One of the most fun activities you can do that will improve your shooting skills is shoot clay pigeons. There are three main types of clay shoots: trap, skeet, and sporting clays. Each has different rules and directions that the clays are launched. The end goal is the same. You shoot the little clay frisbee-like disc out of the sky.
The sport is designed to provide shooters with a moving target for them to attempt to pick off. Many hunters swear by clay shooting as a way to improve their shooting skills, but it’s a sport valued by all kinds of shooters not just hunters.
You don’t have to have any aspirations to hunt to shoot clays, and even beginners can have a lot of fun. If you’ve never shot clays before, here are a few tips to help you your first time out.
Be sure to check out our blog covering the fundamentals of the three different types of Shooting Sports and how to choose your first shotgun here!
Becoming a great skeet shooter takes hard work and dedication. There is nothing better than learning through personal experience, but here are a few tips provided by the pros here at Falco Outdoors!
It is important that you wear the appropriate hearing and eye protection AT ALL TIMES. A pair of fitted shooting glasses are cheap and provide ample protection. There’s a variety of ear protection options out there for you to choose from.
Handle all guns as though they are loaded; however, it is important to keep your gun unloaded until you are ready to shoot. In the event, you must cross any sort of ditch, fence, stream etc., make sure your gun is unloaded.
You also want to keep the muzzle always pointed down until you are ready to shoot, and do not ever point your gun at anything that you do not want to shoot.
Know Your Dominant Eye
The term "dominant eye" means that your brain prefers the visual input from one eye over the other. Usually, the dominant eye is on the same side as the hand you would write with, similar to a baseball player's throwing hand.
Determine your dominant eye in these easy steps:
- Place both of your hands at arm's length, and press your thumbs and forefingers together to form a triangular opening.
- Keep both eyes open and look through the triangle you've made and center it on something, like a clock across the room.
- Now close one eye at a time, alternating between left and right (if you can't close one of your eyes at a time, have someone cover it for you).
Notice how the clock stays in place with one eye, but is hidden or moves with the other? Your dominant eye keeps the clock centered in the triangle.
You want to shoot from your eye-dominant side. This could mean a right-handed person will have to learn to shoot left-handed. Don’t get discouraged. It’s usually easier to learn to shoot that way than it is to try to compensate for eye dominance.
When shooting, no matter what eye is dominant, you should keep both of your eyes open. Clay pigeons will be moving no matter what type of clay shooting you’re doing. Having both eyes open will help you track the moving target.
The Right Body Stance
Stance; is the ideal position to take as you call for the bird. Your body position is extremely important. You want to be well-balanced, with your knees slightly bent and your feet slightly apart. The foot on the trigger-hand side of your body should go behind the other one.
Right-handed? Then your weight should be on the front, left foot, with your toes pointing towards the intended kill zone. If you’re a left-hander it’s the opposite way around and the right foot takes the lead.
A correct stance will undoubtedly help you swing your body to follow the flight of the clay when it is released.
Shooting gun ‘down’ or gun ‘up’
Gun up is when the shotgun is pre-mounted in the shoulder, the face is hard on the stock and you’re ready to pull the trigger as you call for the bird. This keeps you looking right down the barrel so you can point the bead at the end of the barrel towards your target.
It is used for speedy sporting targets where there is little to no time to mount the gun, or trap and skeet disciplines, for example.
Gun down is a more traditional way of shooting. It imitates walked up game shooting. The gun is held out of the shoulder and only mounted when the bird is presented.
One final note on holding and handling the shotgun properly: only put your finger on the trigger after you call for the clay to be launched (most people say “pull!”). This is a safety measure but one you should think about when working on your form.
You will probably hear a lot about forward allowance. It is when you fire a shotgun at a moving clay and need to allow for the time the shot takes to get to the target.
Shoot where the clay will be, not where it is. This means you will have to point your shotgun in the clay’s path of travel. This is why it’s important to keep both eyes open and position your body so you can turn and move.
You might hear the phrase ‘arranging collisions’. So how will you know how much forward allowance is needed? That’s something that comes with skill and experience. Without forward allowance, you would be simply aiming at a target, as in rifle shooting.
If you want a rough calculation, a crossing clay traveling at 40mph, 30 yards out from the stand, will have traveled about six feet in the time between you pulling the trigger and the tip of the shot stream reaching the flight line of the bird.
Knowing this you can appreciate that unless the muzzles are ahead of the target when the trigger is pulled you’ll miss – because the shot string is going behind the bird.
Keep On Swinging
Once you’ve picked your spot and squeezed the trigger, the temptation may be to abruptly stop the swing of your gun. This is one of the highest causes of missed shots in clay pigeon shooting.
Having fired off your shot, it’s important to continue the movement of the gun’s muzzle on the same axis on which you were previously moving.
Think of it in the same way as a golf swing. Golfers don’t simply strike their ball and halt their momentum upon impact. By continuing the swing you can bring more control into your shot, and therefore better accuracy.
You want to make sure you have consistent follow through and the best way to get this is to keep your barrel moving. Keep your dominant eye on the target and follow with the barrel.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
As with many other hobbies and pastimes, the way to clay pigeon shooting success is to practice as much as possible. If you find yourself constantly missing or just generally lacking consistency, there is probably something you can change.
Firstly, address some of the areas we’ve mentioned above. Is your stance correct? Are you sure you are aiming with your dominant eye? It could be that changing just one of the minor facets of your technique results in all-round greater results.
Like many other things though, if you are hitting the mark more often than not, small tweaks are the way to go. Fine-tune your shot and soon you will be taking clays out of the sky with confidence.
Ready to get out there and bust some clays? Be sure to check out our blog on Shooting Sports: A Beginner's Guide To Choosing A Shotgun to review the Winchester SXP Trap as a great choice for your first trap gun!
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