January 2010

Trap Shotguns on a Budget: Browning, Ithaca, and H&R

Browning’s BPS Micro Trap and Ithaca’s Model 37 Trap are versatile clay-busters. But H&R’s Topper Trap single-shot is a top choice for beginners or for shooters on a budget.

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 shooter’s 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 competitor’s 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.

In this test we will evaluate three trap shotguns designed to put you into the action for much less money than even we expected. In looking for a suitable trap gun, we found that pump-action models were the most economical. We chose two. They were the Ithaca Model 37 Trap FL3712-30BTR, $995; and the Browning BPS Micro Trap 012241404, $759. Each of these guns were bottom-eject models, contributing to their appeal to both right- and left-handed shooters. In addition, we came across a single-barrel break-action model from Harrington & Richardson. This was the Topper Trap shotgun SB1-30T, $360, so we decided to give it a try.

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 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 (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 o’clock and 4 o’clock. 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 each gun score? Let’s call "Pull!" and find out.

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