Clay pigeons: What are they made of? – Biodegradability and Safety

Clay pigeons: What are they made of? - Biodegradability and Safety

The global clay target industry has grown significantly over the recent years and combined commercial and domestic sales stand at over £2.5 billion.

However, as more people get involved in clay pigeon shooting, you might be wondering what these targets are actually made of and the impact they have on the environment.

Did you know that not all clay pigeons used in shooting are biodegradable? Did you know that clay pigeons are not actually made out of clay? Well, this article will look at what clay pigeons are made of and also take an in-depth look at the effects of biodegradability and safety.

So, What Makes Up a Clay Pigeon?

So, What Makes Up a Clay Pigeon

Well, clay targets differ in the composition subject to what kind of disc you choose. But contrary to what most people think, clay targets are not really made out of clay, nor do they resemble the shape of a pigeon. In fact, they’re usually made of a pitch or resin.

Traditional or standard clay pigeons are made from two different types of materials. The first is petroleum pitch, which comes from crude oil. This is used as a binding agent. The second material is talc or limestone (calcium carbonate), which is used as filler.

It’s important to note that clay targets have been around since the 1920s. They simply got their name from the tradition of shooting live captive birds (pigeons) and therefore “clay” is just a term they’ve derived over the years in recognition of the ancient live pigeon shooting.

Their name might suggest otherwise, but clay pigeons are commonly made from these types of materials, which make them particularly stable in flight. Some clay target manufacturers are using sustainable materials to keep the sport interesting for a broader audience.

How Traditional Clay Pigeons Are Made

How Traditional Clay Pigeons Are Made

In the making of the traditional or standard clay pigeons, industrial blenders are used to mix petroleum pitch and talc together at high temperatures to create a paste out of them.

The resulting paste is then put into a molding machine that shapes it while it cools down into the final form. Since orders made by shooting ranges are often in bulk amounts, clay pigeons are mostly piled up on top of each other in a pillar for easy transport and loading.

As environmental awareness grows in the shooting community, the manufacturing process of clay pigeons has changed over the years to be more eco-friendly.

Some clay pigeons nowadays are black from crude oil byproducts and are painted with biodegradable pint pigment. While they can be thrown by an automatic machine or by hand, most clay pigeons nowadays are designed to break upon impact with just a few pellets in shotgun ammo.

Are All Clay Pigeons Biodegradable?

Are All Clay Pigeons Biodegradable

As earlier mentioned, clay targets come in different compositions depending on what materials you opt for. The talc employed in the manufacturing of standard/traditional clay pigeons is bio-degradable and does not have an adverse impact on the environment.

However, pitch/resin and paint are not always biodegradable and can prove to be detrimental to the environment even when the particles are not visible.

It takes about two years for an average clay pigeon to dissolve by 95%. While harsh weather may speed up the dissolution process, only the biodegradable clay pigeon will dissolve completely.

Do Clay Pigeons Dissolve In Water?

The game of shooting clay pigeonscan be practiced in many different locations. While trap shooting or skeet shooting is usually performed in fields with special layouts, clay shooting can very well take place even over water.

So, do clay pigeons actually dissolve in water? Well, it turns out that the answer is no! Not all clay targets are made from materials that will dissolve in water, such as crude oil. Instead, some are made from binding agents and artificial fillers such as petroleum resin, tar, pitch, and limestone.

Some of these items may prove harmful to animals if ingested as they are hydrocarbons, which are highly non-biodegradable. Clearly, this explains why you’ll find many pieces in the trap fields and ponds, even after a long period of time.

Fortunately, there are now biodegradable clay pigeons for those who prefer an environmentally friendly option.

Most people rest on the assumption that simply because they are termed “clay” pigeons, they are indeed made of clay and are therefore biodegradable. Others just have it that once they end up in the water, they will eventually dissolve. But that’s not so true.

Traditional Clay Pigeon Dimensions

Traditional Clay Pigeon Dimensions

As you may have already figured out, clay pigeons come in different weights and sizes. However, the most common variations feature the following dimensions.

  • Olympic clay pigeon targets are large, coming in at about 101.6mm
  • Standard clay pigeons measure around 110mm in diameter and weigh about 105 grams
  • With a height of 23mm and 90mm in diameter, mid-clay pigeons are relatively smaller compared to the standard ones. They weigh about 75 grams.
  • Mini clay targets, meanwhile, come in at around 60mm and are considered ideal for sharpshooting and higher accuracy
  • There’s also another dimension that’s known as “Battue.” It is a specially designed type of clay that is flatter compared to the rest. This makes it descend faster as if it was a real-life bird descending. It weighs about 70 grams, and both height and diameter measure around 10mm and 100mm respectively.
  • Another common variation is the “Rabbit.” This is a flat clay pigeon that weighs about 105 grams, height of 17mm, and diameter of 110mm. As such, rabbit clay pigeons are designed to fly low close to the ground.

Note: There is a wide variety of clay pigeons on today’s market and most of them will come in diverse colors. Simply, the paint can either be non-toxic or toxic.

Clay Pigeons and Environmental Awareness

Clay Pigeons and Environmental Awareness

Petroleum pitch or resin is a black, thick liquid that is a by-product of the cracking process. While sticky, its main role in manufacturing is to act as a binding material. Chalk is usually used as filler.

Unfortunately, biodegradable clay pigeons are not always considered safe. They potentially can be detrimental to the environment. This is because as they dissolve, they lower the pH levels of the soil, making it more acidic, which can harm plants and disturb the natural balance of soil if no corrective measures are taken.

Clay pigeons made from non-biodegradable materials are considered a real hazard to nature because they will never be 100% dissolved. Besides, heavy metals are not always friendly to plants, animals, and even humans.

Environmentally Friendly Clay Pigeons

Different manufacturers may use different manufacturing processes to produce biodegradable clay pigeons. Non-toxic ones are made with reactants and paint that are not harmful to the environment, which makes them even safe for animals especially when they frequent the shooting range. Otherwise, toxic materials can easily wreak havoc on animals’ health.

Thankfully, there are some manufacturers who embrace corporate social responsibility and work to ensure that their operations do not raise a hazard to animals and life at large.

Such initiatives have contributed to the development of non-toxic, bio-targets that are friendly to the surroundings. In fact, these kinds of targets are the most preferred for clay shooting activities.

Note: You might not know this, but there’s a big difference between non-toxic and biodegradable clay targets/pigeons. Non-toxic just indicates that the materials will not cause any damage to any living things nearby.

Non-biodegradable clay pigeons can be both non-toxic and toxic. And biodegradable clay pigeons may come in both forms too. So if you’re not sure what kind of animals are hanging out in your field during the quiet hours, it’s probably best to go with the non-toxic option.

Top Manufacturers of Biodegradable Clay Pigeons

Top Manufacturers of Biodegradable Clay Pigeons

Champions BioBird, White Flyer, and Corsivia Green Bird are some of the well-known manufacturers of biodegradable clay pigeons. They are claimed to produce 100% pitch-free clay targets which comply with ISO 14021. Plus, they offer clay pigeons in packages of different quantities and sizes.

Although biodegradable clay targets involve just about the same manufacturing process as other options, they feature biodegradable reactants. So rather than petroleum pitch, the natural resin is employed, which eventually dissolves without causing harm to the environment.

Clay pigeons marketed as non-toxic may have the CSR of their manufacture, but when it comes to biodegradability, biodegradable products are often considered the best option.

This is because they have the tiniest footprint and are comprised of safe ingredients and degradable materials, which are obtained from nature. Water, sugar, grain, birdseed, and grain are some of the common elements used in the making of biodegradable clay pigeons.



Clay pigeon shooting has been practiced for quite a while. Today, over 2 million shooting events are held in the United States each year where clay pigeons are used in a variety of shooting sports. Such as trap and skeet shooting, sporting clays, as well as five-stand shooting.

But are clay pigeons biodegradable and safe? Well, the fact that clay pigeons biodegrade simply implies that they’ll eventually be dissolved by nature and will not cause footprints as in the case of polythene bags.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that biodegradable clay pigeons are completely safe. As stated earlier, these products can gradually cause a decline in the soil’s overall pH level, which can prove to be destructive for the grass and other plants.

Of course, some types of plants will do well in acidic grounds, but that would mean altering the shooting field to make room for them. This wouldn’t be a bad idea, though as certain parts of the field will be receiving a break to “cool off” before being put to use again.

If you’re looking to restock, we’d suggest that you go for biodegradable clay pigeons. They’re generally a step further in the right direction. Otherwise, we don’t want adverse impacts on the planet we’ll leave behind for future generations just because of some leisure activities!

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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