Beginners Guide to American Clay Target Shooting

This article will assume you have a basic working knowledge of shotguns and shot shells. If not, stay tuned as my next article will be on buying your first shotgun, and will go over the basics.

There are 4 common games that are played with clay targets (the terms clay pigeon, pigeon, or bird will be used interchangeably.): Trap, Skeet, 5 stand, and Sporting Clays. In most cases the target being used is a 108 or 110 mm clay disk.

Courtesy of http://www.asgevents.co.uk/shootinggrounds.htm

Courtesy of http://www.asgevents.co.uk/shootinggrounds.htm

The 4 games above are all played with a shotgun, most commonly 12 gauge, but 20 gauge, 28 gauge, and even .410 are all seen on the field.

Proper Shooting Stance

Proper Shooting Stance

All of the games require the same basic shooting stance. You want the leg opposite to your trigger finger out in front with a slight bend at the knee. The gun should be tight to your shoulder and up high enough so that you can rest your face on the stock. Most importantly, you want to lean into the gun. This will help reduce the recoil that you feel. Both eyes should be open at all times. You may notice my finger sticking out on the grip. This is an instinctive thing that everybody learns when they were a kid, how to point at things. Stick your finger out and point where you want to shoot the gun.

Trap

Trapfield Courtest of http://www.iowadnr.gov/law/shootingsports/images/trapfield.jpg

Trapfield Courtest of http://www.iowadnr.gov/law/shootingsports/images/trapfield.jpg

Trap shooting involves 1 to 5 players that line up in an arc at 5 different stands, usually 16 yards from the trap house. The clay pigeon launcher oscillates back and forth so that you never know exactly where the bird is going to fly. All that you will know is that the bird is going to be flying away from you at about 50mph. By the time the trigger is pulled the bird will be at least 30 yards away, so it is recommended that a full choke be used on your shotgun. A modified or improved modified can also be used on a 12 gauge. Typical shot size for trap is 8 shot.

All players stand with their gun action open until it is their turn to shoot. The person in the left most stand (facing the trap house) shoots first. One shell is loaded into the gun, the shooter gets ready by bringing the gun up and aiming at the far corner of the trap house. The shooter will yell “pull” and a pigeon will be released.

At this point, the quicker the shot is fired, the better chance you have of hitting it. If the bird is going straight away from your position, simply bring the gun up and shoot just slightly under the bird. If the bird is moving away at an angle, swing the gun until you have a good amount of lead on the bird and shoot slightly under it. The reason you want to give the bird a lead on the shots is that it takes time for the shot to reach the pigeon. If you shoot exactly where the bird is, the shot will fly behind the bird by the time it gets there and completely miss it. Keep the gun moving after you take the shot, as this will prevent you from stopping your gun. You want to keep it a fluid motion and always have the gun moving. At this point the person to the right shoots. After all the players have shot their first shot, it is repeated an additional 4 times at that stand. You will then rotate to the stand to your right for your next 5 shots. You will shot 5 shots at each of the 5 stands for a total of 25 shots per round.

Some fields will have score keepers, others will not. The best way to count your hits is to separate your shells. One pocket for hits, another for misses.

Trap shooting is generally the easiest of the 4 sports as there is minimal movement of the gun.

Skeet

Skeet Field Courtest of http://www.freewebs.com/imperialpolkgunclubinc/Skeet-Field-texture1.gif

Skeet Field Courtest of http://www.freewebs.com/imperialpolkgunclubinc/Skeet-Field-texture1.gif

Skeet consists of a bird shot from a low house and a high house. The skeet launchers are fixed, so that if there is no wind (or constant wind) the birds will always fly in the same way. The pigeons from a skeet field are shot at a much closer distance, so you want a very open choke. On a 12 gauge, you’ll want to shoot either skeet or cylinder. Improved cylinder is also a decent choice if you don’t have the skeet or cylinder. Once your game improves you can move to tighter chokes, which will make the target a bit harder to hit, but it will explode when you do hit it.

The game consists of 1 to 6 players (or more if everybody agrees, though it will take a while to play). The shooter starts on stand one, the closest stand to the high house. The gun is loaded with 2 shells, typically 7.5 or 8 shot. The other shooters will have their action open and guns unloaded. The first shot will be taken from the high house. The gun is brought up and aimed high. The shot will be coming directly over your head and away from you. The shooter will call “pull” and the high house will be launched. The gun will be brought down to follow the pigeon and the shot taken when the gun moves just under that bird, as it is falling downward.

The 2nd shot comes from the low house. The shooter will aim the gun at the low house window and call “pull” when ready. The bird will fly towards you and to your left. Follow the pigeon with your gun and shoot when the gun has sufficient lead on the bird. Just like trap, keep the gun moving after you take the shot to prevent you from stopping the gun.

Next, you load 2 more shells into the gun and will shoot a double. Aim your gun up, just like you did for the first shot, as you will be shooting the high house first. When you yell “pull” both the high and low houses will be released. Shoot the high house, then look for the low house bird. It should be about in the middle of the field. Give the gun sufficient lead over the bird and shoot when appropriate.

The rest of the players will now repeat the 4 shots done above on the same stand, then will rotate counter-clockwise to stand 2.

Stand 2 has the same shot pattern as 1: 1 high house, 1 low house, 1 double. The difference here is that the birds are now flying across from you, as opposed to straight away and towards you. The first shot is the high house, and is one of the 2 most difficult shots in the game because it goes away so fast. Load 2 shells and aim your gun at the metal post in the center of the field (this is where the birds cross paths, and where you want to take most of your shots). Get comfortable aiming above the post, then twist your torso so that the gun is parallel with the high house. Call “pull” and when you see the bird, swing the gun out ahead of it about 1 foot and pull the trigger.

Next, start again by aiming your gun at the center post, and twist your torso towards the low house. Aim the gun at the low house window and call “pull.” Give the bird about 1 foot of lead and shoot it when it is at the center post.

You will now shoot the double. Shoot as your would the high house, but after the shot is fired look for the low bird. It should be in the center of the field, so take the shot as you normally would for the low house.

Stand 3 does not have a double shot, only a high, then low. Set up just as you would for stand 2, except you want to give the bird more lead, as you’re further back. 2 feet of lead is about right for this stand.

Stand 4 is the same as 3, except further back. Give the birds 3 feet of lead.

Stand 5 is the same distance as 3, so give it 2 feet of lead. The first shot is the high house. Aim at the metal post, then twist to the high house window. For the low house, aim at the metal post, then twist so the barrel is parallel with the low house.

Me at Skeet Stand 5, Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Me at Skeet Stand 5, Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Stand 6 will have the same gun set-up as stand 5, except give the bird 1 foot of lead. Stand 6 also has a double. You’ll want to shoot the low house first, then find the high house. The low house here is the other one of the 2 most difficult shots. Just be prepared for the bird to go away from you quickly.

Dave shooting low stand 6, Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Dave shooting low stand 6, Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Stand 7 is the easiest stand in the game, it’s the stand right next to the low house. Point the gun at the high house, and pull the trigger when the bird is close to you. You don’t need very much lead. For the low house, aim the gun just above the metal post. The bird will fly away from you into the path of the gun, and you just need to pull the trigger at the right time. You will then shoot a double, shoot the low house first, then find the high house bird to shoot.

Dick (ISC E-Board) shooting the low stand 7 at Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Dick (ISC E-Board) shooting the low stand 7 at Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Stand 8 is my favorite stand in the game. It’s in the center of the field, just behind the metal post. The birds fly practically right over your head, and they explode into dust when you hit them. Stand at the low house side of the stand. Aim your gun at the high house window. The bird will be moving fast and you’ll want to hit it before it gets to you. You don’t need to lead the bird, just point and shoot. Next is the low house. Stand at the high house side of the stand and aim the gun at the low house window. Shoot it before it gets to you.

Me at Skeet Stand 8, Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Me shattering the clay at Skeet Stand High House 8, Independent Sportsman's Club, Foxboro, MA

Notice in the picture above, that even though I said to shoot right at the clay, my gun has a lead on it. This is because I am following through with the shot even after I pull the trigger.

To recap the shooting order: at all the stands shoot the high house first, then the low house. Stands 1, 2, 6, 7 also pull a double, shoot the bird from the house closer to you first.

If you’ve been counting, you’ll notice there are only 24 shots. You’ll have an extra shell left in your box. This is called the option. On your first miss, you retake the shot with your option. If you don’t miss any, you retake the last shot, the stand 8 low house. If you hit it, then you’re a pro and should move to a smaller gauge, tighter choke and/or one of the games below.

5 Stand

5 stand has the same set-up as trap, where there are 1 to 5 shooters and 5 stations. You take 5 shots from each station before rotating, but the shot order is different and the field setup is vastly different. The shots on 5 stand will come from all over the place. There can be anywhere from 5 to 20 skeet launchers depending on the field. Some shots will be similar as skeet and trap, some will be completely different. There is no set standard as to where the birds are supposed to fly or from where, and most fields will change the angles of flight frequently. Expect to see shots that fly straight up into the air, make a giant arc over the field, come towards you, and come from behind your head over you. Even birds that only show you the edge then change to show face at the last second and/or birds that roll along the ground (these are called rabbits, and are made thicker so they don’t break while rolling).

Since the birds come from all over the place and at varying distances, you’ll generally want to use a skeet and improved cylinder choke in an 12 gauge over-under shotgun, or an improved cylinder in a single barrel shotgun. You are told where each shot is coming from, so you can usually select which barrel is appropriate to fire first.

The shooter at the left most stand goes first. The first shot is a single bird that you get 2 shots on, if needed. The next stand will then go, and will generally be shooting a different shot. It helps to pay attention to what is happening at the next stand as you will be rotating there soon.

Once all the stands have shot the single, you will shot a pair on report. You call “pull” and one bird will be launched. As soon as you pull the trigger, the other bird will be launched. Keep your eyes open for the 2nd bird. The other stands will then shoot their report (again, usually a different pair).

The last shot at the stand is a double. Upon calling “pull”, 2 birds will be launched simultaneously. Don’t linger on one bird too long, as it will give you less time with the other bird. Its worth noting that on both the report and double it is acceptable to use both of your shots on the first bird, if you think you have a good chance of hitting it after the first miss. This may be a better option instead of moving the gun and tracking the 2nd bird.

After this shot you will rotate to the stand to your right and repeat the shot patterns. 5 stand is an excellent way to change it up when you get tired of trap and skeet and is excellent preparation for hunting.

Sporting clays

A likely sporting clay shot courtest of http://www.snowshoemtn.com/todo/sum-activities/sporting-clays/index.htm

A likely sporting clay shot courtesy of http://www.snowshoemtn.com/todo/sum-activities/sporting-clays/index.htm

Sporting clays is like the golf of shotgun shooting. It is a course that usually wanders through the woods to various stations. There is no set number of stations or shots, it all depends on that particular course, they can even go up to 125 shots. There is no set number of players, however if there are too many then the group may be split up into 2 rounds. The chokes to chose are usually similar to 5 stand: skeet and IC or just IC in a single barrel. However, it is always a wise choice to ask the course master what the best combination would be.

Expect to see shots similar to 5 stand, but in a wooded environment. Some shots will be wide open, others will be partially blocked by trees or bushes. Most shots are doubles or reports. The course master will usually show you a shot from each stand prior to starting that stand, so that you can be aware of what will happen. The rotation is similar to skeet in that one person will do the stand, then the other shooters will do it until it is complete. Everybody will then walk to the next station.

Not only is sporting clays a great deal of fun, it also gets you some exercise and is the most realistic way to practice shotgun hunting. Be aware that the course master is like a caddy, who also is usually an excellent shooter. They take the time to launch the clays for you. On some courses it is customary to tip the course master, other courses wouldn’t even dream about taking tips. It is best to ask somebody familiar with the course whether this is the case.

The best way to try out any of these sports is to find your local range. Clay Targets Online is an excellent resource to find the closest range. Some ranges will rent guns and carry ammo, others will not. However, if you let them know you’re interested, you can almost always find somebody willing to lend you a gun and show you how to properly shoot it. Some people have been shooting clay for a long time, and love showing people the sport, especially since unfortunately guns are now looked down upon in our society.

I hope this was informative and interesting. If anything was unclear, needs more detail, or if you have any questions, please leave comments or e-mail me at jonpalmer@thejonpalmer.com