How To Shoot Clay Pigeons: A Complete Guide
Shooting clay pigeons is a great sport if you enjoy shooting a shotgun. Your local outdoor range will likely have opportunities to shoot clay pigeons, or you can go to local organizations.
One example is the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas. Whether you hunt live birds or not, shooting clay pigeons is a great way to improve your accuracy and spend time with friends and family.
There are several different ways to shoot clay pigeons. The three major clay pigeon shotgun sports are skeet, trap, and sporting clays.
Skeet shooting has a somewhat complex set of rules, but we will cover the basics here. In this sport, one or two pigeons are thrown from buildings, called trap houses, on either side of the skeet range. The two buildings launch clay pigeons from varying heights. The “high” house launches skeet from a higher elevation compared to the skeet launched from the “low” house.
Shooters shoot from specific positions between the houses, usually seven different stations that form an arc with an eighth position in the center. The rounds can be either singles (one clay pigeon launched at a time) or doubles (two clay pigeons launched at a time), or a combination of both.
When two pigeons are launched, one from each house, they cross in each other during flight. The round includes 25 shots. The object is to shoot as many clay pigeons as possible.
In trap shooting, the trap house is located in front of the shooter, and clay pigeons are launched to fly away from the shooter. Shooters stand in one of five positions. Usually, five clay pigeons are thrown for each position one at a time, making the “round” a total of 25 clays.
Clay pigeons can also be launched as doubles. Shooters are allowed to fire twice from each position until all shooters have shot, and then the group moves to the next position. Unlike skeet shooting, the clay pigeons mostly fly at the same height but come from different angles.
Sporting clays are very different compared to trap and skeet because the shooters walk through a course rather than shooting from specific positions. Each stop on the course has a launching machine. Pigeons are launched in different ways: from high in the air to rolling on the ground, and anything in between. Clays can be launched one or two at a time. Sporting clays provide the closest simulation to conditions in the field shooting birds.
There are a few basic elements to shooting clay pigeons.
Determine Your Eye Dominance
The first step in aiming any weapon is determining which eye is your dominant eye. Lots of people ask if this is really important. Trying to shoot with a non-dominant eye is a recipe for failure.
Don’t assume that you are right-eye dominant if you are right-handed or left-eye dominant if you're left-handed.
Use the following steps to determine which eye is dominant:
- Step One: Extend your hands in front of your body, making a small triangle with your thumbs and index fingers.
- Step Two: Look through the triangle with both eyes open and center a small object like a photo frame or drinking glass in the triangle.
- Step Three: Close each eye and observe how the image changes. Your dominant eye is the one that keeps the object in view. This is the eye you naturally use when you are aiming your shotgun at a clay pigeon.
What if you are cross dominant, meaning you are right-handed but left-eye dominant, or vice versa? There are few options if you are cross-dominant. If you are right-handed but left-eye dominant, you can shoot from your left shoulder. This allows you to shoot from the same shoulder as your dominant eye and shoot with both eyes open.
Close your left eye. This will make your right eye the dominant one since it is the only one open. You lose depth perception when shooting with only one eye; it isn’t as easy to track the target, but give it a try.
Left-handed by right eye dominant? Just reverse the steps above.
Establish Your Stance and Gun Position
Your stance is how you stand when you call for the clay pigeon to be launched. Right-handed shooters should stand with their left foot in front with most of their weight on that foot.
Your feet should be shoulder length apart with your left foot (right-handed shooters) pointed toward where the clay pigeon will fly, and your right foot pointed a little less than 90 degrees from your left foot.
Most importantly, make sure you are comfortable. Stand in the way that allows the most movement of your upper body without moving your feet. Reverse this if you are a left-handed shooter.
Next, the butt of your shotgun should be held firmly against your shoulder, with your cheek pressed close to the weapon so that you can line up your eye with the sights and target.
Your stance and gun position should be the same every time. If you have a slightly different position each time you shoot, your aim will also be somewhat different, resulting in missed clay pigeons.
Practicing with an unloaded gun helps train your muscles to position the shotgun in the same location every time. The more solid your stance and gun position, the more accurate you can be.
Aim and Shoot
Before the clay pigeon flies, release the safety on your gun. When the clay pigeon flies, swing the barrel of your shotgun in an arc to follow the target through the sky. Your arms should be more horizontal than vertical. The clay pigeon will be traveling at about 85 miles per hour, so expect to move quickly. The goal is to follow the clay pigeon with your body and your eyes.
When ready to shoot, look down the rib of the shotgun with your dominant eye, aiming ahead of your target. Remember, the clay pigeon is moving quickly, and you need to anticipate the movement so that you don’t shoot behind it. You want to shoot where the clay pigeon will be, not where it was when you pulled the trigger.
Aiming ahead of the target will account for the time between when your shot leaves the shotgun and hits the target. After you shoot, follow through with the swing of your shotgun. This keeps your motion smooth and ensures you shoot with the gun moving just like the target is moving. Reset the safety.
Put It All Together
With practice, all the elements will become one fluid motion. As you have probably discovered, watching someone shoot clay pigeons is very different from shooting them yourself. As we have already discussed, that fluid movement you see combines many factors.
The first time you stand ready to shoot a clay pigeon, it will seem like there are too many steps to keep straight for a successful shot. All you need is practice. What feels like a jerky attempt that results in a miss will soon develop into smooth movements with successful results.
Shooting clay pigeons is a great way to have fun and hone your shooting skills. Make sure you know which eye is dominant, practice your stance and gun position, and aim and shoot smoothly slightly ahead of your target.
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A Beginner’s Guide To Clay Pigeon Shooting | AGA (gunassociation.org)
A Neat Trick To Determine Your Dominant Eye | DIY Photography