Trapshooting By: Peter Krause and Spencer Sitek

Essential Question:
How does Trapshooting and Physical Science go hand and hand?

Trapshooting and Science

Trapshooting is a shooting sport in which the shooter uses a shotgun to hit an airborne disk shaped clay target. In the case of trapshooting, the shotgun fires multiple circular lead objects called shot. Shot can come in different sizes and even different materials. The shot is held in a casing called a “shell”. After the gun has been fired and the shot has left the barrel, it hopefully hits your target and will hit the ground. The process of trapshooting is all run by science.

Shotgun Operations

All shotguns, as well as other guns, are run by science. Whether it is run by automatic functions or by the user working it, science is running the gun. Many important parts of science such as the Law of Universal Gravitation, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and many other things all cause the gun and its counterparts to function.


Inertia is an important part of how a shotgun operates. Inertia is the property to resists a change in motion. The gun’s “recoil” is caused when the gun is fired which causes the gun to kick back into the shooter’s shoulder. The bigger the “load’ or the type of shot shell is, the harder it will recoil. Inertia is the main reason that many semi-automatics operate. Inertia kicks the empty shell out on the backward motion and cycles a new shell in on the forward motion.

Newton’s Laws of Motion
Newton’s Laws of Motion also plays a key part of the mechanics of a shotgun. Newton’s First Law of Motion states “An object at rest remains at rest and an object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an unequal force.” This explains why the shot does not travel continuously in a straight line. The shot eventually will come to the ground because the unequal force in Newton’s First Law of Motion is gravity. Newton’s Second Law of Motion is “The unbalanced force acting on an object equal to the object’s mass times its acceleration.” This explains why different shot sizes and types fly faster than others, because of their mass. Using different shot sizes changes the mass and can be faster and hit harder than other sizes do. Newton’s Third Law of Motion explains “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This explains why a shotgun recoils when shot. When the shot is leaving the barrel, the guns opposite reaction is the recoil moving oppositely away.

Shotgun Shells

Shotgun shells are loosely translated as what the shotgun fires. Even though the shotgun shell is actually what holds the projectiles fired by the shotgun. Science allows the shotgun shell to fire and perform smoothly. A shotgun shell’s operation is fairly easy to understand. The shell itself is just a plastic case with a metal plate on the back part of it. In the middle of the metal is a small circular piece of metal. This piece of metal is called a primer. When the trigger is pulled on a shotgun, the firing pin slams forward with momentum and hits the primer with force. The primer makes a spark, causing the flammable powder in the shell to ignite, burn, and push out another plastic casing called a wad. The wad holds the shot and keeps it together to prevent the shot from expanding in your barrel and blowing up the gun, and therefore causing serious damage to your upper body. The wad exits the barrel and lets the shot fly. The wad will then hit the ground shortly. The shot will fly towards you target, hopefully hits it, and fall to the ground. Though most trap loads are similar in most ways, with similar shot sizes and speeds, you can increase the speed and velocity by increasing the amount of powder in the shell. The more powder in the load, the faster it will travel.

The Target

In trapshooting, your target is a circular disk that spins in the air while ascending and descending. Your hope is to shoot the “bird” while it is ascending and before it reaches its highest point. The correct term for the target is “clay pigeon” since it is made of hardened clay and because trap shooters shot passenger pigeons in the 1700’s when the sport originated. The bird is thrown out of a low dugout building called a trap house. Inside it is the trap, which is the machine that throws the bird. The momentum of the “hand” which is the piece that throws the bird causes the bird to ascend. The Law of Universal Gravitation explains why the bird descends and hits the ground, broken or not.

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For a couple of awesome videos…
For a very professional view of how science operates the inertia driven shotgun go, to You-tube and type in Benelli Vinci Promo and click on the first option that appears. For a funnier take on the powers of inertia go to You-tube and type in .577 T-Rex and click on your first option.

The Inner workings of the Bolt and a Shotgun Shell

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Small Arms: From Civil War to Modern Day
Previous Knowledge

Special Thanks to...
Mr. Weinandt
Benelli USA
And the people who have taught us everything we know about shooting a shotgun