What is Clay Pigeon Shooting?

What is clay pigeon shooting

Clay pigeon shooting is a well-known and growing shooting sport that involves shooting at inanimate targets rather than live-captive birds.

It is a challenging sport given that hitting the targets requires skill, timing, and hand-eye coordination, but on the bright side, there’s nothing quite really like that thrill when you pull the trigger and see the targets blast out into pieces.

It is a safe and fun alternative to the real thing. Plus, you can enjoy clay shooting at any level from local club shoots all the way up to the tournaments. So in this article, we’ll look at the main aspects of clay pigeon shooting i.e. the major disciplines involved, popular shotguns used, what to wear, and the best way to take on the shooting practice. Let’s get started!

Clay Pigeon Shooting: Overview

Clay Pigeon Shooting Overview

There is more to Clay Pigeon Shooting than meets the eye. It is not just one sport, but a group of disciplines that come together under this one banner.

This includes Trap Shooting, Skeet Shooting, and Sporting Clay. There’re, however, other subdivisions within these 3 major categories, each with its own rules and specifications.

As earlier mentioned, clay pigeon shooting, as a sport basically involves using a shotgun to shoot at and break circular flying targets made from fragile material.

Clay pigeons are launched into the air to produce flying inanimate targets by a machine known as a trap. This machine can fling the clay targets out to a distance of up to 120 meters. Nowadays, most shooting grounds use automatic traps, which are essentially fully automated, electrical-powered machines to launch a target every time a button is pressed.

This shooting activity derives many phrases from “live bird shooting,” a practice that dates back to 1831, where real birds, mostly pigeons were released from a trap located in front of the shooter. The practice later evolved into shooting Glass Balls stuffed with feathers or powder in an attempt to achieve uniformity in the competition and equalize the standard of targets.

Eventually, the glass balls were replaced by disks made from clay. This brought about better flying targets and longer, flatter trajectories that more closely resembled an actual bird when flying.

Clay pigeon has since then developed into a sport embraced by many (normally from ten years and upwards) at levels from armature shooters to Olympic champions. And while safety is always a concern, there’s a firm set of safety rules at all shooting grounds being applied by those taking part.

Clay vs Skeet shooting: What’s the Difference?

Clay vs Skeet shooting What's the Difference

Clay shooting and skeet shooting may sound the same but they’re quite different. For instance, clay shooting is often used as a generic term for the shooting sport, whereas skeet shooting refers to a specific discipline within clay pigeon shooting that has defined rules.

Clay shooting was first practiced in America, while Skeet is simply a Scandinavian word that has been applied to a part of clay sport. Being a recognized type of clay pigeon sport, skeet shooting is governed by rules and regulations set forth by the International Shooting Sport Federation and Inanimate bird shooting association.

Skeet shooting involves shooting at clay targets that are released from two houses located at opposite ends of a semi-circular (half-moon) shaped shooting ground.

There’re seven shooting positions on the semicircle and targets are launched from both traps in singles or doubles on a pre-determined trajectory and at a set speed. There’s also the eighth station halfway on a line between the first and the seventh shooting position.

In skeet shooting, the gun position is optional; that means the gun doesn’t have to be in a specific position. The shooter calls for the target and it is released instantly, which is not always the case in some versions of clay pigeon shooting.

Clay Pigeon Shooting Guns

Clay Pigeon Shooting Guns

There are many different types of clay pigeon shooting guns available on the market, from basic break-action shotguns to high-end semiautomatic rifles. No matter what your budget or skill level, there is a gun out there that is perfect for you.

When choosing a clay pigeon shooting gun, it is important to consider what type of shooting you will be doing most often. If you are only shooting at the local gun range, a basic break-action shotgun will suffice. However, if you are planning on competing in tournaments or hunting game birds, you will need a more sophisticated gun.

The most important factor to consider when choosing a clay pigeon shooting gun is the fit. The gun must be comfortable for you to hold and shoot, otherwise you will not be able to hit your targets. It is also important to choose a gun that is the right weight for you; too heavy and you will tire yourself out, too light and the gun will be difficult to control.

Once you have chosen the perfect shooting gun for you, be sure to practice with it as much as possible. The more you shoot, the better you will become at hitting your targets. With a little practice, you will be hitting clay pigeons like a pro in no time.

Shotguns in Clay Pigeons

Shotguns are the most common type of guns used in clay shooting. Unlike rifles, a shotgun’s barrel is much wider, which allows for a greater spread of small metal balls or pellets. The pellets leave the barrel and swiftly disperse into what looks like a cloud of moving projectiles.

In clay target or pigeon shooting, it only takes about three pellets to hit and break the target, which is why shotguns are preferred.

Most clay shooters tend to use an Over and Under Double Barrelled Shotgun, or the more conventional Side-by-Side Shotgun. Most shooters favor a gun with a barrel diameter of approximately 18.5 mm, also referred to as a 12-gauge or 12-bore shotgun.

However, some shooters – usually those with a smaller frame or who are younger – prefer smaller diameter guns (16 or 20 gauge), as they are lightweight and easier to handle.

The inside diameter of the barrels is usually reduced at the end, a process called chocking. This is done in order to change the pattern of shots fired from the gun.

Barrels with parallel sides towards the end will often deliver a cloud of shot that spreads out quickly compared to barrels that choke down

Fully choked barrels will easily deliver at least 70% of the shot within a 30” diameter circle at forty yards while more open ones will hardly keep 50% of the shoot within the range.

The distance between the shooter and the clay will often dictate the choke to be selected. Closer targets are generally easier to hit with open chokes because the shots will disperse rapidly.

Distant targets, on the other hand, are easier to hit with tight chokes, so the shot cloud stays together longer, offering a greater chance of hitting the clay and shattering it.



The cartridge is comprised of the ward, primer, and lead shot. These components are contained together by a plastic case to allow for quick and efficient loading into the shotgun.

The end that holds the primer is made of metal. The primer is responsible for igniting the main charge, which, in turn, propels the lead shot out of the cartridge.

Most modern cartridges use a nitrocellulose-based charge, which is far safer and more stable than the traditional black powder. The wad is usually made from plastic or biodegradable fiber, and it serves to protect the lead shot during firing.

Various disciplines of clay shooting such as skeet require to close up targets and often involve smaller shots. For instance, skeet shooters may use 28 grams of size 9 shot so that the increased number of small-sized shots reduces the chances of a target passing through the cloud unscathed.

However, cartridges that are large than shot size seven are considered dangerous as the shot may reach further distances. That is why shooting grounds have a 300-meter downrange safety distance. Although this may not be sufficient when using a large shot, it will help to maintain a safe environment during the practice.

Clay Shooting Disciplines

Clay Shooting Disciplines

There are many types of clay shooting, each with its own set of rules, but they can be broadly classified into three categories: skeet, trap, and sporting.

Sporting clays is the most recent discipline and it originated in the UK in the 1980s. It involves shooting at a variety of targets, which vary in size, speed, and trajectory.

Trap Shooting

Trap shooting is the oldest and most popular form of clay pigeon and a great way to test your accuracy and precision. It generally involves shooting at single targets thrown in front of the shooter in a set pattern.

The various subdivision of trap shooting includes Automatic Ball Trap (ABT), Down the Line (DTL), Universal Trench, Double Rise, and Olympic Trap shooting. In all of these disciplines, the shooter shoots at a trap located 15 meters in front of them. The targets can be single or double clay targets and they’re launched at varying angles, heights, and speeds.

Skeet Shooting

Skeet is a more recent discipline that originates from America. It involves shooting at dual targets launched simultaneously, which is usually considered more challenging than trap.

In skeet shooting, two people take turns shooting clays from different stands. It usually consists of up to five people and each person takes their turns at the first stand before moving to the next.

There are three main types of Skeet: American (NSSA) Skeet, English Skeet, and Olympic Skeet. In English skeet, shooters shoot at the clay targets from 7 shooting stands positioned in a semicircle between the trap houses.

Sporting Clay

Sporting clay shooting is the most popular type of clay shooting. It is intended to replicate live quarry shooting and offers a challenge for shooters of all skill levels.

There are no rules in sporting clays regarding target angle, speed, trajectory or elevation; instead a set number of targets are provided at each shooting station, making it attest of both accuracy and speed, while offering a more challenging and realistic shooting experience.

Sporting is usually shot in small groups where shooters take turns buttoning for each other and recording the scores. Competition shoots mostly have a scorer at every stand, or someone who takes a group around each stand in turn.

In most clay shooting grounds, shooters are expected to take a look at the target before shooting. While it is difficult to button, shoot and score, a certain number of wasted targets is accepted as long as it is deemed reasonable.

The subdivisions of English Sporting include Sporting, Super Sporting, Compak Sporting and International (FITASC).


Sportrap is another shooting game within clay target shooting. It consists of 5 cages in a line and a series of traps that launch targets at different directions, speeds, and elevations.

In this, every stand presents a combination of 5 targets in a specific order comprising of a single target, a subsequent pair, and a simultaneous pair.

The shots are made at each cage and are scored out of 25. The combinations of traps and score are released by a scorer and the order of targets taken from every cage is attached to the shooting cage.

The Best Way to Start

The Best Way to Start

If you’re interested in learning how to shoot, it’s best to start with a shooting school that is recognized and has instructors who are members of the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors.

While safety is always the top priority, much of the early tuition will be focused on teaching you how to handle a gun correctly. A course of 6-12 lessons in pretty quick succession should help you establish your skill base faster. This is not only encouraging but it’s also economical; more like learning to drive.

What to Wear

What to Wear

When starting out, there’s no need for anything special in terms of clothing. Just make sure whatever you wear is comfortable and practical for what you’ll be doing, and appropriate for the conditions. All of the necessary safety equipment will be provided by the club or shooting school.

As you get more experience and become accustomed to the activity, you’ll start to see why experienced shooters almost always wear a tweed uniform. Tweed is windproof, yet breathable to keep you warm or cool as needed.

A shooting jacket may as well be essential for a few reasons: it has plenty of pockets for things like ear plugs and cartridges, and it’s also helpful in absorbing some of the strain from firing the gun.

A good, sturdy jacket is important for those days when you’re shooting from the shoulder. It will protect you from the elements and provide some padding.

Waistcoats are great for those days when it’s not quite warm enough for just a shirt, but you don’t want the extra layer to restrict your arms. And if the temperature warms a bit, a waistcoat can make a comfortable layer over a shirt.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

Clay pigeon shooting is an incredibly popular outdoor sport that is enjoyed by many, and a great practice to take on if you’re looking for some good outdoor moments, probably having fun with friends and family.

While the sport is very similar to traditional shooting, it involves shooting at clay targets launched into the air rather than real birds. In other words, it’s a recreational activity that is more akin to skeet shooting. And it’s great for just about anyone. Hopefully, we’ve covered what clay pigeon shooting is, the various common disciplines, and how to get started.

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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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