H&R Topper Trap No. SB1-30T 2.75-Inch 12 Gauge, $360
Of all the clay-shooting sports, the game of trap is perhaps the least understood. But the concept is simple. Target presentation is based on the taking of a bird as if it were flushed from the ground. The name trap was taken from the original mechanism, which was as simple as releasing a live bird from a box or trap placed on the ground. The practice of using live birds then gave way to tossing glass balls as targets. (We pity the persons who were charged with cleaning up the broken glass.) According to the Krause publication, the Gun Digest Book of Trap and Skeet Shooting by Christian and Sapp, the glass targets were replaced with clay "birds" some time in the 1880s. Today, the clay birds are thrown by machine. A voice-operated release system that responds to the shooters verbal command is the latest innovation.
Trap is great practice for the upland hunter. But it is also a fast-action quick-draw game. The powerful pattern of the 12-gauge shotgun is preferred because the targets move quickly into the distance. An important characteristic of a trap shotgun is that it delivers a pattern higher than the point of aim. This helps compensate for a target that is rising quickly, but it also helps when the target is falling.
Two features are generally relied upon to deliver a pattern higher than point of aim: A higher rib and a higher comb. A common sight picture on a trap gun is the front bead stacked above a second bead located midway down the rib. Without the presence of a mid-bead, the rib will likely appear as a ramp.
To visit a big trap match and look at the competitors guns can be as enthralling as attending a custom car show. But a $10K over/under is not a necessity. Nor are some of the radical modifications to the guns one might see on match day.
Gun Tests magazine evaluated a trap shotgun designed to put you into the action for less money than that. In looking for a suitable trap gun, they found that pump-action models were the most economical. They came across a single-barrel break-action model from Harrington & Richardson. This was the Topper Trap shotgun SB1-30T, $360, and decided to give it a try.
Here's what they had to say:
In preparation for this test we pored through dozens of instructional videos old and new. The most complete explanation and demonstration we found was on a new DVD entitled Perfect Trap ($69, from www.ChampionVideosOnline.com). Perfect Trap uses modern technology to put the viewer behind the gun and shows you what to look for before and after you call for the bird. The instructors are champion clay target shooters Ed Arrighi and Dan Carlisle. Their instruction demonstrates a wealth of knowledge not only about shooting trap but also how to coach a variety of shooters. After learning that Ed Arrighi had set up shop at American Shooting Centers in Houston (www.AmShootCenters.com), we booked a few lessons before beginning our evaluation. We can attest that the coaching of Ed Arrighi opened our eyes to better evaluate each shotgun and significantly raise our scores.
In trap singles competition, a single clay bird is launched from the trap house at random direction and trajectory with the shooter standing at one of five positions located 16 yards behind the point of release. The five positions are arranged in a semi-circle roughly approximating the arc between 8 oclock and 4 oclock. Figuring that by the time an average shooter sees the bird and fires a shot, the clay has likely traveled about 9 yards, we decided to pattern our guns from a distance of 25 yards. Each gun was patterned with the supplied choke we felt would be the most popular choice for shooting a round of trap. Our patterning test rounds were a popular budget-price round, a popular match-grade round, and a match-grade handload featuring AA hulls, Alliant Green Dot powder, and Remington STS primers. The budget round was the Estate Super Sport Competition Target SS12L8 load. The factory match round was Winchester AA Light Target Load AA128. Our handload was constructed using a MEC 9000E. The 9000E is a progressive loader that uses an electric motor to drive the press ($899 from Trainer Hale Supply, 830-420-4530). All three rounds were 23⁄4-inch 11⁄8-ounce 23⁄4-dram equivalent charges behind No. 8 shot. For our handloads, we used magnum quality shot because the BBs are harder and less likely to deform as they speed down the barrel. Each of our test guns were sold as right-handed models so we patterned from the right-side shoulder. But we contested on the trap field with both right- and left-handed shooters. How high did the gun score? Lets call "Pull!" and find out.
The most popular design in shotgun competition is the break-open action. The price of such guns can be astronomical with costly options such a choice of wood, metal finish, and decoration to enhance appearance and general appeal. Here is how the firm of H&R, whose origins can be traced back to invention of the break-top revolver in 1871, put together an inexpensive, yet pleasing, trap shotgun.
The 30-inch barrel was cut to chamber rounds up to 3 inches in length. The muzzle was threaded, and one stainless-steel Improved Modified extended choke was supplied. The outer surface of the barrel was blued and had a brushed texture perpendicular to the bore. The barrel was topped with a 0.3-inch-wide vented high rib with a white mid bead and a larger white bead at the muzzle. The surface of the rib was lined with a distinctive wave pattern. The fore end and the buttstock were each fashioned using dark American walnut. The profile of the fore end was wide at the front and tapered to nearly flush with the blue steel section that supplied the hinge. The section to the rear of the hinge was cast steel and coated with electroless nickel. The action pins, the trigger, trigger guard, hammer, and release lever were each a flat blue. Gaps between the wood and steel were non-existent. The soft rubber butt pad was generous, presenting a concave profile that was no less than three-quarter inch at its middle.
One of the ways that H&R was able to save money on construction was simplicity. Ignition was by way of a hammer that the shooter was required to set manually. There was a hammer block so the hammer can be left in the down position over a loaded chamber. The procedure for safe decocking (lowering of the hammer) begins with pointing the gun in a safe direction. With a thumb on the hammer to block its movement, the trigger was engaged. Let the hammer forward about one-quarter inch and release the trigger. Then the hammer may be lowered. The hammer block was visible during this process. The release to open the action was a simple lever located to the right of the hammer. Upon full opening, a click is heard. At this moment any spent shell left in the chamber will go shooting over your shoulder if you dont catch it.
Being a single-barrel shotgun, our trap shooting was limited to single-shot competition. But orientation was quite neutral. Even the break release was easily found by the left-handed shooter. The profile of the stock did not offer a raised comb. But the length of pull seemed short enough for small shooters, and our longer armed shotgunners were happy with it as well. The pistol grip was checkered but only moderately angled compared to our other shotguns. At the pattern board we quickly learned that the elevation was neutral or 50/50. Our point of aim was dead center in the pattern. This meant that we would probably have to cover the target with the muzzle, which is not generally preferred by trap shooters. However, the quality of each pattern was very good nonetheless. The pattern delivered by the Estate brand ammunition showed consistent density within a circle of approximately 15 inches before the shot thinned out. The Winchester AA rounds showed slightly higher density within this same area with flyers beyond its perimeter. Our handload spread the meat of the pattern to about 18 inches in diameter before the shot splintered off.
Before calling for targets at the 16-yard line we chose to raise the point of impact. Our method was crude but reliable. According to the pattern board, we were able to raise the pattern about 3 inches by layering two sheets of Dr. Scholls moleskin onto the comb of the stock. Each sheet measured about 0.12 inches in width. From past experience we knew that applying the "peel and stick" pads would leave behind a residue of adhesive. To prevent this we first coated the stock with blue painters tape, which has less adhesive than standard masking tape. Then we were free to experiment with different gauge pads. A helpful hint should the stock be marred with adhesive is to coat the area with peanut butter and let it stand. The consistency of the peanut butter will hold its natural oil in place and in a short time lift the glue. A lot of shooters use mole skin exclusively for this purpose but it can also serve as a template for permanent modification by a master woodworker, such as Larry Feland (www.FelandGunsmith.com).
With our mock raised comb hidden by our cheek weld, we hit the trap field. The Topper was easy to mount, and despite being much lighter than our other guns, its handling was neutral. It was light enough to move quickly to the target, but it never felt so light that we were moving too quickly or jerking the gun. Nor was it a hindrance to following through, i.e., stopping the gun. We did notice more recoil was transferred to the shooter, but we felt that was to be expected given its lighter weight and overall design. We think most shooters will simply choose to wear a small pad and continue shooting. The thin fore end did not leave a lot of room for the support hand, so we had be sure and ignore any sight of our fingertips as they overlapped our mount. The best advice, of course, is to keep your eyes focused beyond the trap house because the eyes will pick up the target more quickly if they are forced to move from far to near instead of the other way around. We even went so far as to not even look at the gun when loading. The simplicity of the controls on the Topper Trap made this possible.
Our scores shooting the Topper Trap were consistent, and they climbed with each round. The fact that the Topper limits the shooter to trap singles should not be an issue for the beginning trap shooter of any age. Trap shooting legend Frank Little once said that for the first two years, the new shooter should stick to the same gun and shoot nothing but singles. We think this is sound advice, so for the beginner the Topper Trap may be the best shotgun of all.
Our Team Said: For anyone thinking of trying out Trap shooting we think this is an A-rated gun. We might even forgive any need to raise the comb. Its that easy for anyone right or left handed to shoot good scores with the Topper. We would only downgrade it for being limited to one shot at a time and maybe a level of recoil that might scare off youngsters. Then again, it is priced so that any shooter can earn enough to buy one over summer vacation. At times, we were left wondering why we had to pay so much for other shotguns. Though the others have a lot to recommend them, we think this is a Best Buy.