For close to 20,000 members of the National Skeet Shooting Association, shattering clay targets is a way of life…exercise of the body, mind and the soul.
Through winter and summer they shoot at millions of targets – breaking most of them – meet new people and travel across the U.S.
It all started on the ground of the Glen Rock Kennels in the town of Andover, Massachusetts in 1920. It was there and then that a small group of upland game hunters, including the late C. E. Davies, proprietor of the Glen Rock Kennels, his son Henry W., and the late William H. Foster, all of Andover, were shooting at clay targets as a means of obtaining wing-shooting practice with their favorite upland guns. Their shooting gradually developed into a regular program that gave each shooter the same series of shots so that the competition, which was inevitable, might be even.
Originally, the arrangement was a complete circle of twenty-five yards radius with the circumference marked off like the face of a clock. The trap was set at “12 o’clock” and was set to throw the targets over “6 o’clock”. The competitive program consisted of shooting two shots from each of the twelve stations. The shell that was left over from a box was used, first as a stunt, to shoot at an incomer from the center of the circle. This later proved to be a shot offering real snap-shooting practice and has since developed into the plan of Station Eight shots of the regulation program.
“Shooting around the clock” as it was informally called, had most of the elements of modern skeet shooting. But, a commonplace incident then occurred that had a distinct bearing on the present day program. In “shooting around the clock”, shots were fired to all points of the compass, until a neighbor started a chicken farm in a lot adjoining the kennels. That put a stop to shooting in that direction. Foster solved the problem by producing a second trap and placing it at “6 o’clock” so that it would throw its target over “twelve”. This gave the shooter the same problems as were found in the original clock face, but reduced the danger area by half.
Noting the appeal of this form of shooting, Foster became convinced that development of the idea could be made nationally acceptable. He therefore set about to complete a shooting program that would contain all the necessary elements of wing-shooting practice and a competitive sport. Among the additions were the four sets of doubles and the optional shot.
When the details of the sport had been worked out and tested, and a set of rules drawn up, the idea was introduced to the public in the February, 1926 issue of both National Sportsman and Hunting and Fishing magazines. At the same time, a prize of $100 was offered for the most appropriate name for the new sport. It was won by Mrs. Gertrude Hurlbutt of Dayton, Montana, who suggested “Skeet”, and old Scandinavian form of the word “shoot”. Some 10,000 entries were received in the contest.
The American shooter was apparently ready and waiting for a practical form of wing-shooting with the shotgun that would give an opportunity to test their skill any month of the year on a series of shots similar to those encountered in hunting, and, as evidenced by the popularity of skeet shooting today, it has far exceeded the expectations of its sponsors.
As the popularity of the sport grew, the forming of a National Skeet Shooting Association was inevitable. This came about and the first National Championship was held August 26-31, 1935, at Cleveland, Ohio. The 12 gauge (then called the gauge) entry in that shoot totaled 113 participants. This tournament became an annual fixture, being rotated around the country – St. Louis, Detroit, Tulsa, San Francisco, Indianapolis and the last championship under the original association was held at Syracuse in 1942. Skeet became nonexistent during World War II insofar as civilian shooters were concerned. Equipment and ammunition were unavailable. Most of the participants had gone to war. Gun clubs ceased to operate and many disappeared completely. However, he government quickly recognized the value of the sport in gunnery training and all branches of the armed forces relied on skeet to teach servicemen the principle of leading moving targets. Many of the great civilian shooters rushed into the service and most of them were used as instructors.
With the end of the world conflict, a dedicated group of skeet enthusiasts officially brought the sport back to the public with organization and incorporation of the present National Skeet Shooting Association in December, 1946. This new association was financed in the beginning by a substantial, no-interest loan from the National Rifle Association. The National Championship Shoot was resumed at Indianapolis in 1946 and it has been held annually ever since.
Soon after the new organization was formed, the national headquarters was moved to Dallas, Texas from Washington, D.C. Dallas also was designated for a time as the permanent home of the association, including the annual national tournament . Due to a number of circumstances, the permanent home policy was abolished in 1952 and since that time the tournament, officially named “World Championships”, has been staged at Reno, Nevada; Waterford, Michigan; Lynnhaven, Virginia; St. Janvier, Quebec; Rush, New York; Savannah, Georgia; Bucyrus, Kansas; and San Antonio, Texas. September 1, 1973 the association headquarters was moved to the site of the National Gun Club at San Antonio, Texas.
In addition to the regular skeet shooting program of 12 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge, .410 bore competition and doubles, there are the international style and the collegiate divisions, both with specifically designed regulations.
The international style features the previous low-gun position and variable-timing target release, required by NSSA rules up to 1952. Contrasted to the present cheeked gun position, this style is required by the International Shooting Union, a worldwide shooting organization, and the International Olympic Committee, producer of the Olympic Games, where skeet shooting was first included on the program in 1968.