Regardless of what type of shooter you are, there’s always something precious to learn in clay shooting.
By swiftly shooting at targets flying past you in different directions, you’ll get a chance to work on your hand-to-eye coordination, speed, and accuracy- the key defining attributes of a skilled hunter.
Not to forget that it can also become one of the most addictive sports in your life.
If you’re just starting out in clay shooting, I’ve put up some crucial tips that will accelerate your learning curve below.
Have a read…
#1. Know The Basics of Clay Shooting
Before I get into the details of how to improve your clay shooting, I’d like to give you a general image of what clay shooting is all about, and what to expect when out there.
Clay shooting, also known as clay pigeon shooting or clay target shooting, refers to the art of firing your gun at special flying targets (commonly referred to as clay targets or clay pigeons).
This is simply a real-life simulation of bird hunting.
The targets are usually orange in color, with a width of around 4-5 inches.
For you to see/shoot them, the targets are launched into the air (using from traps set on either side of the range) in such a way that you get a high target and a low target. Both targets will cross your firing line as well as the field of view, and your job is to hit both of them.
It’s also important to note that skeet shooting involves moving between 7 stations in an arc plus one close up station. Each station comprises 2-4 shots.
A complete skeet shooting round involves 25 shots.
Now that you know the rules of clay shooting, let’s get into more details of how to make the clay rain….
#2. The Right Gear For Clay Shooters
Probably you’ve seen clay shooters rocking in some expensive electronic ear defenders and shooting vests when shooting clays.
But you don’t need to invest in those expensive gear to become a clay shooter. Just get something that gets the job done.
That said, you’ll need a sturdy pair of boots to help you easily walk through the terrains. You’ll also need decent shooting vest or jacket that does the job. Most importantly, you’ll need a good pair of ear defenders or earplugs; I don’t think you’ll be allowed in any range without these.
You should also put on the right clothing- something that fits you as well as the weather out there.
What about the gun?
Though any shotgun can do for clay shooting, the over-under double-barrel is usually regarded as the best skeet gun- more so for the experience shooters given its unrivaled range and accuracy.
Carry any other item you think you’ll need for the day- like ear protection, cartridges, snacks, thermos, etc.
#3. Safety! Safety! Safety!
ONE thing that should always come to your mind when you think clay shooting – Your Safety!
Always ensure you have the hearing and eye protection with you when setting out to participate in clay shooting.
Beginners should be extra careful about how they hold their gun. Keep the gun unloaded at all times, and the action open unless you’re preparing to fire. As a rule of thumb, I’ll urge all the starters always to treat their guns as loaded, even when they’re pretty sure it’s not.
Never aim the firearm at your friends or yourself. It’s highly recommended that you keep your gun muzzle pointing downrange at all times; never point it over your shoulder or backward.
Whenever you finish shooting, always unload your gun and keep the action open.
Above all, bring along your shooting insurance just in case anything happens (God forbid).
#4. Proper Shooting Stance
If you’re an absolute beginner clay shooter, you’ll also need to know how to position yourself correctly.
Position your feet in such that a line from the rear heel to the leading foot points where you’ll break the clays. Be sure to keep your stance reasonably narrow. Remember to keep your back straight up as you face the target.
The above stance encourages smooth gun swing which we’ll discuss next…
#5. Practice Gun Swings/Mounts
Knowing how to swing and mount your gun is crucial in helping you track your shots correctly.
I’d recommend you to do the practice in front of the mirror first, with the gun unloaded or with the safety on.
So, how do you do it?
It’s simple. Stand erect. Don’t tilt your head or lower your face your gun. Lift your gun straight up with a short, concise motion. Use both hands equally (as if they’re connected by some steel rod).
Mount your gun (precisely) from the same starting point at all times, and at the same point on your face. Mount your rifle to your face and not your shoulder.
Repeat up to 10 swing/mounts daily for the best results.
TIP: I advise you to focus on learning to swing first and then mounting. If you can mount your firearm as you swing to the clay targets, mounting becomes effortless and faster. And this allows you to finish the mount and shoot the moment the target gets into a sharp focus.
#6. Gun Fitting is Crucial…
…to ensure it shoots where your eyes look (i.e., your target). For you to do a gun fitting, you first need to know how to gun mount, as we’ve just described above.
That said, proper gun fitting involves setting up a pattern board at around 16 yards. Then fire a number of consecutive shots, by mounting and shooting, at the center dot. Do this without aiming, but by just pointing at your target.
Now check the pattern density. If it appears off center, consider taking your gun and target to an expert fitter to have it adjusted in readiness for clay shooting.
#7. How To Shoot Accurately (part I)
This is the most important part:
As you point your firearm, throw your FULL focus on the gun, not your gun bead or barrel. Just point, DON’T aim. Why? Because aiming tends to slow your swing motion, making you miss the target by shooting behind it.
Keeping in mind that a short string has a length of around 10-14”, you’d sue that to your advantage by pointing the gun slightly in front of the clay.
Whenever you find yourself missing the crossing targets repeatedly, it’s certain that you’re firing behind. Double your lead to try “missing” ahead of the clays. And if you still miss, double the lead again.
Pro TIP: pull the trigger the moment you mount your gun on the face, and your target gets in focus
#8. How To Shoot Accurately (part II)
Let’s say you’re shooting simultaneous pairs…in that case, experts advise you to decide which clay to hit in advance.
Generally, consider shooting the lower or the behind target first, unless one of them seems to disappear behind cover quicker or becomes difficult to take on.
The reasoning behind starting with the lower target is that the resulting gun recoil automatically brings you to the upper target. The idea behind shooting the back target first is that it lets you continue with a smooth swing needed to break the first swing.
#9. Join A Local Skeet Club
Along your clay shooting journey, you might consider joining a local gun club. This is an excellent way of accessing the club facilities you might not afford on your own.
It’s also a golden chance to meet with other shooters, learn some great tips and tricks, and even start competing in the club’s leagues.
#10. Consider Some Skeet Shooting Lessons
No. it’s not about attending a class…it’s simply looking for an experienced shooter to offer you some helpful advice, pointers, and even critiques to help straighten up your learning curve.
Even after your clay shooting gets better, don’t dump your coach. They’ll offer you great help when competing- just like a caddy does to a golfer.
If possible, a beginner shooter should look for a certified shooting instructor. You won’t regret investing in one!
#11. Join NSSA (National Skeet Shooting Association)
Besides joining a local club, I’d also advise you to consider joining the NSSA as a way of taking your shooting career to greater heights.
As the association member, you’ll get a chance to participate in the registered tournaments. You’ll improve your accuracy as well as your score in these competitions. And who knows? You might even obtain a ranking!
Keep in mind that association groups shooters at different skill levels, meaning you’ll be competing with shooters of the same skill level when you get started.
Take this as a chance to improve your shooting accuracy, and you’ll climb to higher levels and ranks with time.
Don’t Stop Shooting!
In other words, keep practicing!
Just like any other task, clay shooting gets better with practice. Set enough time for regular practice, implementing what your instructor has taught, what you’ve learned on your own, and of course all the tips I’ve shared with you above. This will help you build the muscle memory needed to take your shooting precision a giant step ahead of other shooters.
Regular practice significantly improves your scores.
Good luck busting the clays!