By Conrad Davenport
So we have talked about competition shooting with handguns to up your skills in defensive shooting, rifle competition for hunting, now we come to shotguns. Although many people are forced to use shotguns to hunt for larger game in areas that do not allow for the use of rifles, shotguns are predominately used to hunt birds. Duck, dove, turkey, even pigeon and crow. There are two ways to get ready for the upcoming season. The first is the easiest, but not the best. Just wing it. Go out into the field or lake and miss every other (or more) shot. The second is to practice. How do you practice shooting at birds when they are out of season? Clay birds are what you use. Also known as Clay Pigeon, they are a 4.5 inch, bright orange clay disc, propelled through the air to mimic a fleeing bird. Many outdoor gun ranges will have some form of set up to shoot clay birds. If your range doesn’t have the facilities for this, you can buy the clays and a hand held thrower and go to where you normally hunt. You just have to throw, shoot, and repeat. This is where competition keeps it fun. Once something gets monotonous, we stop efficiently practicing.
The first and most common competition/setup at the range is Skeet shooting. Skeet shooting consists of shooting from 8 positions at 25 clay birds. The birds are thrown from 2 throwing machines called towers or trap houses. The left house is called the “High House” due to the clays being thrown from approximately 10 feet high. The tower or trap house on the right is called the “Low House”, throwing the clays from approximately 3 feet. In skeet shooting, the clays will keep the same speed and trajectory, only the shooter changes positions. The course of fire in skeet shooting starts at station 1, progressing to station 8. Stations 1-7 are in a semicircle, starting in front of the highhouse, ending in front of the lowhouse. The final station, number 8, is in the center of stations 1 and 8. Stations 1-3 are shot as a single bird from the highhouse, followed by a HighLow Double, or a clay from each tower with the high tower thrown first. Station 4 is shot as a high single, low single, high-low double, and a low-high double. Stations 5and 6 are shot as a low single, followed by a lowhigh double. Station 7 is a lowhigh double. The final station is shot as a high single, followed by a low single. Each clay is scored individually with a possible score of 25 per round.
The next form of practice/competition is trap shooting. Trap shooting is shooting at clay birds from 5 different stations, with the clays being thrown from a single trap house in front of you. A round of trap shooting involves 25 shots and 25 clays. As stated before, only one low trap house is used and is 16 yards in front of the shooting stations. At each station, 5 clays are thrown and shot individually. The clays are thrown at 42mph at a constant trajectory. Moving through the stations changes the angle at which you shoot the clays. Trapshooting can be done individually or as squads for a team score each round.
The last form of competition/practice is sporting clays. Shooting sporting clays has been called “Golf with a shotgun.” Sporting clay shooting is set up where a shooter moves from station to station, usually 10-15, shooting at different scenarios. Each station will be different, and there is no standard course. Targets vary from the normal clays to smaller clays. The clays are thrown from different heights, and different angles. Some clays are rolled very quickly to simulate a running rabbit (those are always what get me). Scores are calculated by how many clays are shot. No course being the same, the number of targets changes from course to course, usually between 50 and 100. The changing angles and heights really makes sporting clays fun and good for preparing for bird season.
The equipment, while customizable for each discipline, is similar in each event. All shooters must use hearing and eye protection, and a shotgun. Any shotgun the can hold two or more rounds can be used for these events. If you hunt with a pump shotgun, then you may want to compete with one. Just don’t plan on winning with a pump shotgun in an event with doubles. Most competitors use semiautomatic or overunder shotguns. These shotguns do not require them to lose their target during a reload. Shooting vests and shell bags are a good investment for clay shooting. Some vests have padded shooting shoulders sewn in to them. After shooting 100-200 rounds of 12 ga in a day, even the big fellas thank the padding. Another useful part of a shooting vest is the shell pockets. 25 shells really take up a lot of space in pockets and some clubs require the empty hulls to be picked up immediately after each station. All those shells aren’t going to fit in your pants pockets. If you don’t use a shooting vest, a shell bag the attaches to your belt will work just fine. If you are in a bind, a nail bag from the hardware store will work, too.
Skeet, Trap, or Sporting clays, try them out. If you like one, you don’t have to use it to get ready for a hunting season. Shotgun matches are held year round, nationwide. Just remember, stay safe; keep practicing; keep shooting, and keep the shooting sports alive.