Sporting clays is a clay target shooting discipline that a complete beginner can participate in and enjoy just as much as the seasoned veteran. Although difficult or perhaps impossible to master sporting clays, it is the pursuit and variation that comes from one course to the next that keeps shot-gunners hungry for more rounds!

Sporting clays is akin to golfing with a shotgun. Each sporting clays stand, or station, offers a different challenge just as each hole in golf. No two courses will be exactly the same, which makes sampling or shooting different sporting clays courses a new challenge and a new adventure. The variety of stands include targets (clays) flying toward, away and across from the shooter. Rabbits (a heavier grade of round clay target) may run or bounce along the ground.  The setup is only limited by the imagination of the course designer and the terrain itself. This is the biggest draw to sporting clays and also the reason it is the closest thing to actual field shooting.

Sporting clays does not have a standard distances as you find in trap or skeet. Instead, the course simulates fast moving ducks, high-flying geese, flushing pheasants, scurrying rabbits, and more. To simulate different game and accommodate for different challenges caused by distance, sporting clays utilizes different sizes of targets, from those as small as 60mm in diameter all the way up 110mm.

Sporting clays courses are largely dictated by the terrain and usually consist of 10 to 15 shooting stations or stands. You are free to use any shotgun that is safe and capable of shooting two shots. Potential gun options include semi-automatics, pumps, and over/unders. However, sporting clays is a sporting style of shooting. Showing up with a shotgun designed for self-defense with only a pistol grip and no stock would be heavily frowned upon if not completely considered unsafe for the course. 12 and 20 gauge shotguns are most commonly employed on the sporting clays course. The 12 gauge offers a larger payload and increases your odds of hitting the target. Those selecting the 20 gauge will have less recoil and a lighter firearm that will swing easier when multiple targets are in the air.

Many shooters prefer an over/under shotgun so each barrel can be outfitted with a different choke. This allows the shooter to use the most advantageous shot pattern for their first versus second shot. New shooters are well advised to consider a semi-auto. You will not overthink which barrel to use and the recoil will be significantly lessened making your experience much more enjoyable.

Safety is a major concern in any shooting sport and failing to follow a few basic rules is the quickest way to draw unwanted attention. Visually demonstrate your shotgun is unloaded, by breaking open the action of an over/under or opening the breech of your semi-auto or pump. Always be conscious of where your muzzle is pointed. While in the air or at the ground are both generally considered acceptable please remember: what goes up must come back down.

Not all shotgun ammunition is the same. Shot in the 7 ½ to 9 range is commonly required. Shot larger than 7 ½ will travel farther and may present a safety hazard to other shooters. Always check with gun club or management prior to heading out to the range for shot-shell recommendations and restrictions.

Once on the range, never load your shotgun until you are on station and it is your turn to shoot. It only takes a fraction of a second to chamber a shell or close the action; it is better to be safe than fast. If you have a malfunction or failure to fire, keep the muzzle pointed down range. Depending on your comfort and skill level, verbally declare the malfunction to the other shooters and range personnel. Then, either unload and check the barrel or ask a shooter with experience with mechanical failures or a range officer for assistance. Either way, never move off station until the failure is fixed or competent assistance takes control of the firearm.

Shooting a Round of Clays

To start, you will proceed to the first station and progress through the various stations in order. Always stay on the prescribed walking paths from station to station. Prior to the first shooter, the puller or referee will show your squad the targets. This allows you to strategize the best sequence to successfully hit both targets. Members of the squad will often discuss the strategy. This can be based on the setup, right- or left-handed shooters, or which choke or chokes they are using.

When it is your turn to shoot, step up to the station. Once set, load two shells. Set your feet or body, point your shotgun toward the firing area and yell, “Pull!” The referee will determine if you hit any part of the bird and score your shots as hits or misses. When done, open the breech, ensure you have removed all spent hulls, point your muzzle in a safe direction (sky or ground) and exit the station for the next shooter.

Sporting clay shooters tend to be some of the most friendly and generous in the shotgunning sports. Typically, you’ll find them eager to share their knowledge, tips and tricks with shooters of all skill levels. Quite often, they will show more enthusiasm when a new shooter hits a target then when they do so ask questions. The range personnel and referees are also great sources of information. They see the course multiple times a day and are eager to share a tip or guide a new shooter.

  1. Join a local club. Not only can you have regular access to the club’s facilities, but also joining a Sporting Clays club is the best way to meet fellow shooters who can enhance your enjoyment of the sport, encourage your participation, and help you learn.
  2. Join NSCA. As an NSCA member, you’ll be able to shoot registered targets, have a subscription to Sporting Clays magazine, access members-only information and records at this website, and enjoy many more benefits.
  3. Shoot registered targets. Competition and record keeping are great encouragement as you work to improve your scores and ranking. And here’s a bonus: You’ll learn a great deal from shooting with and watching other good shooters who are competing. Don’t worry about being good enough to shoot with more experienced shooters; everyone competes within their own class, so you’re only competing against others at the same level.
  4. Take lessons. Taking shooting lessons from an NSCA Certified Instructor can take years off your learning curve, and at later stages, a coach can help you tweak your performance. Certified Instructors are highly trained and experienced teachers who specialize in instructing students at different levels, from first-timer to master.
  5. Keep shooting! There’s nothing like shooting a round of Sporting Clays to make you want to shoot more, learn more, meet more fellow Sporting Clays shooters, and become more involved. Experience really is the best teacher.