A Complete Guide to Clay Pigeon Shooting

Types of Shotgun

There are 3 basic designs of shotgun, Side by Side, Over and Under and Semi-Automatic.

Side by side shotguns are often used by traditional game shooters. The two barrels are next to each other.

With over and unders, the barrels are positioned on top of one another. Over and unders are usually used for clay shooting.


Semi-Automatics have just one barrel, and cartridges are loaded into the breech individually. Some versions can take up to 7 cartridges at once, but the majority of shotgun licence holders are only permitted to own semi automatic 12 bores that will take 3 cartridge shells at a time.

In the main shots prefer twelve gauge shotguns.

A twenty bore gun uses a small diameter cartridge, is a smaller and less heavy gun, lighter with less recoil, making it a common choice for junior shooters, ladies and shooters looking to reduce the recoil through their shoulder.

Clay Shooting Equipment You Will Need

Gun Slip

It is advisable to carry your gun in a quality slip. It is also good shooting etiquette.

Cartridge Carrying Bags

Carrying your cartridges requires a suitable pouch or bag, depending on the type of shooting discipline you are taking part in.

Protect Your Eyes

Eye Wear when clay pigeon shooting is vital because sometimes segments of broken clay can hit people as they fall and these bits are often very sharp.

Protection for Ears

Another sensible precaution is ear plugs. Over time firing a shotgun can potentially damage your ability to hear so safeguard your hearing with effective hearing protection from disposable plugs through to electronic head phones or molded ear plugs.

Shotgun Cartridges

All shotgun shooters have their favourite cartridges that they prefer to use, and there are many different manufacturers to choose from. Most people stick with a type that they have shot well with!

There are 2 basic variations of cartridge available; lead shot size and velocity. The faster the cartridge, the more expensive it will be. Lead shot for clay pigeon shooting ranges from 6 ½ to 9 in size. 6 ½ has a large lead shot diameter, but less pellets per cartridge.

Bigger, heavier shot will fly further so are perfect for long distance targets. In a size 9 cartridge, the pellets are much smaller, but there are lots more of them. They don’t have the weight to go as far, but offer a ‘spread’ of more pellets at closer range.

The velocity of the cartridge depends on individual preferences. Higher velocity cartridges are more costly, but help certain shooters styles. To shoot with a lower velocity shot load, all that is needed is to allow more time for the lead shot to reach the target…. Simple! Lead speed varies from 1350 – 1650 ft/second.

Two Types of Shooting

Clay Pigeon Skeet Shooting

Skeet shooting is the discipline used in the Olympics. Skeet consists of two clay traps which face each other and the targets fly through the same flight path within a small tolerance.

Skeet shooting uses 7 stands, laid out in a half circle between the 2 trap houses. A skeet round is made up of twenty five targets shot from the shooting positions in order. It is not uncommon to see top shots frequently hit 100 straight.

Sporting Clay Pigeon Shooting

Sporting clays imitate all the different types of game. You’ll see a range of different targets and each stand will offer you a different challenge.

Clay Target Types

Standard -110mm Diameter – a traditional domed clay target

A Midi is a smaller standard, 90mm in diameter

A Mini is the same design as a ‘standard’ target, but only 60mm dia.. They are quite small and look far quicker than it actually is.

A Battue is a thin flat target with a lipped rim, measuring 110mm across. Battues are mainly used as looping targets because they twist in the air as they slow down, always providing the shooter with a new challenge!

A Rabbit is a heavier clay than a standard or a Battue, but has the same diameter. It is designed to roll across the ground to mimic a running rabbit.

Principles of Clay Pigeon shooting

Clay Shooting is a hand eye coordination sport. In the same way as you catch a ball, you gauge your shot so it intersects with the clay as it flies through the air.

The 2 important skills you need to be a good shot are reasonable hand eye coordination and an understanding of what the clay is going to do so you can anticipate it’s correct flight path.

The shot leaves your gun barrel in a cigar shaped cloud. Your challenge is to comprehend exactly what the target is doing so that it flies into the path of your lead shot.

You need to accurately predict the path of the clay so that your hand eye coordination can smash the target.

Many experienced shooters still get caught out by targets that are set up to be optical illusions.

Shooting Methods

The speed of gun movement along with squeezing the trigger at the right moment are the 2 vital factors that will decide whether you hit or miss the target. The 2 most popular shooting styles are ‘swing through’ and ‘maintain lead’.

Maintain lead is the simplest shooting technique for beginners to master. It involves keeping a precise distance in front of the target, tracking its journey through the air. When you are satisfied that you are the correct distance in front, squeeze the trigger while continuing to move the gun.

Swing through is a seat of the pants skill that doesn’t involve measuring the distances needed to break the clay. Instead, you swing from behind, until your natural coordination takes over and you shoot at the ideal point in time to hit it.

Different Clay Targets

There are seven different types of clay target which are used to mimic different game in a variety of situations.


Rabbits are the same diameter as standard clays, but are stronger to withstand the repeated bouncing on hard ground.

Simulated Teal

Teal can be difficult to hit. They fly vertically upwards very quickly, requiring a seat of the pants, swing through technique that many find difficult. In many instances they can also be hit as they drop as well as rising.

Quartering Targets

A quartering clay will be either coming towards you at an angle, or going away at an angle. Only by assessing where it’s coming from & where it lands can you really work out the flight path it is on. Quartering clays usually need less ‘lead’ than you think.

Driven Birds

Hitting a driven target requires a good swing through technique & practice. Driven targets ape driven game flying towards you. You will lose the clay behind the barrels of your gun just when you want to pull the trigger, so you have to rely on pure hand eye coordination to know exactly when to shoot.


Incoming targets fly towards you from a variety of angles. Unlike driven birds, they normally fall before reaching you rather than flying on you’re your head.

Going Away

Clays that are going away get small very quickly so you need to be on your toes when you call pull.

Looper Clays

Looping clays start off rising, before falling, and often quarter towards or away from you. Hitting a looping target consistently can be tricky and requires practice. Some prefer to hit them rising, while others prefer to wait for them to begin to drop before pulling the trigger.

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