Skip to main content Skip to main content

Clay Shooting Sports and How Practice Can Make You Perfect

How shooting clays is an optimal off-season activity for wingshooters to kill more birds on their next hunt.

Clay Shooting Sports and How Practice Can Make You Perfect

There are several different clay shooting disciplines, and each type can help you in certain ways depending on the birds you are hunting. (Photo By: SolidMaks/Shutterstock.com)

As a kid, I was fortunate enough to spend countless weekends in the tall grass sloughs and large open cornfields of central and eastern South Dakota chasing roosters and waterfowl. I became very passionate about shooting birds and wanted to see how well I could do. Heck, I would even put in three different shotgun shells ranging from steel #2, steel BB, and tungsten-iron BB shells, thinking that I was getting an edge by shooting a larger pattern. 

I would eventually transition my passion for shooting wild birds into becoming a competitive trap shooter and later went on to win several World Championship titles. My knowledge and understanding of consistency killing birds and hitting targets has changed over the years as I’ve improved my ability and developed a greater understanding of proper shooting form and technique. Nowadays, my brother Matt and I continue to teach various aspects of shotgunning—from stance, footwork, eye dominance, hold point, and follow-through. 

A Few Words to the Wise

Whether you hunt waterfowl, upland birds, or both, you are aware of the how your success in the field goes up as the season progresses. You can improve your hit rates on opening day by spending some time in the off-season shooting clays. There are several different clay shooting disciplines, and each type can help you in certain ways depending on the birds you are hunting. Before we dive into the different clay shooting sports, here are some universal tips that will help you be more consistent and accurate at the clays course as well as in the field. 


Stance: Your consistency and accuracy come from a solid stance to provide a proper lead and follow-through. Stance will allow you to smoothly swing a shotgun, or if you have the incorrect stance, will prevent you from swinging to and through a target.

As a general rule, I always recommend your stance be about shoulder-width apart to slightly wider than your shoulders. I stand straight up with a slight bend in my knees. If you are facing directly at the trap house and a right-handed shooter, offset your feet and body to the right about 45 degrees. This gives your body the ability to swing to the right much more easily. When you break this down for hunting, it will allow you to shoot upland birds and waterfowl very consistently. 

When your stance is not correct, you will max out your swing. This is, simply put, where your body cannot move or swing any further. What happens is that you will resort to using just your arms to move the gun, which typically brings your cheek off the stock, or your knees will bend to compensate to try and swing further. This incorrect positioning will usually end up with you swinging over the top of the target. 

Lead: You want to make sure you are leading the bird’s head, not it’s body. While out pheasant hunting, I have seen too many times where a shooter will focus on the body and end up shooting the back end of the tail. 

Focus on leading in front of the bird completely. One thing that works for me is going up from tail, body, head, beak, and desired lead to pulling the trigger and following through at the same swing speed that the bird is travelling. Keeping the same shotshells in your bag will also help you to develop a better understanding of leads, and when in the field, you will more effectively and consistently hit your targets. 

Follow-Through: Most people think swinging a shotgun is all upper body and arms, but I am here to change that thought process. Using your whole body and hips from a solid stance will give you greater mobility from start to finish, which is typically why waterfowl hunters seem to shoot better in pit blinds and A-frame blinds.  

One thing to remember with your swing is that a smooth trigger pull results in an even follow-through and will keep your barrel moving forward. If you stop the gun right after a hard trigger pull, you have a good chance of shooting behind the target.

Another point to mention, is to keep your head down and locked on the gun stock while you follow through: essentially, you will be like a turret on a tank. You want everything locked in before, during, and after the shot. While out hunting, I see many shooters that lift their head off the stock right after shooting at a bird to see if they hit it or not. My advice is to keep your cheek on the stock. Your eyes will naturally look for the falling bird while you continue swinging through the bird.

clay shooting sports
Shooting at clay targets during the off-season can help wingshooters refine their form and shooting technique to experience more success and enjoyment during their next fall hunting season. (Photo By: txakel/Shutterstock.com)

Clay Shooting Sports

The top three clay shooting sports in most areas are trapshooting, skeet shooting, and sporting clays, with each discipline having a unique set of benefits for the different game birds you will be hunting.

Trapshooting

In the game of “trap,” you have one trap-house with five shooting positions behind it. You shoot five shells at each “post,” making a round of 25 shells. Typically, in a competition, you will shoot four rounds to make an event of one hundred total shells. 

Trapshooting most realistically resembles any situation where birds flush in front of you and fly straight out and away from you. Of course, not every hunt is like this, but you get the gist.

trapshooting
A game of trap includes shooting from five different positions around the trap house. (Photo By: joe arrigo/Shutterstock.com)

Skeet Shooting

In the game of “skeet,” you have two trap-houses, one called the high house, and one called the low house. Shooters travel in a half circle with seven positions around the half circle, and an 8th position in the middle between the high house and low house. Gunners shoot at single targets from the high and low house, followed by a pair at stations 1 and 2. At stations 3, 4, and 5 you’ll shoot a single separate target from the high and low house. At stations 6 and 7 you’ll shoot at single targets from the high and low house, followed by a pair at stations like you did at 1 and 2. To finish the round, you’ll shoot a high and low target separately from station 8. If the shooter never missed, they would shoot another low house target to finish off the 25th round for a perfect score. Skeet shooting has four rounds to make the event 100 total shells. 

Skeet shooting is a great offseason option for upland bird hunters and those duck and goose hunters looking to improve their leads and follow-throughs. 

 skeet shooting
Skeet shooting involves shooting at various presentations from different stations, as well as single and paired clay targets. (Photo By: Miguel Serrano Ruiz/Shutterstock.com)

Sporting Clays

A usual sporting clays course will consist of 10 to 18 stations, with each station presenting multiple target sizes, speeds, and directions from multiple trap machines. Typically, 6 to 10 targets are shot at each station for a total of 100 targets per person in an event. A shooter will see everything from a single bird being thrown to a “true pair”, where two clays are thrown at the same time, as well as a “report pair”, when two clays are thrown sequentially (the second after the gunner shoots at the first clay).

Sporting clays offers the most realistic live bird hunting simulations, with clays flying at several different speeds and angles, with variable difficulty levels that upland bird and waterfowl hunters will likely see while in the field. The only downfall to wingshooters, is that sporting clay ranges are not as common to find as trap or skeet, so if you have the opportunity to shoot sporting clays, take full advantage of the opportunity. 

 sporting clays
Sporting clays is often recognized as one of the most beneficial clay shooting sports because it most closely represents targets that wingshooters might encounter in the field. (Photo By: Rionegro/Shutterstock.com)

Why Shooting Clays Matters

While there are more clay target disciplines, these are the top three that are most common and available for hunters throughout the United States. Ideally, practicing any or all clay shooting disciplines will help bird hunters with target acquisition, hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, and learning how to swing a shotgun more consistently. If you put in your reps during the offseason, you’re naturally going to be a more confident and capable hunter next season.


To Continue Reading

Go Premium Today.

Get everything Gun Dog has to offer. What's Included

  • Receive (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers

  • Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

  • Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

  • Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

  • Ad-free experience at GunDogMag.com.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or start your online account

Get the Newletter Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Gun Dog articles delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now
Dog jumping out of phone with Gun Dog website in the background
Make the Jump to Gun Dog Premium

Gun Dog Premium is the go-to choice for sporting dog owners and upland hunting enthusiasts. Go Premium to recieve the follwing benefits:

The Magazine

Recieve (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers.

Training Videos

Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

Digital Back Issues

Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

Exclusive Online Editorial

Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or Start your online account

Go Premium

and get everything Gun Dog has to offer.

The Magazine

Recieve (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers.

Training Videos

Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

Digital Back Issues

Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

Exclusive Online Editorial

Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or Start your online account