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What is Clay Pigeon Shooting?

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Clay pigeon shooting, or target shooting as it is sometimes known, is a widely-enjoyed and ever-growing sport in Britain today. But, exactly what is clay pigeon shooting I hear you ask. Well, it is simply the practice of using a firearm to shoot down artificial clay targets, referred to as clay pigeons. These targets are designed to simulate game birds in flight by flinging them into the air at high velocities. As the artificial clay target is thrown up into the air, the marksman takes aim and attempts to shoot it down.

Clay pigeon shooting is both safe and fun. Directly hitting the target requires much skill, impeccable timing and excellent hand-eye coordination. Target shooting is the ideal activity for someone to show their worth as a marksman. The sport requires both coordination and focus, as well as sound knowledge of the surroundings. There are many external factors that can influence a marksman’s shot. For instance, wind direction can cause all kinds of problems for shooters. Yet, perhaps it is this unpredictability that makes it so appealing to so many.

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The sport can be enjoyed at all different levels, from local club shoots all the way to national and international competitions, and even the Olympics. Clay shooting is a sport that can be enjoyed by all kinds of people, regardless of their age, gender or physical ability. Men, women, adults, teens and children compete together, side by side. This makes it a great activity for parents and kids alike - it is an ideal sport to encourage the whole family to spend time together in the outdoors and enjoy some friendly rivalry.

Clay shooting tends to take place at a clay ground which is a permanent venue where traps and shooting stands have been set up. Yet, in the country it is also common for clay target shooting to take place in fields or any place where it is legal to set up a trap and to shoot.

The Origins of Clay Pigeon Shooting

While the UK has been the first to pioneer many of the most interesting and popular sporting activities, including football, cricket, golf, badminton and many more. However, clay pigeon shooting is by far one of the most notable contributions.

Target shooting is a relatively modern invention. Shooting live game was the sport of choice for most until the 1860s when artificial shooting targets were eventually introduced. The original sport involved a pigeon handler releasing the game bird into the sky in regular intervals. Once released, the shooters would take aim and fire. Incredibly fast-moving and unpredictable, these live targets proved a tough challenge for even the most skilled marksmen of the era. Most of these pigeon shoots were held at high-end private clubs, making it a sport for the wealthy.

However, during the 1920s, there was a worldwide shift towards the better treatment of animals.  Proponents of animal treatment argued that the shooting of captive pigeons was not only unsportsmanlike, but that it was also extremely cruel. This way of thinking about live shoots rapidly spread throughout the UK, until eventually the practice was outlawed. As a result, artificial target alternatives were created.

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One of the first and more interesting alternatives to live pigeons were glass balls, often filled with feathers. These were designed as an attempt to maintain a level of authenticity; as the shooter hit the glass ball, the feathers would burst out, signalling a direct hit. These artificial targets made the sport of shooting increasingly available to those who could not afford to go on shoots for live game. While the glass balls provided an effective alternative for some time, many shooters felt that they needed a greater challenge.

In 1882, dome-shaped clay targets were introduced in Britain and provided the best alternative to both live pigeons and feather-filled glass balls. The invention of clay pigeons kick-started a huge increase in the popularity of shooting. Competitions began to spring up throughout the country and a range of different types of launch devices were constructed to fire the clay targets into the air at great velocities and distances, thus creating a much harder challenge for marksmen to aim for.

Different Types of Clay Pigeon Shooting 

There are a range of different forms of clay target shooting disciplines which tend to be roughly divided into Trap, Skeet and Sporting. All three types of clay pigeon shooting challenge a shooter to hit moving targets, but they each vary according to structure, rules and style. Although all of these shooting disciplines originated as hunting simulations, they have evolved to become unique versions of the same sport.

Trap clay pigeon shooting challenges the shooter by flinging the target straight in front and away. The marksmen fire five shots from each of the five different positions for a total of 25 shots per round. The shooter on station one fires the first shot, followed by each of the shooters on the other stations. Once all shooters have fired their total of five shots, each shooter moves to the next station. This means that the marksman at station five, walks behind the others to station one. All station changes are made with unloaded guns and open actions for safety.

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In contrast to trap shooting, skeet clay pigeon shooting involves the crossing over of the targets. Two target machines, 40 metres apart, launch the clay targets across a semi-circular arrangement of positions at a constant trajectory and speed. One target launcher, referred to as the ‘high house’, is 10 feet above the ground, while the second, called the ‘low house’ is just 3 ½ feet above the ground. This difference in height creates a greater challenge for the shooters as they move around the stations. A round of skeet shooting includes both single (one target at a time) and double (two targets at a time) target presentations. Similar to trap shooting, skeet involves the shooters moving through the various positions to complete a round. Also like trap, the different shooting positions in skeet create alternative angles relative to the targets.

Sporting clays is thought to offer the greatest approximation to an in-the-field hunting experience as it is classed as the most unpredictable. Often referred to as ‘golf for shotguns’, a sporting clays course tends to include a range of different stations, each with unique target presentations and machine setups. For instance, one station might send a single target straight up into the air, while a second could send two targets simultaneously, one rolling across the ground and one heading towards the shooter.

What Do You Need for Clay Pigeon Shooting?

The different forms of clay pigeon shooting do have an ‘ideal’ shotgun type that works best. However, if you’re just starting out in clay shooting, do not let a lack of the ‘right’ equipment stop you. You can start in any of the three shooting disciplines with virtually any form of shotgun, as long as it can fire two shots without reloading.

Trap shooting tends to be shot with an adjustable-stock single barrel or combination shotgun that can be converted to double-barrel for double targets. For competitions, break-action shotguns are convenient because the shells aren’t ejected toward other competitors, and the gun can easily be loaded and unloaded when changing stations. However, most beginner shooters use a semi-automatic, featuring an inexpensive shell catcher to prevent empty hulls from flying freely.

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Most skeet shooters choose an over/under break-action shotgun as this allows them to shoot both single and double target presentations. Again, the break action allows for easy loading and unloading at different stations. Skeet shooting competitions typically include multiple gauges: .410 bore, 28 gauge, 20 gauge and 12 gauge.

For serious sporting clays competitors an over/under shotgun is the obvious choice as they allow them to use two different choke tubes on a given station. A choke is a muzzle insert that changes the shot pattern for targets at different ranges. For instance, an ‘improved cylinder’ choke allows shot pellets to spread out quickly for close range targets. Alternatively, a ‘full’ choke keeps shot pellets together over a larger range. Given that targets can be presented at varying distances in sporting clays, the ability to optimise each barrel to a specific target can be a huge benefit.

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