Clay Shooting : Beginners Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Clay Pigeon Shooting

Basic Types of Shotgun

Side by Side, Semi-Automatic and Over and Under are the 3 main 12 bore shotgun designs used by the majority of shooters.

Side by side shotguns are frequently used by game shooters. The 2 barrels are next to each other.

Over and unders have barrels on top of each other. Over and under 12 bores are mainly used for clay pigeons.

Semi-Automatics are loaded one cartridge at a time into the breech, as they only have a single barrel.

The majority of shooters favour twelve gauge shotguns.

twenty bore are smaller and lighter making them ideal for use by youngsters, ladies and any shooter in need of less recoil when they shoot.

Shooting Equipment You Will Require

Shotgun Slip

Gun slips come in a variety of styles, designs, colours and materials including leather and canvas.

Cartridge Carrying Bags

It will depend on the shooting discipline you are going to be doing as to which type of cartridge carry bag you opt for. Different disciplines need different bags, pouches or pockets.

Eye Protection

Eye protection when clay shooting is very important because sometimes shards of broken clay can hit the shooter as they fall and these pieces are quite sharp.

Ear Defenders

Using ear defenders will safeguard your hearing against the repeated bang noise made when pulling the trigger. Shooting clubs usually insist on hearing protection being used while shooting.

Shotgun Cartridges

Most shooters tend to have their preferred cartridges and these are usually a brand that they have been successful with.

Competitive 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 hitting the clay, while for closer targets smaller lead shot size shells give you more pellets in each shell so you have a better ‘pattern’ to kill the clay target with.

The distance of ‘lead’ that a target needs will depend on the velocity of your cartridge. Shot speeds vary from 1350 – 1650 ft/second, and a specific speed will favour your hand/eye coordination better than others.

Two Primary Shooting Disciplines

Clay Pigeon Skeet Shooting

Skeet shooting is supposed to be the same wherever you shoot. The two clays fly on the same path, so you can practice the discipline with near identical targets anywhere.

There are twenty five targets in a skeet round, which are shot from each of the seven stands. The best skeet shooters will regularly achieve one hundred straight without loss.

Sporting Shooting

Sporting Clays simulate game shooting which is why the targets are so different. Different types of clay require a range of shooting techniques so it can sometimes be a challenge to understand what the target is doing so you can smash it.

The Various Clay Targets

‘Standard’ clays are 110mm dia.

A Midi is a smaller standard, 90mm in diameter

A Mini is the same design as a ‘standard’ target, but only 60mm across. They are very small and often look quicker than they are, so you are likely to miss a lot of these in front!!

Battue – 110mm Diameter – flat, fast and turns and dives when you really hope it wouldn’t.

Rabbit – 55mm radius – Stronger than a standard, designed to bounce along the ground at speed.

Basic Shooting Principles

Clay shooting is very similar to catching a ball in that you don’t put your hand out to where the ball is in that instant, but where it is going to be moments later. You do the same thing with your lead pellets, so that in effect, the clay flies into your lead shot pattern.

Hitting clays requires good hand eye coordination as well as the ability to ‘read’ what a clay is doing as it moves.

To break a clay, the cigar shaped ‘string’ of lead shot needs to connect with the clay as it flies forwards.

Your shot is traveling at speeds between 1350 and 1650 ft/s, and the clay is moving too.

Often, an easy looking stand will be misinterpreted by the shooter, making them miss. Grounds like to set optical illusion targets to challenge even the best shooters.

Shooting Methods

The two important factors that will let you hit the target are gun speed and the precise moment in time that you decide to pull the trigger. The two common styles of shooting are ‘maintain lead’ and ‘swing through’.


A clay requires you to have your barrels the perfect distance in front of it when you pull the trigger. Maintain lead means tracking the target, staying ahead of it by the precise amount of lead that you estimate the clay requires.

Swing through is necessary for faster, more complex clays & is widely used by more experienced shooters. Swing through is a more seat of the pants, gut instinct style.

In the same way that your brain will let you catch a mug knocked off a table, so experienced clay pigeon shooters can kill targets without measuring their shot against the target. They just know when it’s right to shoot.

Different Types of Target

There are seven types of clay target which are used to represent different game in a variety of situations.


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


Hitting rising Teal requires a consistent swing through technique unlike any other. Many shooters prefer to shoot Teal as dropping targets. Either way, they need practice to hit consistently.

Quartering Clays

You can assess how much a target is quartering towards or away from you by looking at where the trap house is and where the target lands. This angle will affect the amount of lead the clay needs.

Driven Clays

Consistently hitting driven clays requires a consistent swing through technique. The targets copy driven game flying over guns, and your gun barrels will hide the bird just when you want to shoot.


Incomers are clays that head towards you at different angles. Unlike driven clays, incomers usually drop short rather than flying over your head.

Going Away Targets

Clays going away from you get very small very quickly so you need to be prepared when you call pull.


Loopers are commonly quite far away, and often ‘quarter’ towards or away from you making them even harder. There are different techniques for shooting loopers depending on whether you choose to shoot them as they rise, as they peak, or as they drop.