If necessity is the mother of invention, then Gertrude Hurlbutt must be considered as the mother of skeet shooting. In 1926, Hurlbutt, a Dayton, Montana housewife, won the then unheard of sum of $100 for entering the best name for a new shooting game sponsored by NATIONAL SPORTSMAN magazine. The contest organizers liked Ms. Hurlbutt's suggestion of "skeet," the Scandinavian equivalent to "shoot." The rest of the story is shooting sports history.

While a Montana housewife came up with the name, the idea for the game came from Charles E. Davies, an Andover, Massachusetts businessman and avid grouse hunter. A dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, Davies sought to improve his wingshooting by duplicating the target angles he had missed in the grouse covert, hence the short range game we know today. Two trap houses are required in skeet, a "high house" at the left of the field and a "low house" at the right. Both traps throw targets at fixed angles. The high house target from the left starts at a point about 10 feet above the ground, moving to the right of the shooter. Low house targets move in the opposite direction starting from a point about three feet off the ground.

Skeet is usually shot in "squads" of five shooters. A skeet field has eight positions or "stations," seven of which are numbered consecutively from left to right in a semi-circle. Station eight is located in between the trap houses, offering very challenging -- and very exciting targets.

A "round" of skeet consists of 25 targets, thrown as singles or doubles. There are 16 single targets, two from each station, eight shots fired at four doubles from stations 1,2,6 and 7. The first target missed is repeated; the shot at the repeat target is called "the optional." If no miss occurs in the round of 24 shots, the optional is taken as a single target, usually shot from station eight. Skeet is shot with different gauge shotguns, including 12, 20 and 28 gauge and 410 bore. As the gauge gets smaller, the game becomes more difficult and the scores are proportionately lower.

Informal skeet shooting is popular with field gunners, but those that really get hooked shoot "registered skeet." In registered skeet, your scores are recorded by the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA), and your previous scores determine the classification in which you are placed. To shoot registered skeet, you must be a member of the NSSA. Registered skeet is shot with 12, 20 and 28 gauge and 410 bore shotguns firing shells loaded with # 8-1/2 or 9 shot. Anyone who has ever watched a round of skeet might walk away with the impression that all skeet shooters break 24 or 25 targets consistently. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), however, did some informal research with 200 typical hunters and discovered that the average hunter shooting skeet for the first time will break 11 out of 25 clay birds. Semi-automatic and over/under shotguns are the most widely used for skeet. Because skeet is a short range game, special skeet chokes are made that spread shot patterns. For more information on skeet shooting, contact the National Skeet Shooting Association, P.O. Box 680007, San Antonio, TX 78268-0007. To find a club where you can shoot skeet, send $2 for the NSSF Directory of Public Shooting Ranges, which lists information on over 900 clubs nationwide, to: NSSF, 11 Mile Hill Road, Newtown, CT 06470-2359.