How to Shoot Sporting Clays for Beginners – Foundry Outdoors
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How to Shoot Sporting Clays for Beginners

Shooting sporting clays is not only a fun pastime for outdoorsmen, it is also a valuable opportunity to fine-tune some skills needed for bird hunting. Shooting clays has also become known as “golf with a shotgun”, it is a ton of fun and has seen an increase in popularity in the past few decades.

General Overview

So how does the whole process work? Well, there are two main ways to have a day shooting clays. If you want to save some money and not travel to a shooting complex, you can buy your own skeet thrower and shoot clay on your own property with your friends and family. 

When doing it on your own, you can really do it however you like. You simply have to throw the clays and watch your buddies try and bust them in the air. Personally, I think this is a great way to break in your daughter's newest boyfriend.

The second option is to utilize a shooting complex. Then your “squad” will go from station to station with a score card and shoot clays. Your squad can be anywhere from 2 to 6 people. The courses you find will have anywhere from 8 to 15 stations where you will go through and shoot.

After the squad in front of you is finished with shooting a station, you can then approach the station. When you get there you will give the referee your scorecards. Most courses will be 50 target courses, so they will be split up between each station. At the end of all of the stations, your scorecards will be complete and the person that shot the most clays will be the winner.

The best part about these courses is that no two courses are alike, so you will always have a unique experience when you visit a new course.

Staying Safe

While this is a very fun sport, it has the potential to be very dangerous. To start off, you should never have your shotgun loaded unless you are ready to step up and shoot. During any other time your shotgun should be unloaded and the action should be open. Firearm safety is always to be taken very seriously, and you need to treat every gun as if it were loaded.

You also need to be wearing ear protection and eye protection during all times. This can go unchecked if you are shooting at home, so I just want to stress how important this is. Just because no one is forcing you to do it at home does not mean you do not have to do it. EYES AND EARS!

What We Use to Throw Clays

When you go to a course, clays will be thrown with large machines. The machines are able to vary the speed, and the angle of the clay thrown. Since there are no requirements on those two variables, nearly every one will be set up differently. 

At home you have a few options based on how much you want to pay. I started out with the $20 hand thrower that resembles something you would use to throw a tennis ball for a dog, and it works about as well. 

Later I upgraded to a spring loaded thrower that worked with a pedal. This guy cost a little over $100, and it worked really well for a while. The spring and release system became a bit finicky after a year or so. 

Recently we have upgraded to an electronic thrower. This guy costs over $300 but it does a fantastic job. You can easily adjust it and the electric pedal that comes with it works really well. Overall it is an easy process and much more reliable.

What We Shoot Clays With

So what firearm should you take with you to a shooting course? Well, the great thing about sporting clays is that you can take any shotgun capable of shooting two shots that are 12 gauge or smaller. 

Most of the pros will use over and under 12 gauges. Many of these guns are made for shooting sporting clays, and their price can resemble that fact. Although side by sides, pump actions, and semi auto shotguns are more than welcome. 

You most likely already have a shotgun that fits the bill, but what type of loads do you need? It is recommended that you shoot number 8 shot. You can find many types of ammo that are made for clays in number 8, and they are popular with shooters. You will not be allowed to use anything bigger (lower number) than 7-½ shot on courses.

Since courses are 50 targets, you will need at least 50 shots, which is two boxes. I also recommend bringing 5 or so extra shells just in case an error occurs.  

Shooting tips

Since you are just getting started, I thought I would also include some shooting tips. The idea is simple right? The clay flies and you shoot it. If only it were always that easy… If you are having issues hitting your target here are some things you can try.

  • Slow down - take your time when you are shooting. Your gun will reach out a long way, you do not need to shoot the clay as soon as it gets in the air.


  • Try out a choke - chokes can help control your spread a bit better, and they can help you reach out a bit further. This is where over and unders have an advantage, you can have two different chokes which can help in many situations. 

  • Know how to lead a clay - If a clay is going horizontally, you need to shoot a bit out in front of it. That distance will vary based on how fast it is going or how far away you are. If a clay is going away from you and is still rising, you need to shoot above it. If it is going away from you and is starting to fall down, aim under it. A real clay will require you to mix these horizontal or vertical strategies, which will take practice. 

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