How to Shoot Sporting Clays

What Is Sporting Clays?

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A Basic Intro to Sporting Clays

Sporting clays events are typically held at a shotgun shooting range or a designated space for a tournament or event. It is very popular with experienced shooters and new shooters of all ages.  Similar to skeet and trap, sporting clays is a game of shooting clay targets or clay pigeons with a shotgun.  However, in skeet and trap, the targets are required to be thrown in a specific direction, height, and speed.  Therefore, shooting skeet or trap should be pretty much the same no matter where you are. One of the coolest things about sporting clays, is the courses and targets are different at every shooting range you visit.  Just like how every golf course is different.  Not surprisingly, sporting clays is often described as golf with a shotgun.

One of the coolest things about sporting clays, is the courses and targets are different at every shooting range you visit.

Not only are the courses all different from each other, there are also several different types of targets you will be shooting and a seemingly endless variety of ways to throw those targets. During a round of sporting clays, you will shoot targets that are crossing in front of you, coming from behind you, rolling across the ground, rising targets, dropping targets, incomers, outgoers, and almost any direction or angle you can think of.  On top of that, the targets may be different colors, sizes, and shapes.  Most shooting ranges will use their unique terrain to make a sporting clays course more interesting and challenging. They might throw targets through trees, down a hill, behind a bush, or in a ravine below your feet. Creative course designers think of some really fun (and sometimes difficult) target presentations.

Sporting clays is one of the fastest growing shooting sports and a great way to spend time with family and friends.  Check out our list of places to shoot Sporting Clays in Southern California to find the nearest shooting range to you.

Squad Shooting at Moore N Moore Sporting Clays
Squad Shooting at Moore N Moore Sporting Clays

How to Shoot Sporting Clays

A round of Sporting clays is shot on a course that is made up of several stations or stands. There are usually 10-15 stations on a course. Grouped together in squads of 3-6 shooters, you will move from station to station, shooting different targets at every one.

Each station will have 2 clay targets called a “pair” that you get to shoot. The pair might be launched simultaneously (True Pair) or the first target might be launched by itself then the second target is launched when you shoot at the first (Report Pair). You will typically shoot the same pair at each station 3-5 times in a row depending on the layout.  Signs are posted on each station telling you if it is a True Pair or Report Pair and how many times you have to shoot the pair.

The game of Sporting clays was originally designed to be practice for bird hunting in the field. Sometimes, the clay target presentations are set to mimic the flight patterns of specific birds or hunting situations. Other times, the clay targets are set to be fun, confusing or just flat out hard as hell to hit. Either way, it’s always a great time!

Best Out Of 100 (most of the time)

The most common format for a sporting clays competition is 100 targets. All shooters will shoot the same 100 targets on a course and the shooter who hits the most targets… wins! Pretty simple, right?

There are some exceptions to this rule though.  Most large sporting clay tournaments will have a 200 or 300 target event.  This usually only happens at multi-day shoots where the big events are broken into multiple 100-target events on different days. Then the individual scores are added together to get your final score.

You will also see 50-target events at lots of competitions.  These are usually side events and may be limited to shooting sub gauge shotguns only or it might be a 5-stand competition. There are lots of different types of side events and specialty games. They are all just different ways of shooting clay targets with a shotgun, so they’re totally worth checking out!

How to Register for a Sporting Clays Shoot

Trap machine throwing a clay target
Trap throwing a clay target

First things first, pick the event you want to go to and maybe even call ahead to confirm start times and price. You should also ask if they recommend renting a golf cart to get around the course. Some courses can be several miles long so you may not want to be on foot the whole time.

When you and your squad arrive at the shooting range, go to the main office or sign up area to check in or register for the shoot. If it is a registered shoot and you want to join the NSCA, let the shoot organizers know at this time and they can help you become a member (I will describe what it means for a shoot to be Registered or Unregistered later in this article). This is also the time to ask about rental guns, ammo, and golf carts if needed.

Fill out the event entry form and choose the events you want to enter. Pay the entry fees and get a score card for every shooter.  You will also need to grab a target key to track the targets you will be shooting during the event.

Getting Started

Grab your guns, ammo, ear and eye protection, and anything else you’re bringing along and go the first station on the course or the starting station that the shoot management set for you. When you arrive at your starting station, decide which shooter will go first (your squad will rotate the person who shoots first after each station).

Check the sign or score card at the station to see how many pairs you are going to shoot and if they are supposed to be launched as True Pairs or Report Pairs. Someone (not the shooter) will need to launch the targets and keep score of the shooters hits and misses on the score card. Big shoots usually have designated pullers at each station to launch the targets and keep score for every shooter.  Small shoots do not normally have pullers so your squad will have to launch the targets and keep score for each other.

Shooting station 10 at Raahauges in Corona, CA
Shooting station 10 at Raahauges in Corona, CA

View Pair

The first shooter will step into the shooting station. That shooter is allowed to see one view pair (sample pair) to see what the targets are doing at this station. Only the first shooter gets to see a view pair. The other shooters in your squad should huddle in and around the station to see the view pair also because this is the only chance to study the flight path of the targets you all will be shooting at this station.

On stations with a True Pair, the first shooter can see 2 view pairs because either of the 2 targets can be shot first.  Only 1 view pair is allowed on Report Pair stations because you have to shoot the first target first.  Tip: many top shooters watch the view pair by pointing their fingers at the targets and following along as if they were shooting them. 

Time to Shoot Some Clays

Now that you know what this pair is doing, decide the best place to plant your feet and how you want to hold the gun so you can shoot both targets. Make sure everything around you is safe and load 2 shells in the gun.  Always keep the gun pointed down range.  Get ready to shoot and loudly call “Pull“.  Look hard at the first target and when the shot feels right, pull the trigger and watch the target break. Then move your eyes to the second target and your gun will naturally follow.  Pull the trigger when it feels right and watch the target break. Open or unload your gun. The person keeping score should mark an “X” for the dead targets and an “O” for lost targets on the shooter’s score card.

Think about how that first pair went and make any corrections necessary. Get ready to do it again and load 2 more shells in the gun, get ready and call Pull. Repeat shooting the pair as many times as this station calls for. When you’re finished, make sure the gun is unloaded and step out of the station.

Moving Through the Course

The next shooter will step into the station and shoot the same pair the same number of times also. Remember, only the first shooter at each station gets to see the view pairs. Everyone else has to just step in and shoot.  After all shooters on the squad have shot the required number of pairs at the first station, make sure the scores have been written down correctly then grab the target key and proceed to the next station. The next shooter in the squad rotation will be the first to shoot the next station.

The first shooter will step into the station, watch the view pair and all shooters will shoot the required number of pairs for this station and mark the hits and misses on the score card. Repeat this process as your squad shoots every station on the course. Make sure to rotate the first shooter at every station so the disadvantage of going first is spread evenly across each member of the squad.   After your squad has finished shooting all stations on the course, count up everyone’s score and turn in all score cards to the shoot management.

Boom. That round of sporting clays is in the bag.

How to Tell if a Target is Dead or Lost

A broken target is called, Dead. If a target is missed it is called, Lost. Most shooters like the score keeper to call out “Dead” or “Lost” after each pair. That way, the shooter and squad know what is being written on the score card and can dispute a bad call.

Sometimes, the shot will scrape a target and cause dust to come off. Shooting dust off a target does not count as a dead target.  There must be at least one visible piece broken off the target for it to count as dead. If the score keeper calls a target lost but you think you hit it, you can protest by politely stating that you think you hit that target. Someone else verifying that they also saw a piece break off the target, usually confirms that the target is dead. When no one else sees a piece break off but you still think you hit it, you should graciously take the lost target and try to hit it harder next time so there is no doubt.

NSCA National Sporting Clays Association
NSCA (National Sporting Clays Association)

What is a Registered Sporting Clays shoot?

When a sporting clays shoot is “Registered” it means the event is sanctioned by the NSCA (National Sporting Clays Association) and must meet their requirements to be an official registered shoot. It also means that you can earn punches at this event which are used to move up in the classification system.  You can also earn points for All American Teams, Youth Shooting Teams, and lots more cool stuff.  There is a small registration fee added to your event entry cost and there are usually prizes available in the form of a trophy, money, or both. Pretty much all the big shoots in the USA are going to be registered

What is an Unregistered Sporting Clays shoot?

When a sporting clays shoot is “Unregistered” it means the event is not sanctioned by the NSCA so no punches or points can be earned. Unregistered events are basically just for fun, which can be awesome! These events are usually smaller, but not always. I’ve been to unregistered shoots with over a hundred shooters.  Many unregistered events have prizes available depending on how the shooting range or host decides to do it.

What is a Charity Sporting Clays shoot?

A Charity Shoot is usually put together to benefit a charity or raise funds. No surprise there, huh? Charity shoots are unregistered most of the time but I have seen a few that were registered. The targets are usually set to be soft which means they are a little easier than normal. This isn’t always the case, but course setters would probably prefer to set a softer course for people playing for charity because everyone will hit more targets and have a better time. The main goal at these events is to keep everyone happy and having fun (and donating) so there are usually lots of fun side events, raffles, giveaways and more. Charity shoots are a great way to have a blast and help a good cause.
*Keep an eye out for inexperienced shooters at charity shoots and help everyone be safe.

Sporting Clays Targets White FlyerTypes of Sporting Clay Targets

One of the coolest things about sporting clays that make it different from other clay shooting games is the HUGE variety of targets you get to shoot.

You will see standard sized clay targets (108mm) just like the ones on trap and skeet fields but, in sporting clays, they might be all sorts of different colors; Orange, Black, Green, White, or even Hot Pink.  There are also targets of various size and shape.  Like the “Mini”, which is appropriately named since it is almost half the size of a standard target (only 60mm).  There is also a “Midi”, which is in between the two (90mm).

A favorite target of many shooters is the “Rabbit”. It is the strongest of all sporting clay targets and takes the most force to break. A rabbit target is usually launched from the machine on its side so it rolls across the ground in front of the shooter. Rabbit targets can be a lot of fun because they bounce across the ground and are pretty unpredictable…just like real rabbits.

Another interesting target you only see on the sporting clays course is the “Battue”.  This target is really thin and flies through the air very fast but loses momentum quickly.  Because of its shape, it rolls over during its flight and sometimes turns in strange directions.  If you can hit a battue with your shot it will break very easily because it is so thin.  The key to shooting battue targets is timing.

There are still more targets you might see on a sporting clays course but these are the most common types.

The Best Guns for Sporting Clays

Sporting Clay Shotguns
Sporting Clay Shotguns

Most people shoot sporting clays with a 12 gauge or 20 gauge shotgun. Some shooters like to use a 28 gauge or .410 but the ammo for these guns is more expensive and the amount of shot you are shooting at the target is much less because the shell is smaller.

A shotgun designed for bird hunting or a sporting shotgun would be best.  Nearly all shooters use an Over/Under or Automatic shotgun. You could use a side by side or pump shotgun but you won’t see a lot of them on the course. Unless you are shooting a pump gun event (which is super fun by the way). Do not try using a home security shotgun for Sporting Clays.  It can be dangerous and I have personally seen a few different people get hurt using guns that aren’t designed for the kind of shooting you do on a sporting clays course.

Most shooting ranges will have shotguns available to rent. If you don’t have a shotgun yet I highly recommend getting a rental gun at the range or borrowing one from someone else. Don’t go out and buy one until you have a feel for the kind of shotgun you want and one that’s well suited to your intended use.

Remington Gun Club Sporting Clay Shells
Remington Gun Club Target Loads

The Best Ammo to Use for Sporting Clays

The vast majority of sporting clay shooters use shotgun shells with a shot size of #7.5 or #8 and 1 oz or 1 1/8 oz loads. The standard shot speed is 1200 FPS but some people like to use shells that are a little faster or slower. The NSCA rule book says they allow the following shot sizes: #7.5, 8, 8.5, and 9.

The higher the shot size number, the smaller the shot (pellets or BBs inside the shell) will be.  So the shot inside a #7.5 shell will be a little larger than the shot inside a #8 shell.  The #7.5 shell will also have slightly fewer BB’s inside compared to the #8 because the #7.5 shot is bigger.  Why would you want shells with less shot inside? Good question.  Most of us would prefer to throw as much shot out there as possible to give us a better chance at hitting the clay.  But the difference in the quantity of shot is very minimal and, since the #7.5 shot is a little bigger, it will hit the clay target with a bit more force.  This might help you get more broken targets and less “dusted” targets.

Truth is, if you ask 10 shooters what the best shotgun shells for sporting clays are, you will get 11 different answers.  Everyone has their own preferences and reasons for why they like to shoot what they shoot. I recommend starting with an inexpensive standard target load, in the beginning, to keep things simple.

Enough Reading, Go Shoot Some Sporting Clays!

Now you have a good idea of what to expect on a sporting clays course and how to shoot your first round.  There is lots more to the game but I wanted to keep this beginner guide simple and just give you the info you need to get started.  Just like with most sports, the rabbit hole goes deep with sporting clays and lots of professional shooters have dedicated their careers to mastering every aspect of the game.  Be patient and allow yourself to get better at your own pace. Try not to bury yourself in information, advice, and instruction.  Focus on the basic principles and practice, practice, practice. If you are in So Cal and would like to get some coaching to help you get started or improve your shooting, check out this list of sporting clays instructors in Southern California.

Be safe, practice with a purpose, and have a great time out there.  Crush ’em all!

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