Broken Guns, Illegal Birds, and Failures to Fire: What to do when things go wrong

It’s the stuff of nightmares: you’re on the line, halfway through a round, and it’s your turn to shoot. You mount your shotgun, take a deep breath, call ‘Pull!’ and just when you line up on the target and pull the trigger—CLICK. Something’s wrong! Am I going to lose a target?! What do I do?

In this issue we’ll explain what the rules are in common situations that might arise.


The sad truth is that sometimes shotguns break. It’s frustrating, it’s distracting to everyone on the line, and it really throws off your game, however it’s something that everyone must be prepared to handle should it happen.

League rules do allow for athletes to experience ‘Failure To Fires’ (FTFs) up to twice per round before subsequent FTFs result in targets being declared a loss. In the case of a broken shotgun, athletes are allowed a reasonable amount of time to try to fix the shotgun, or to find a replacement in order to complete the round. Coaches should be prepared for this situation by having an extra shotgun on hand for student athletes to use just in case.

Another, less common FTF situation is when a shooter fails to shoot at a legal target because the athlete is either distracted or otherwise decides not to shoot. In this situation the athlete will get a warning—shooters are not allowed to pass up any legal target. Any other targets that are passed up by the athlete will be called a loss.


Anyone who has shot clay target sports for any amount of time has experienced the occasional problem with targets coming out of the house incorrectly. Sometimes the targets will fly out at odd angles outside the legal range, sometimes the targets come out of the house broken, and sometimes they don’t come out at all! What is an athlete to do in these situations?

If a target is released from the house at an illegal angle, an athlete can decline to shoot. However, if the athlete does shoot at the target, then it is scored a dead or lost target depending on whether or not it was hit. An athlete cannot shoot at an illegal target and then declare it an illegal target after missing it!

Sometimes the trap machines, pull cords, or voice releases will just break. And when it happens, it can certainly be frustrating. If there are any questions regarding the correct operation of any field’s equipment, then the squad should stop shooting and alert their coach, RSO, and range staff. Targets cannot be reshot, and squads cannot start over at the beginning of the round. It’s best to address any equipment issues quickly so that they can be corrected.

Finally, the most common situation that arises on the field for athletes is when the trap machine throws out broken targets. Every athlete will experience this at some point. Our sport is to shoot fragile ceramic discs, so don’t get frustrated!

It’s a common misconception that if an athlete shoots at—and hits—a broken target, then that target should be scored dead. That’s simply not true. A broken target MUST be reshot by the athlete regardless of whether or not the athlete hit it.

Every spring thousands of students have a great time taking part in the League’s exciting year-end tournaments. And, with all those student athletes on the shooting range, there’s bound to be a few issues that pop up. Remember, be patient, stay focused, and have fun! 

Did You Know? An athlete cannot declare a target was illegal if they shot and missed said target.