How to Shoot Clay Pigeons

How to Shoot Clay Pigeons

Clay shooting began as a way for hunters and soldiers to practice their shooting. Originally, they used live pigeons as targets, but that raised concerns for the birds. So, they started using clay targets instead. George Ligowsky made the first modern clay "pigeon" in the late 1800s using clay and pitch. Since then, clay shooting has become a popular sport and hobby worldwide. It even became an Olympic sport in 1896! There are different types of clay shooting, like trap shooting and skeet shooting. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics to help you get started in clay pigeon shooting.

What's Clay Pigeon Shooting?


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Credit: Envato Elements/ karrastock

Clay pigeon shooting involves shooting at flying targets that are capable of traveling 50 to 100 yards. The targets are known as clay pigeons, with a shotgun. The term "clay pigeon" refers to the targets used in this sport, which are not made from real clay anymore but a mixture of limestone and pitch. This makes them environmentally friendly as they break down naturally.

There are several types of clay pigeons: standard blaze, mini black, and rabbit. This is the standard blaze, which is the most common type of clay target. It’s usually bright orange and measures about 110mm in diameter. Mini black clays are 60 millimeters in diameter. Their small size and color make them harder to spot and hit. Rabbit clays are designed to mimic the movement of a rabbit. They roll on the ground rather than flying through the air. They are tougher and are the same size as standard targets but have a thicker rim.

What Are Clay Pigeon Traps?

Clay pigeon traps are mechanical devices that launch clay targets into the air. They usually are of 3 types: manual trap, automatic ball trap, and oscillating trap. Manual traps are usually operated by hand and are the simplest type. They're operated by hand, where a person pulls a lever to launch the clay pigeon into the air. Automatic traps are powered by electricity or batteries. Unlike manual traps, these can launch multiple clays simultaneously. Shooters can use a remote control to release the targets, which makes it possible to practice alone. The last type, oscillating traps can change the direction from which the clays are launched.

What Types of Guns Are Used for Clay Shooting?


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Credit: Envato Elements/ halfpoint

Typically, shotguns are used for clay shooting. Over-and-under shotguns are the most common. These feature two barrels aligned vertically that allow for quick successive shots. You can also use semi-automatic shotguns. They use a combination of lead shot, gas, and recoil energy to eject the spent shell and load the next round, which helps reduce the recoil felt by the shooter. Lastly, you can also use side-by-side shotguns. They're usually used by hunters but are less common in competitive clay shooting due to their slightly slower reload times and different weight distribution.

The Different Clay Shooting Disciplines

Clay pigeon shooting can be of different types: trap shooting, skeet shooting, sporting clays, and double trap:

Trap Shooting

In trap shooting, targets are launched from a single machine called a "trap" that's hidden in a bunker beneath the shooter. The targets fly away from the shooter at varying angles. There are five positions in a semi-circle around the trap, and clay shooters move between these positions, which increases the challenge as the angle of the shot changes. The standard trap shooting involves 25 targets per round.

Skeet Shooting

Skeet shooting involves two trap houses situated at opposite ends of a semi-circle ("high house" and "low house"). Shooters move around eight stations or shooting stands in a semi-circle, plus one in the middle, shooting targets that cross in front of them from both directions. The paths intersect in front of the shooter, offering a variety of angles and speeds, with a typical round consisting of 25 targets.

Sporting Clays

Often described as "golf with a shotgun," sporting clays simulate the experience of actual hunting. Clay pigeon shooters move through a course with 10 to 15 shooting stations set in natural surroundings. Each station presents shooters with targets that mimic birds or small game, such as rabbits, thrown in pairs or singles at various angles, speeds, distances, and elevations. This discipline is designed to be unpredictable, mirroring the natural unpredictability of live quarry shooting.

Double Trap

Similar to trap shooting, a double trap involves targets thrown from a trap at two different heights and angles. Shooters fire at two targets released simultaneously at each station. This discipline requires quick reflexes.

How to Get Started With Clay Pigeon Shooting


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Credit: Envato Elements/ halfpoint

Here are a few tips to help you get started clay pigeon shooting:

Step 1: Choose the Right Equipment

Start with selecting a suitable shotgun that fits your body and feels comfortable to handle. Beginners often opt for over-and-under shotguns due to their ease of use and reliability. Also, you'll need ear protection, shooting glasses, and appropriate clothing for the weather and environment.

Step 2: Get in the Right Position

Adopt a comfortable stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean slightly forward at the waist to manage recoil effectively. Your front foot should point towards the target, and your back foot should be at a right angle to your front foot.

Step 3: Mount Your Shotgun Properly

Practice mounting your shotgun so that it becomes a swift and smooth motion. The butt of the shotgun should fit snugly against your shoulder to help absorb recoil. The cheek should rest lightly against the stock to ensure proper sighting. Align your dominant eye with the barrel of the shotgun.

Step 4: Focus on the Target

Keep your eyes on the target, not the barrel of the gun. Your focus should be on tracking the clay pigeon as soon as it is launched.

Step 5: Swing and Follow-Through

Begin your swing as you mount the gun. Follow the target with the barrel. As you swing through the target, pull the trigger during the forward motion to lead (aim slightly ahead of where the clay is flying) the target. This compensates for the delay between your shot and when it reaches the clay. Keep your swing going even after you've fired to improve your chances of hitting more clay pigeons.

How Points Are Awarded in Clay Pigeon Shooting

Generally, you earn one point for every target you hit. In competitions like trap and skeet, each round consists of 25 targets, so the maximum score per round is 25 points.

In sporting clays, the courses typically have 50 to 100 targets spread across different stations. Each target hit scores one point. Sometimes, two targets are launched together, and hitting both earns you two points.

Each station presents different types and numbers of targets, and like the other disciplines, each hit is worth one point. Competitions may also include double targets, where two clays are launched simultaneously. In such cases, hitting both targets scores two points.

There's also a term known as a "barrel kill" which refers to shooting targets from a double-barreled shotgun. You get three points for the first barrel kill, two for the second barrel kill, and zero if you miss.

Clay Pigeon Shooting Tips


man aiming gun at clay shooting range
Credit: Envato Elements/ MargJohnsonVA

  • If you're a beginner, consider getting a few lessons from a certified instructor. An instructor can provide guidance on shooting techniques, help with stance and aiming, and give you feedback on improving your skills.
  • Tension can throw off your aim and make your movements jerky. Try to keep your body relaxed and your movements fluid. Breathing techniques can help maintain calm and steady your shot.
  • Establish visual markers on the shooting grounds or in the landscape around the shooting area to help judge distances and angles more accurately. This can be particularly helpful in sporting clays where the environment varies significantly.
  • While it’s important to shoot quickly, rushing your shot can lead to mistakes. Work on finding the right moment to shoot based on the clay’s speed and trajectory rather than hurrying to shoot as soon as you see the target.


What is the best time of day to go clay pigeon shooting?

The best time to shoot clays is usually in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not directly overhead. This can help avoid glare and shadows that might affect your visibility and accuracy.

Is clay pigeon shooting a good way to improve hunting skills?

Yes, it is considering that you'll be hitting moving targets, which is crucial for bird hunting.

How do I know which direction the clay pigeon will fly?

Typically, ranges indicate the direction of clay launches before you begin. Pay attention to shooting range instructions or ask the range officer for guidance.


Clay pigeon shooting is an engaging sport that combines skill, precision, and the great outdoors. Whether you're a beginner learning the basics of handling a shotgun or an experienced shooter honing your skills across different disciplines like trap, skeet, or sporting clays, this sport is a rewarding challenge.

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