While I have shot most of the clay target disciplines over my shooting career, most of my experience has been in skeet shooting until recently.

A few months ago, our gun club went through a wiring renovation, causing our skeet fields to be out of commission for several weeks. Rather than stop shooting altogether, I experimented with another shooting discipline called helice, also known as zz birds or electrocibles.

Some of you may be familiar with the game and others perhaps not. In areas where live pigeon shooting has been outlawed, helice has become the game of choice.

Helice shooting has its origins in Europe in the late 1960s. (Editor’s note: My longtime friend, Cyril Adams of Houston, Texas, was instrumental in bringing the sport of helice to the U.S. in the late 1980s.)

The target is plastic with a body shaped like a clay target — called the witness cap — which fits into a pair of wings. The shooting field is set up the same as a live pigeon ring, but instead of releasing pigeons, the five electric traps launch the targets and throw them similar to a helicopter rotor.

The spindles that spin up the targets are fixed for height by individual trap at the outset, but the machines themselves oscillate right to left, unseen by the shooter. The object of the game is to quickly acquire the target from the trap it was released from (1-5), figure out the direction and height it is going and fire, separating the witness cap from the rest of the target before it reaches the boundary fence. I have seen both wings blown entirely off the target, but the witness cap did not separate resulting in a lost target.

Each shooter is allowed to shoot twice at each target in a rotation of five targets. A typical competition ranges from 10 to 30 birds. Choke constriction is a matter of the shooter’s personal preference, but a maximum load of 1 oz. is mandated for competition and shot size can be no larger than 7 ½. Many shooters have their personal preferences regarding velocity which is not restricted to my knowledge.

In the early days, the five traps only had one target per trap. This could be advantageous to the shooter because if the shooter got targets from positions 1 and 5 (which are on the outer edges of the array), he could not be offered those targets again in his five-bird rotation so that would enable the shooter to narrow his field of view to the center most traps 2, 3 and 4. Later models of traps held two targets each so the shooter could get the same target more than once in the five-bird rotation.

It was not as easy to fudge your field of view with two targets per machine. The disadvantages of the older model traps in either a single or dual-bird configuration was that after each five-bird rotation, a trap person would have to run to each trap machine and manually reload each spindle with a target. This resulted in quite a long delay for a large shoot. Today’s modern traps are quite sophisticated and actually are automatically loaded from behind with an attached magazine of 48 targets.

So, whenever the shooter takes his shooting position and calls for a target, he may get a target from any trap from 1-5, multiple times, making the shooting more random and impossible to predict. These more modern machines have a canister speaker for voice release, so it is no longer necessary to ask the trapper “are you ready” or just “ready”. All one needs to do is to take the shooting position, load and press the button on the canister to spin the targets up and call when ready. The magazines allow for much more shooting before trap personnel need to reload the machines, speeding up shooting considerably.

The game is quite fun and can be very challenging, depending upon the prevailing wind and the height and direction the target takes when released. Many times the shooter will break away the witness cap from the wings, but its height and trajectory will carry the witness cap out of the ring, making it a lost target. Some targets are easier to hit than others. The easier ones present themselves as large sunflower-like targets showing their full bottom, displaying the winged body along with the center witness cap; conversely, the more difficult targets display themselves showing only the rim of the target with just the slight visibility of the witness cap on top. Obviously, some of the more difficult targets result from traps 1 and 5 when they head directly in the direction of the fence.

Another more difficult target presentation is when the target comes out behind the trap itself making it difficult, if not impossible, for the shooter to initially see the target. It skims just above the ground all the way to the fence. It is still flying above the ground so it is a legal target, and in many instances, the target will get a ground effect gust of wind. Instead of hitting the fence, it rises effortlessly over the fence without being fired upon. I have personally seen many good shooters who are aware of this phenomenon wait until the target rises up and then kill it at that point. It is pretty hard to shoot what you cannot see. If the target hits the ground within the ring before the shooter has an opportunity to shoot at it, it is a no bird. If the shooter has the opportunity to get off one shot, but not a second before the target hits the ground, within the ring (even though the first shot was a miss), the shooter will be allowed one additional target with only one shot.

Many shooters like to shoot helice rather than trap because the targets are much less predictable, and there is only one shooter at a time on the line.

The website for the United States Helice Association is at http://ushelice.com/about.htm. There are a couple of great videos of this type shooting to view. Helice rules and regulations can be found at http://ushelice.com/rules.htm. So give helice a try some time! You’ll have loads of fun. SS

John Bulger started his skeet shooting career in 1988 at 42 years of age. He shot his first 100 straight the following year in the 28 gauge and since then has broken a total of 239  perfect scores: 90 in the 12 gauge, 77 in the 20 gauge, 54 in the 28 gauge, 10 in the .410 bore, and 8 in the doubles. John has been on 16 All-American Concurrent Teams, 21 Texas State Teams. John has earned both his AA and AAA pins including a 4x50 Pin earned at the Hodgdon Mini-Southwest in 2010. John’s most memorable accomplishments were winning the Briley Bradshaw in 1997, the Texas State 12 gauge Champion in 2002 and the Texas State Doubles Champion in 2011. That same year John was awarded the Earl Barroso Award for winning the Senior HOA at the Texas State Championships. John was also the Senior HOA Champion at the Mini-World in 2010.  During his career John has shot 170,050 registered targets. While he’s had a couple of 399s, a 400x400 is still on John’s bucket list. John served on the TSSA Board of Directors from 1997-1999 and has been a member of the Dallas Gun Club since 1989. John has been a contributing writer to "Shotgun Sports" since 2013.