The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Trap and Clay Pigeon Shooting

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Trap and Clay Pigeon Shooting

A quintessentially British sport used among men throughout history, now gaining ground in popularity for all and many. While it is still associated with the richer and older generation of men with land to spare, taking a trap shooting stance is becoming a more common past time across the country. 

Luckily, things have changed with trends shifting from shooting game for the mealtime hunt with the hounds to a sustainable clay-shot simply for the fun of aiming. And, with it being a very satisfactory sport that can be done alone, in a group, in a competition or while holidaying in the middle of nowhere with family, it can be a useful hobby to have. So, here at The Hobby Kraze, we wanted to provide you with the ultimate beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting. Take a look at the range of areas about shooting sporting clays we’ll be covering:

  1. An Introduction to Shooting Sporting Clays
  2. A Brief History to Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment
  3. Why Should You Take a Trap Shooting Stance and Find Where to Aim?
  4. The Beginner’s Guide to Trap and Clay Pigeon Shooting Glossary
  5. The Legalities Behind Key Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment
  6. All Other Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment and Tools You’ll Need
  7. The Parts of Your New Shotgun for Shooting Sporting Clays
  8. Prepping, Loading and Shooting from Start to Finish

Before we shoot off, the team here at The Hobby Kraze loves to debunk misconceptions about hobbies to make them even more enjoyable! And, with clay pigeon shooting there are many. For example; only farmers can do it, clay pigeon shooting equipment is only for men or to always look down the barrel of the gun.

In fact, anyone can do clay pigeon shooting, it has become very popular among women and you should never look down the barrel of the gun. A quick tip from the syndicate would be to look alongside the gun at where the target is going to be, otherwise you’ll always be behind and miss the clay pigeon!

An Introduction to Shooting Sporting Clays

Clay pigeon shooting is a well-established countryside sport where individuals or groups can come together with their shotgun and shoot a clay disc. This clay disc can vary in sizes, but there is a standard size of 110mm in diameter. The clay pigeon is shot into the air using a manual or automatic ‘trap’. When in the air, a shotgun shoots a cartridge towards the clay in order to hit and break it. 

The speeds of the clay, the angle of the clay, the type of cartridge or bullet and the types of shotgun can all vary depending on the shooting sporting clays you’ll want to do. Often, the more experienced you are with where to aim, the faster you’ll have the trap and clay release mechanism operating. And, you can begin to think about competitions, tournaments and so on.

A Brief History to Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment

A Brief History to Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment

The backstory to clay pigeon shooting stems from the historical need to hunt for food. When it became prominent that people were enjoying the pastime beyond the need to eat, others found that accessibility and cost were an issue. So, the glass pigeon was born. 

The invention of artificial targets is actually quite new in comparison to its predecessor and other sporting games around. In fact, it wasn’t until 1860 when the question of where to aim became about looking for a glass ball rather than game, pigeons, foxes or deer.

These glass balls were round and fragile. They were often made with feathers inside in order to give the same explosion of feathers that would be seen when shooting a bird out of the sky. However, luckily, this idea did not catch on and the need for feather-stuffing was left in the past.

Then, in 1880, a US marksman named George Ligowsky decided that – although affordable, accessible and environmentally sustainable – these new glass balls were impractical to the sport. So, he designed and developed an even easier alternative. Thus, shooting sporting clays was born. George created a dome-shaped clay disc that could be thrown into the air using a trap machine. They were sturdier, easier to produce and more accessible to hunters. As well as this, cracked clay is not as sharp and causes reduced damage to surrounding wildlife.

When they first arrived in the UK, in 1882, these ‘clays’ were described by a popular publication named The Field to be simple saucers made of brittle crockery. And, when projected from a spring-laden trap, could be made to skim the air for around 40-60 yards at a high velocity resembling a bird.

Since then, the clays have remained somewhat similar, although slightly developing in shape and size. And, the shooters have grown in diversity with you being its newest member to grow a trap shooting stance.

Why Should You Take a Trap Shooting Stance and Find Where to Aim?

Why Should You Take a Trap Shooting Stance and Find Where to Aim

Taking the team’s advice with this beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting, you could be out in the field with some friends and creating environmentally friendly mayhem in no time. Luckily, there are vast amounts of benefits to sharing a hobby such as clay pigeon shooting. Not only can you bask in the great stress-relieving attributes of picturing the clay pigeon to be your in laws dinner, but it can be a great hobby for the head and heart, too.

The Hobby Kraze syndicate has created a small list of positive characteristics to firing off a cartridge at some hardened clay. Take a look:

  • Precision helps to keep the mind stimulated
  • Aiming can keep your eyes working through the ages
  • Being outside is good for your lungs and your heart
  • It is a game that can be experienced by anyone
  • You can enjoy shooting sporting clays alone, with family or with friends
  • You can affiliate with manor houses and offer lessons
  • You can travel the world and still engage in your hobby
  • You’ll have a license to own a firearm
  • It will strengthen muscles you don’t even think you’re using
  • Your hand eye co-ordination will go through the roof
  • Your reflexes will improve
  • It can sharpen your mental discipline
  • It provides an outlet for energy
  • You can begin to experience happy hormones
  • You can enter competitions and find the right clay pigeon shooting to suit you
  • You can decorate your shotgun to be as pink and sparkly as you wish
  • It is a cheap sport to be a part of
  • You can wear whatever the British weather dictates

The Beginner’s Guide to Trap and Clay Pigeon Shooting Glossary

The Beginner’s Guide to Trap and Clay Pigeon Shooting Glossary

Before we can move onto describing the guns or running through the process of clay pigeon shooting, we have to go through the eclectic mixture of jargon. The glossary of terms might not be too long, but they can be quite varied. And, the glossary can go further if you head into any other realm of hunting such as wildlife hunting. So, be sure to dig deeper when you want to specialise rather than keep a nice hobby!

  • Airgun

An airgun is a particular shotgun designed to shoot gas or compressed air. They are a cheap alternative for practicing where to aim and your new trap shooting stance.

  • Artificial Target

An artificial target is the umbrella term for any and all types of clay pigeon. It even extends to the historic glass balls. It is anything that is used as part of the clay pigeon shooting equipment that is not wildlife.

  • American Trap

The American Trap is a style and format of clay pigeon shooting. Here, the trap is in front of you and will shoot the clay pigeon away from you. You, then, have to shoot it before it reduces in altitude and goes beyond the horizon or tree line. This is also the opposite to DTL shooting.

  • Bag

Your ‘bag’ is your shooting loot from the day. Deriving from the old hunting terms of carrying a burlap sack to be filled with game and other birds for dinner, it simply refers to your ‘score’.

  • Bead

A bead is a small and white ball located at the end or near the end of the barrel of the shotgun. The purpose of this bead is help with eyeline, sight and aim. Often, there is a secondary bead located higher up the barrel which, when lined up with the other, can help with precision.

  • Beater

A beater is a person who flushes their shots. It is the name given to a person who doesn’t miss a shot throughout the syndicate or through the event. 

  • Bore

Also called the gauge, the bore is the size of the empty space inside the barrel of a shotgun. The bigger the number, the smaller the space of the barrel. The standard size in shooting competitions is a 12-bore shotgun, but a 20-bore is a common choice for women because it is smaller and lighter so will generate a smaller kick.

  • Bullet

There are two types of ammunition used within clay pigeon shooting. Either the shotgun bullet or the cartridge. The shotgun bullet is thin and streamlined and directly hits the target without bursting or spreading through a choke, first. These are the most common forms of ammunition used in small guns throughout the US.

  • Cartridge

A cartridge is the other form of round used throughout shooting sporting clays. They are a more popular choice as part of the clay pigeon shooting equipment because they separate mid-air and increase the chances of hitting the target. Inside these cartridges are many small balls and pellets that can impale the clay pigeon.

  • Choke

A choke is something that goes into the entrance of the muzzle of the shotgun. The aim is to constrict the cloud released by the cartridge. The more open the choke, the bigger the cloud. The tighter the choke, the smaller the pellet distribution pattern which will cause more damage in a smaller area.

  • Clay Pigeon

A clay pigeon is a small disc made out of clay. They are used as artificial targets to aim for and shoot while out on a shooting adventure. They are cheap to produce, light to manoeuvre and streamlined to replicate the flight of a bird. There are 7 types of clay, being; Standard, Battue, Midi, Mini, Rabbit, Rocket and ZZ. However, a top tip would be to go for the standard or the rabbit as they are the most commonly used clays for competitions and games.

  • CPSA

Standing for the “Clay Pigeon Shooting Association” it is a national governing body for artificial target shooting throughout England. They have a membership scheme whereby members can enter competitions, be selected for events, learn new skills, obtain shooting classifications, have public liability insurance and more.

  • DTL

Standing for ‘Down the Line’, DTL is the side-on version of the American Trap format. Instead of being behind the trap, your trap shooting stance will be diagonally behind the trap. The trap will shoot across your horizon rather than towards it. DTL shooting is very good for aim-perfection training.

  • English Sporting

This style of shooting involves ‘calling’ for the pull of the clay pigeon. These clay pigeons are released in pairs across five rounds. The idea is that you’ll be ready in your trap shooting stance with the shotgun cushioned into your shoulder. When you’re ready you can begin the rounds of clays. Where to aim is down to you; in each of the five rounds, you need to choose and hit one of the two clay pigeons.

  • Ghillie

A ghillie is a guide who comes along with you to show you the grounds, provide a tour and help with your shooting style. They can take you to the most beautiful shooting location and they could pull the trap for your clays. The same name is given to a tour guide in fishing and is most commonly heard throughout the Scottish regions.

  • Hide

Your hide is your way of concealment. Most often used when hunting wildlife (so, not truly applicable here) it is an outfit that can help you blend into the environment. It is very useful when not wanting to stun or disturb local wildlife.

  • ISSF

The International Shooting Sport Federation is the governing body of sporting hobbies across the world. Their main aims are to regulate the sport and host international and equal competitions. They are also the representing body for all shooting sports to enter the Olympic games.

  • Over-and-Under

This refers to a double barrel where the barrels are stacked on top of one-another.

  • Side-by-Side

Just like the over-and-under, the side-by-side refers to a double-barrel shotgun where the barrels are next to each other.

  • Sustainable Harvest

A sustainable harvest is a term originally coined for the shooting and hunting of wildlife where the animals who have been shot were bread for the action. And, the habitat was not damaged. However, it is more relevant to clay pigeon shooting as it will always yield a sustainable harvest.

  • Syndicate

A syndicate is a group of like-minded shooters who often group and shoot together. The idea is that they can bundle in order to save money throughout their hobby adventure with clay pigeon shooting equipment where only one or two traps are needed.

  • Trap

The final must-know in the terms of shooting sport clays is the trap, itself. The trap is the machine which – operated manually or automatically – will shoot the clay pigeons into the air. 

The Legalities Behind Key Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment

The Legalities Behind Key Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment

When it comes to the UK, it’s not as easy to get a hold of a firearms certificate as it is in the US. In fact, there are very few people who are allowed to hold a firearm in the UK, mainly farmers for wild animals attacking their flock. But, it’s not impossible. 

According to gov.uk, you need to obtain a license over the age of 18 with your local police station. They’ll be able to assess your eligibility and issue a certificate. However, there is no need for a certificate if you’re only shooting air rifles up to 12ft-ib in power or air pistols up to 16ft-ib in power. Meaning, you can practice shooting with an air rifle and adjust to the kick before deciding to make it your forever hobby. Then, you can obtain a certificate and buy your own clay pigeon shooting equipment with a 12mm or 20mm bore.

Another thing to note would be the fee for licensing. There is a total fee split between a government cost and a police cost. It should be around £60 to £150 depending on your local constabulary, so check with them to be sure. 

The best course of action would be to always check out the latest regulation on gov.uk about firearm ownership and then head to the CPSA for membership and insurance benefits. This way, you know you’re definitely covered for when it comes to shooting sporting clays.

All Other Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment and Tools You’ll Need

All Other Clay Pigeon Shooting Equipment and Tools You’ll Need

So, the beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting is passed all the boring legalities to the sport, let’s move onto the clay pigeon shooting equipment you’ll need. Luckily, the equipment for trap and clay pigeon shooting can often be very similar to the tools and supplies needed for other adventures into the wilderness such as hiking or geocaching. 

Check out our Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and our Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to geocaching for more information on these popular and flexible hobbies.

Otherwise, let’s get down to the shopping cart. Most of your tools you’ll likely already have sat around your home, so all you need to do is pack a bag. But, then there’s the true clay pigeon shooting equipment like the rifles. Luckily, the team here at The Hobby Kraze has put together the fundamental checklist for you to look at before venturing where to aim:

  • Rifle
  • Cartridges
  • Clay Pigeons
  • Traps
  • Ear Protectors
  • Goggles
  • Hat
  • Shooting Vest
  • Range Bag
  • Gun Bag
  • Shell Catcher
  • Polo Shirt
  • Thermal Layer
  • Thick Socks
  • Branch Cutters
  • Bore Solvent
  • Grease and Lubrication
  • Sun Cream
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Heavy-Duty Boots
  • Shell Pouch
  • Cleaning Rod

The Parts of Your New Shotgun for Shooting Sporting Clays

The Parts of Your New Shotgun for Shooting Sporting Clays

For the most important part of the ultimate beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting, you need to know all the parts to your gun. And, there are more than you think. Ensuring you’re comfortable with all these parts means that you can remain safe when shooting sporting clays in your trap shooting stance. So, from your muzzle to your butt, let’s understand the 14 parts to your firearm. 

  • Muzzle

This is the opening to the barrel, or the ultimate tip of your shotgun where the cartridge will leave the bore.

  • Bead

The bead is a small white or black pearl located on the muzzle on the top. It is used to find where to aim with the clay pigeon shooting equipment.

  • Choke

A choke is an inside part to your gun. They are placed within the bore of the barrel at the tip of the gun and their role is to constrict the cloud spray from a cartridge for a precision shot.

  • Rib

The rib is an extra layer attached to the top of the barrel; it’ll often have holes along the side. The purpose is to prevent barrel distortion and increase aim accuracy.

  • Fore-End

The fore-end is where your non-dominant hand will hold and support the shotgun. It is often decorated in the same material and colour as the stock and grip to help distinguish.

  • Chamber

The chamber is the name given to the entrance of the barrel. So, with a hobby in shooting sporting clays, you’ll be inserting your cartridge into the chamber of the gun.

  • Ejector

The ejector is a spring-loaded mechanism that helps to eject spent cartridge cases. It is located at the source of the barrel and is often part-inside the barrel and part outside.

  • Action

The action is the metal hinge holding where the barrel meets the trigger and stock of the shotgun. It is the holding for the ammunition and also the device that can allow a gun to become an automatic.

  • Top Lever

The top lever disconnects the bolt from the barrel of the gun which allows it to open for loading. When the gun is re-connected, the spring will bring the top lever to home. 

  • Trigger

While this may be self-explanatory, the trigger is a small pull where the finger will sit. When ready, the finger should pull the trigger toward the shoulder and you’ll have shot something. As this is the beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting, don’t be surprised if it is thin air at first.

  • Safety Catch

A safety catch is a small trigger that, when pushed to the side will lock the gun and prevent it from firing. When the gun is not in use, the safety should always be on.

  • Grip

The grip refers to the shape of the protrusion where the back of the hand of the trigger finger will sit. There are four common grips for a shotgun in the shooting sporting clays ring. There is the; English, Half-Pistol, Pistol and Monte Carlo.

  • Comb

The comb is the top segment of the stock. While the stock leans against the shoulder, your cheek or face will lean against the comb in order to use the bead to aim.

  • Stock

The stock is the large end to the gun. It sits into the shoulder and will take the brute force of the kick. At the end of the stock, where it meets the shoulder, there are three segments; the heel (top), the butt (middle) and the toe (bottom).

Prepping, Loading and Shooting from Start to Finish

Prepping, Loading and Shooting from Start to Finish

Now that you’ve revised the lingo, got your license and chosen the perfect shotgun, you can begin your first outing with where to aim your clay pigeon shooting equipment. Here at The Hobby Kraze, the team wanted to make sure you’re prepared for the real thing. So, in this beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting, we always cover the ground. 

For the best experience, you’ll need to make sure you know what to expect when it comes to preparation, finding the right trap shooting stance and getting the shot.

To get started, you’ll need to safely remove the shotgun from the gun slip. To do this, have the muzzle-end on the floor and the stock end pointing towards the sky. Open the gun slip until half-way down. Then, you can reach into the slip, find and activate the release lever. This will disconnect the barrel from the activator, and you can take your gun out of the slip at a right angle without needing to change position. Reverse these steps when you’re ready to pack-up after a day at the range.

When the shotgun is out of the gun slip, you need to make sure the safety is on. The safety should always be on unless you’ve found where to aim with your clay pigeon shooting equipment. 

With the gun still disconnected, place the stock under your armpit. Then, with the same arm, bring it under the gun and rest your hand on your stomach. Your gun should now be comfortably resting on your forearm with muzzle to the ground and empty chamber towards you. 

Before you can begin to load your gun and take a shot, you’ll need to understand which is your dominant eye. Otherwise, you’ll be taking shots thinking the aim is on-point, but you’ll be mysteriously missing every single clay to fly past. You need to know which your dominant eye is in order to find which side to have your gun on. For example; if your dominant eye is your left, your gun’s stock will need to be in your left shoulder for the sake of finding where to aim. In order to find your dominant eye, point at an object. Then, close one eye. If you are no longer pointing at that object, you’ve just closed your dominant eye.

Now, you can get your cartridge and load your double-barrel. To do this, hold the fore-end, make sure the safety is on (again) and keep all fingers away from the trigger. Slide the cartridge down the chambers and you can then lock your gun back up ready to shoot. When you’re done, don’t forget to eject the old cartridge cases and dispose of them correctly.

Next, it’s time to perfect the trap shooting stance. While we’d love to be there in person to help place you in the correct stance, this beginner’s guide to trap and clay pigeon shooting needs to use the power of words! You’ll need to face forward but have your hips slightly turned to the side. This is because you’ll have one foot forward and one foot behind. If we continue with the example that your dominant eye is your left, you will have the gun’s stock butt snuggly fitted into the shoulder joint. Your left cheek will be resting on the comb and your left foot will be behind you in order to support the kick. When here, point your gun towards the trap and wait to pick-up the line of flight for the clay.

Finally, when shooting, aim for where the cartridge is going to be and never stop moving with the shotgun. For example, if the clay is coming from a trap on the right, point the gun towards the trap, follow the clay with your bead and then pull the trigger when the barrel is ahead of the clay pigeon. But, don’t stop when you pull the trigger; always keep moving. This way, you’ll be finding shards of clay everywhere from a flush. 


And, there you have it. One of the most dangerous hobbies that requires no contact here at The Hobby Kraze. From understanding how trap and clay pigeon shooting became so popular after traditional hunting for game to looking alongside the barrel of the gun into your own hobby adventure. You now have all the tools and know-how to begin shooting sporting clays. And, who knows; you could have an innate precision aim and get your invitation to a competition with the CPSA or ISSF in no time.

However, a final rule of thumb for shooting etiquette would be to always think ‘barrels down’ and only ever point down the range. You’ll be safe and you’ll gain the respect of other shooters around you.

Here at The Hobby Kraze, our very own syndicate would love to see you in action and enjoying your new hobby. So, don’t forget to have a family member or friend take some pictures of you basking in the glory of the cartridge cloud. And, don’t forget to check out the other ‘Ultimate Beginner Guides’ in the collection to discover new hobbies you may have never thought of. 

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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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