Shooting Clays with Guns

One of the interesting aspects of clay pigeon shooting is the terminology used within the sport. The clay discs are known as pigeons, shot from traps, and, if the gunman destroys one, he is said to have earned a kill. This terminology is of a different era, when real pigeon shooting was a common recreational activity. Since 1921, however, when pigeon shooting was made illegal by British Parliament, clay pigeon shooting has become a very popular sport, with on variation known as Olympic trap shooting becoming a sport in 1900.

Background on Clays

While there are at least 20 different types, or disciplines, of clay pigeon shooting, there is a certain type of target which is generally referred to as a clay pigeon. Usually shaped like an inverted saucer, colored black or a fluorescent orange, and made of pitch and limestone, these targets have become synonymous clay pigeon shooting.

With the varying types of disciplines come different types of clays, with many of the differences depending on whether the shooter is shooting in American Sporting Clays, Trap, or Skeet. These targets are typically 108mm in diameter, 28-29mm in height. In international disciplines the targets tend to be somewhat larger, 110mm, and 25-26mm in height.

In addition to these standard types of clays, there are others which offer shooters a variety of challenges. Midi targets are smaller than standard clays, with a diameter of only 90mm, and are faster as a result. At only 60mm, the mini clay is something akin to a flying bumblebee. Others, including the Rabbit, Battue, and ZZ, simulate the movements of animals in the air and on the ground, with the final of these, the ZZ, actually attached to two propellers and made to fly in random lines through the air.

How the Traps Work

The machine which throws the clay pigeons for the shooter is commonly called a trap, or, in keeping with avian hunting terminology, a bird trap. These machines are made for the purpose of throwing the targets up to 100 meters, in singles or pairs, and at varying angles of trajectory. Traps are made to perform their task with differing levels of technical sophistication as well, from being loaded and released by hand to being entirely automatic, shooting up to 600 targets in one magazine. With the automatic machines, the release is triggered either by remote control or the shooter’s voice.

Types of Guns Used

Clay pigeon shooting is meant to be performed with a shotgun, and the type of shotgun used is entirely at the discretion of the shooter. Local laws and rules within the sport govern the use of certain types of guns under certain conditions.

Under most conditions, when the choice of which type of shotgun to use is left to the shooter, the most traditional type is the Over and Under and Side by Side types. The Over and Under shotgun is a double barreled gun with, as the name indicates, the barrels arranged one on top of the other. There are three types of this shotgun, skeet, sporting, and trap. Typically the trap guns have a heavy, long barrel and shoot slightly above where the shooter is aiming. Skeet guns are lighter and faster, and sporting models have an interchangeable choke and varying barrel lengths.

The other traditionally most used gun in clay pigeon shooting is the Side by Side shotgun, with barrels situated horizontally extending from the stock. Slightly more expensive than Over and Under guns, and negligible handling, Side by Side guns are gradually becoming less popular with clay shooters, being replaced with semi-automatic shotguns.

Semi-automatic guns offer features which make it somewhat easier to shoot clay pigeons, though some of these features lower the esteem with which more traditional shooters hold those who would use the semi-automatic shotgun. Lower recoil and the ability to fire follow-up shots makes the semi-automatic shotgun appealing especially to beginning shooters.


When it comes to shooting a firearm, the importance of safety cannot go overstated. The list of safety rules may be limitless when human life is at stake, but there are at least five rules without which the shooter is putting lives needlessly at risk.

Your Gun’s Safety Isn’t Enough

Like mechanical piece of equipment, parts of a gun can and will fail. Thankfully, these failures usually result in the either minor, noticeable flaws, or making the gun entirely non-functioning. Unfortunately, though, the safety is a mechanical device like any other, and a failure of this device can result in tragedy. For this reason, it is not enough to simply engage the safety and assume anything can be done with the gun with no risk. The best bet is to behave as if the gun has no safety even when it has been engaged.

Use The Right Ammunition

This should go without saying, but knowing the gauge and type of ammunition a gun fires is key to proper safe handling of a firearm. The caliber and gauge of a gun leave no doubt as to what size and type of ammunition can be safely used, and confusion in this regard can lead to the gun misfiring resulting in injury and even death.

Unload The Gun When It Is Not In Use

Just like with the safety, it is often best to treat a gun as though something will go wrong rather than depend on its inner workings. These will fail at some point in the gun’s life and there is no knowing when this will be, so it is best to leave the gun unloaded except directly prior to firing the gun.

Make Sure The Barrel Is Clear

While the gun is still unloaded, make sure there is nothing obstructing the projectile from moving smoothly through and out of the barrel. This is especially true if the gun has been used for hunting, as even just a little snow or dirt can cause the gun to misfire.

Always Point The Muzzle In A Safe Direction

Keeping the muzzle pointed away from other shooters will ensure that even an accidental firing of the weapon will result in nothing more than a scare. It is always best to treat a gun as though it is loaded, cocked, and the safety is off.

Terms To Know

Bird – Refers to the clay pigeon.

Kill – Shooting and breaking the clay pigeon.

Bird Away – Shooting and missing the clay pigeon.

Trap – The machine which throws the targets in the desired manner.

Universal Trench – A type of trap shooting wherein five traps are set in a trench in front of the shooter and are released at different angles and velocities.

Tips and Tricks

Shoulder the gun properly

Guns are made to be accurate provided they are fired in the optimal position. Accuracy is severely affected when the gun is not shouldered properly, it is said to be “loose,” that is, not secured to ensure minimal unintentional movement when aiming.

Choose the proper choke

Basically, the choke is the speed at which the shot spreads out upon exiting the barrel. At short range, a high choke will increase the chances of recording a kill. However, at long range, the shot can be so spread out before reaching the bird that, regardless of aim, it may miss. Choose the right choke for the distance and the degree to which you would like to be challenged.

Use a shorter barrel

While a longer barrel provides certain advantages for hunting big game, they are heavy and can be difficult to move quickly. As shooting clay pigeons requires speed of movement as much as accuracy, this ability cannot go overstated.


Which of the following is NOT one of the "Three Ws" that should be included in every hunting plan?

What firearm you are hunting with.
Who you are with.
When you are returning.
Where you are going.


What technique can be described as "slow, patient movement of the hunter into shooting position after game has been located"?

Stand Hunting
Still Hunting


Which species is there federal hunting laws for?

Wood Duck
Ring-knecked pheasant
Snowshoe hare
White-tailed Deer


Which field carry provides the most firearm control?



Which choice is NOT recommended when approaching downed wildlife?

Approach quietly from behind.
Poke animal gently with a stick.
Touch the eye gently, if there's no reaction, animal is usually dead.
Shoot it again before approaching to make sure it is dead.


What is the technique known as "driving"?

One hunter sitting in a blind waiting for game to come along.
One hunter moving slowly and patiently into shooting position after game has been located.
One or more pushers walk through an area trying to move game ahead of them into areas wehre blockers are waiting.
One hunter driving a vehicle and a second hunter in the back set shooting through the open window.


Scouting an area you want to hunt should include:

Walk around the area on opening day with your firearm or bow.
Walk around the area looking for animal movements and signs.
Look at maps and aerial photos of the area.
Answers B and C.


Which of the following is NOT a reason why you should develop a hunting plan for every hunt?

So friends and family know how to contact you in case of emergency.
So you can use your hunting plan to start a fire if you get lost.
So fellow hunters know where you are located.
So friends and family know where you can be found in case of a hunting accident.


Which of these items should be on every checklist included in your hunting plan?

Hunting license


Which of these does NOT violate a hunting safety rule?

Carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
Keeping your finger on the trigger while stalking game.
Two hunters shooting at the same game.
Identifying what lies beyond an identified target.