Clay Shooting Basics

The Basics of Clay Pigeon Shooting

Shotgun Types

There are 3 basic designs of 12 bore shotgun, Semi-Automatic, Over and Under and Side by Side.

Game shooters traditionally use side by side shotguns. On a side by side, the barrels are next to each other.

Over and unders have one barrel above the other. Clay shooting favours over and under shotguns.

Single barrelled auto’s are often used by wild game shooters for shooting pigeons.

In the main, shooters favour 12 bore shotguns.

A 20 bore uses a lighter cartridge, is a lighter weight gun, lighter with less recoil, making it a good choice for youngsters, ladies and shooters looking to reduce the recoil through their shoulder.

Clap Pigeon Shooting Equipment

Gun Slip

Keep your gun safe and protected from bangs and knocks when it’s being transported in a padded gun sleeve.

Cartridge Bags

There are many different bags and pouches available, from belt hung pouches designed to hold 50 cartridges at a time to large holdall type bags which allow shooters to carry a variety of different cartridges that may be needed for different types of clay targets during a competition shoot.

Shooting Eye-wear

All quality clay shooting grounds insist that eye protection must be worn while shooting. This is because there are often sharp fragments of flying clay landing near to shooters.

Noise Protection for your Hearing

To protect you against potential damage you should use ear plugs or defenders while guns are being fired near you. Hearing protection is mandatory at professional shooting venues.

Cartridge Shells

Shotgun shells vary from brand to brand. Most regular shooters find a make they are happy with and stick with it.

Shooters often use different lead-shot sizes for different types of clay pigeon target. For longer range targets, a heavier shot will give you a better chance of breaking the target, while for closer targets smaller pellet size shells give you more pellets in each cartridge so you have a larger ‘pattern’ to hit the target with.

The distance of ‘lead’ that a specific target requires will change in relation to the speed of your cartridge. Velocities vary from 1350 – 1650 feet/s, and a particular shot speed will suit your shooting style better than others.

All the shoot clothing and equipment that you need can be found in most reputable gun shops or online.

Popular Clay Shooting Disciplines


Wherever you are, the targets will fly on a similar path. This allows you to shoot the same clays at any skeet shooting ground worldwide.

Skeet ranges have 7 stands set out in a half circle between the 2 clay trap houses, and you are given a round of twenty five clays as you move through the 7 positions. Good skeet shooters will hit one hundred straight on a regular basis, and it is a competition focused around control and repetition.

Sporting Clays

Sporting targets imitate a variety of different game. You will see a range of targets and each shoot stand will offer you a new challenge.

The Various Clay Targets

Standard -110mm Diameter – a traditional domed clay

Midi targets look like standards, but are smaller at only 90mm diameter

Mini targets are only 60mm across, but are the same design as standards and midi’s.

Battue targets are 110mm in diameter, flat in design with a lipped rim. They tend to turn in mid-air making them ideal ‘loopers’.

Rabbit clays ape real rabbits, so the clays have to be tougher so they don’t break too easily when they bounce on the ground.

Shooting Principles

Shooting clays is much like catching a ball. Your natural coordination will automatically reach out with your shot to where the clay will be when the lead reaches it.

A few shooting lessons or a period of tuition when you first start shooting will soon get you up to speed with the sport and hitting clays.

To shoot well, you just need 2 basic skills; to have reasonable hand/eye coordination so you can time your shot right, and an understanding to ‘read’ what each clay is doing so you correctly anticipate its flight path.

As your shot leaves your gun barrels, it moves through the air in oval cloud. All you have to do is to make sure that the clay flies through that cloud of shot.

Because of the speeds and distances involved, accurately interpreting what a target is doing in the air is a vital skill for clay pigeon shooting.

Many targets look simple but can in fact be doing more complex things in flight, confusing your eyes and making you miss.

Two Simple Shooting Methods

The precise moment that you pull the trigger, along with the speed your gun is moving are the 2 key factors that will make you break the target. The 2 main shooting styles used by the majority of shooters are ‘swing through’ and ‘maintain lead’.

Maintain lead is the most popular style new shooters. Maintain lead involves swinging your barrels through the flight path of the clay, keeping your barrels the distance in front of the target that you feel is the right amount of lead.

Experienced shots often use swing through as their technique. Swing through involves coming from behind, & swinging your gun barrels through the clay, pulling the trigger when your natural instinct tells you that you have applied the correct amount of lead.

Basic Targets

There are seven basic targets for sporting shooting, which represent the different types of game.


A rabbit is a strong flat 110mm clay designed to roll along the ground at speed. Rabbits are often unpredictable with a bounce when you least expect it.


A Teal often flies vertically upwards, very rapidly. For many shooters these can be tricky targets requiring a swing through shooting style to hit with consistency. Many shooters opt to shoot a Teal as it drops rather than rising.

Quartering Clays

Quartering targets usually need less lead than crossers. Look to see where the clay trap is and where it lands to help you to correctly interpret the flight path of the clay.

Driven Birds

Driven clays simulate game on a shoot being driven towards you. Driven targets can be tricky because they disappear behind your gun barrels just when you need to be able to see them! Driven clays need a swing through technique for this reason.


Incoming clays take many forms, and can come from many angles, but basically head towards you, often hanging in the air before dropping to the ground. They are often assumed to be hit and missed through a lack of concentration.

Going Away

Targets going away from you need confidence and speed so you can hit them before they are too small to hit easily.

Looper Clays

Loopers are doing several things at once making them tough little blighters, especially if at range. Quite often they quarter towards or away from you as well, making them deceptive targets that drop, as they move through the air.