds.
    This plan appeals to us very strongly. We know a great many men who have shot for a season at the traps and do so no more. These are for the greater part men of the cities. When asked their reasons they say: “I need exercise, and I really cannot afford to spend money for trap shooting when to get my exercise I have joined a country club where I may play golf or tennis.” There are many such cases.
    The cost of a clay bird golf course ought not to be greater than for a proper golf course. Each year, in this country at least, a larger number appreciate golf for its true worth. Men who scorned it for years, as a piffling pursuit, as a pastime of the senile, “the old man's game,” they said, upon trying it found that it is not only a game for the old man but for the young as well. They found that its chiefest merit is that it takes men into the open air and compels them to walk and swing their arms. That means exercise and exercise means more freely flowing blood and health and a greater capacity for work.
    We have long held the opinion that some modification of the trap shooting game, which would make it more of a sport, would ultimately be found. We believe the suggestion for “Clay Bird Golf” to be of great value. Not the least benefit to accrue, as every practical reader has already concluded, is that shooting under such conditions will help a man do better field shooting, and that is not always the case with straight work at the ordinary trap.
    Of course trap shooting should be continued with all the changes in its rules, which shall seem to those best advised the real improvements calculated to make it a more popular sport. It is a good game, worthy of all support. The more forms it has the better.
    We sincerely hope some of the shotgun enthusiasts will quickly take up and energetically carry out sensible plans for making shotgun shooting at artificial targets a better game. We are not too long on earth as it is, and a little real pleasure, such as one gets from a successful reaching for things with a shotgun, adds much to the zest, and likely, to the length of life.
  13. Drew Hause

    Drew Hause Active Member

    Sporting Life, January 2, 1904
    This Novel Manner Used at the Pinehurst Grounds.
    The equipment of the Pinehurst (N. C.) Gun Club embraces an interesting feature in the shape of a tower trap, says a correspondent of the New York Sun. Such traps are quite common in Europe, but practically unknown in this country.
    In the top of the tower are two target traps, one at the right and one at the left. The attendant is protected by a heavy plank partition, which also hides the traps from view. The traps are pulled from the rear, in the usual manner. Targets may be thrown in five ways: right, left, unknown, overhead and doubles. In all of these events, with the exception of the overhead targets, the shooter faces the tower at the usual distance. In the overhead shooting he stands back to the tower and directly underneath it.
    The sport furnished is novel as compared with the usual trap shooting. The idea is to produce conditions such as those the sportsman experiences in wild waterfowl, pigeon or other such shooting, or in shooting birds which fly from trees. Known angles to the right and left are not difficult, and many gunners have a knack for killing overhead birds, but unknown angles puzzle the experts, and doubles, two birds shooting off in opposite directions, and at the same time, call for a skill and quickness that few possess. But doubles are not impossible, and the shooting is wonderfully fascinating because of its difficulty.

    Pinehurst Programme 1904
    Pinehurst, N. C., Jan. 23. The Pinehurst Gun Club has arranged a series of trapshooting contests which began on Thursday and which will not be finished until April. The next contest will take place on Jan 28, when the conditions call for 100 targets, known traps and unknown angles. The remainder of the programme follows: Feb. 4. 30 singles, 10 doubles, Magautrap, handicap: Feb. 11, 50 singles, 15 doubles, expert traps, handicap; Feb. 18, 50 targets, 10 each thrown to the right, left, unknown, overhead and in doubles: Feb. 25, 100 singles, thrown from a Magautrap, handicap; March 3 30 singles, Magautrap, 30 singles, tower trap, handicap; March 17. 30 singles and 15 doubles. Magautrap, handicap; March 24, 15 doubles, Magautrap, 15 doubles, tower trap, handicap.
    On March 31 and April 1 and 2 the annual Pinehurst Gun Club championship contest will take place. The conditions arc: First, day, 100 singles. Magautrap; second day, 100 singles, expert traps: third day, 100 singles, thrown in five different ways; all scratch.

    Sporting Life, July 23, 1904
    Chicago, Ill., July 18.
    The Calumet Gun Club, of Pullman, held its animal basket picnic and merchandise shoot July 4. The tower shooting created a lot of interest and brought out many spectators to see this style of target shooting.

    Sporting Life, July 30, 1904
    North Platte, Neb., July 23.
    The Buffalo Bill Gun Club, at North Platte, Neb. is one of the best trap shooting organizations in the West, having splendidly equipped range on the ranch of Buffalo Bill, Hon. W. F. Cody, one mile east of this thriving Nebraska town.
    The club boasts the only permanent shooting tower in America, and the shooting over, or rather under, this was one of the features of the present tourney. The visitors rather bested by the home boys on the overhead work, as the latter had all
    the advantage of previous practice, and their system of doing their work is so original that practice is essential to success.
    The tower is seventy feet high, and the shooters stand at five stations on a straight line, fifteen feet from the base of the tower, back to traps, catching the targets as they go out overhead. This requires not only practice and knowledge of how to handle a gun, but some acrobatic capabilities, and affords much amusement to visitors.

    Sporting Life, Aug. 13, 1904
    Tower shooting, for some time an adjunct of English practice, seems to be gaining ground on this side, though no club in this vicinity has facilities for this unique practice at the present time. Two of the expert amateurs of this section have indulged in this sport for some time, their estates possessing the natural advantages of a cliff, which gives excellent chance to position traps for this style of shooting.

    Sporting Life Dec. 23, 1905
    “Tower Shooting Made a Great Hit With the Gunners”
    Columbus, O., Dec. 15. The expert shooters, Rolla Heikes, Dell Gross and John Taylor, were most welcome guests at the Columbus Gun Club traps Saturday afternoon. The afternoon was ideal and the new fad, tower shooting, was a great hit with all present. John Taylor, in his quiet way, led the trophy shoot, breaking 23 out of the first 25 and 25 straight out of his second 25, making 48 out of 50.
    Tower shooting has come to stay, and is a sport that all shooters enjoy.
  14. Drew Hause

    Drew Hause Active Member

    Joker Trap
    1914 GAH “The Little Joker” “A special trap with no restrictions as to angles, height, or distance for throwing targets gave contestants opportunities to try their skill between events.”


    “Joker Trap”

    Sporting Life July 1916 “Right This Way To The Joker Trap”, “Outlaw” Targets That Test Both the Shooter’s Skill and His Vocabulary to the Limit and Beyond

    “Fieldale Farm” - Marshall Field’s Gun Club, 1952

    “Two 40-ft. towers have been erected to sail out clay ducks for the hunter in a blind below. For the quail, pheasant and partridge hunter, the store has built a 1,000-ft. fairway lined with corn shocks and rail fences. As the hunter stalks along, an accompanying ‘triggerman’ follows him, releasing fast-flying clay birds that simulate the flights of the different game birds.”

    American Rifleman Sept. 1955 p. 10. William Gun Sight Co. “Practice Bird Field”



  15. Rob Greenside

    Rob Greenside Mega Poster

    Great history on the "Williams" family too. Had no idea the family was so into promoting the shooting sports to so many. I used to visit their store many years ago, when I lived nearby. They had everything under one roof.
  16. bobski

    bobski USN Retired Range Owner

    funny note i must post about the campfire club, ny.
    i wanted to visit them on one of my trips home years ago.
    they have a website, but never answer any inquiries.
    i wrote letters to the president requesting an invite. no answer.
    i called. no answers.
    so, i just drove up and entered the open gate, and went to the main desk to inquire. theentire entrance to the club has 10' security fences with barbed wire. seriously.
    the duty range officer was away and the president was elsewhere, so i asked about arranging an 1 day invite to the club members milling around the office.
    first words out of the members mouths were, youre trespassing and must leave. i explained the situation but it fell on deaf ears. my last words were..."ive been thrown out of better places than this!"
    so, regardless of the amount of history of the club holds, current membership is anything but stellar when it comes to promoting the sport and being friendly.
    maybe they should have invested in fixing broken gates that wouldnt close remotely.

    i ended up driving 10 minutes down the road to another trap range and had the time of my life with hundreds of shooters, who informed me that they all had their heads in the sand over at campfire club.
  17. History Seeker

    History Seeker A NoBody Official Historian Founding Member


    Sorry to hear your experience at the Campfire Club.

    In the early '70's I was a member, and although most members were of a very wealthy background, and I was just a youngster from modest means, yet I was welcomed with open arms.

    Most names elude me now, but one in particular always stood out. For one, I initially had no idea who he was, and two, he and his older friends treated me like a long lost child.

    His name was Earl Angstadt (President and Chairman of Abercrombie and Fitch). I spent most of my first 4 days with Earl as he took me all around meeting people and showing me the place.

    Each and every one of these members welcomed me as I arrived, and never asked my background.

    Sorry to hear that the Club has gone the way of the Elite who won't welcome a prospective member into their facility.

    Unfortunately, I have seen this snobbier than thou attitude also at some clubs.

    I attempted to reach out to the club officers a few years ago, and same as you, I received NO REPLY.

    I have not been back there in MANY years, and I guess nobody would know me any more anyway. Sounds like I would not be welcomed either.

    Glad you made friends with the other club down the road, and those guys would be my kind of people today.
  18. bobski

    bobski USN Retired Range Owner

    for the record....the friendly club is mount pleasant r&g club.
    truly a great bunch of guys. many there are members of campfire, and offered to escort me to a day of shooting. i cant wait to take them up on it...just to see the faces of those that turned me away.
    History Seeker likes this.
  19. Lots of great info !!!!
  20. eurojoe

    eurojoe Active Member

    Does anyone remember some kind of a shooting ground across the road from Road America? I think it was a group from Chicago Region SCCA. I discovered sportscar racing at RA in 1957, skeet shooting at Rockford Country Club in 1963, and soon started to pack my Model 12 along for the twice a year visit to RA.
    I never managed to secure an invite to the shooting ground, but there was a green and yellow sign on the highway.
  21. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff State HOF Official Historian Forum Leader Founding Member Member State Hall of Fame

    Can you give me a specific year you know the gun club was in operation? It might help to narrow searches.

    The closest club I found was the Rhine-Plymouth Field & Stream Conservation Club in the year 1968. I believe it was about 5 miles north of Plymouth which would be just south of RA.

    What was the location of the club you are trying to recall?

  22. eurojoe

    eurojoe Active Member

    Had to be early 60 's, across the highway from RA..... maybe 63 to 66, best as I can recall