Clay Pigeon Shooting Basics

Everything You Need to Know About Clay Pigeon Shooting

Three Basic Styles of Shotgun

There are three basic designs of gun, Side by Side, Semi-Automatic and Over and Under.

Side by side shotguns are regularly used by traditional game shooters. As the name side by side suggests, their two barrels are side by side.

Under and overs have their barrels vertically one above the other. Shooters normally use an over and under gun for clay shooting.

Single barreled auto’s are often used by game shooters for pigeon shooting.

The vast majority of shooters normally use 12 bore guns as they offer the perfect combination of performance and weight for the majority of clay targets you will see.

20 bore are smaller and lighter making them ideal for use by ladies, juniors and any shooter looking for less recoil when they shoot.

Required Shooting Equipment

Shotgun Sleeve

Keep your gun safe and protected from bangs and knocks when it’s being transported in a padded slip.

Cartridge Bags & Pouches

It will depend on the specific shooting discipline you are going to be doing as to which type of cartridge carry bag you opt for. Different shooting disciplines need different cartridge bags, pockets or pouches.

Protection For Your Eyes

Flying pieces of broken clay are sharp and dangerous. Protecting your eyes from debris is common sense and mandatory at clay shooting venues in the UK.

Hearing Protection

Shotguns make a quite loud noise, and while it isn’t loud enough to instantly damage your hearing, eventually the noise of a shotgun can lead to ear damage. Reputable Shooting Venues will insist that any shooters wear ear plugs, which are available in different types, foam disposable plugs, molded plugs, electronic inner ear plugs as well as standard head phone type ear muffs and electronic ear muffs.

Cartridge Shells

Most shooters tend to have their preferred shells and these are more often than not a brand that they have been successful with.

Different range targets often require different sizes of shot for the best chance of hitting it consistently. Bigger pellets goes further but there are fewer lead pellets in each shell. Lighter lead shot doesn’t fly as far but you have a bigger ‘pattern’ to break the clay target with at closer range.

The distance of ‘lead’ that a specific target requires will change in relation to the speed of your specific cartridge. Velocities vary from 1350 – 1650 ft/second, and a specific speed will favour your style of shooting better than others.

Most Popular Clay Pigeon Shooting Disciplines

Olympic Skeet Shooting

Skeet shooting is designed to be the same wherever you shoot. Skeet targets fly on the same path, so you can practice the discipline with near identical targets anywhere.

Skeet has seven stands set out in a semi circle between the 2 clay pigeon trap houses, and you shoot a round of twenty five birds as you move through the seven shooting positions. Many skeet shots will shoot 100 straight regularly, and it is a discipline based around control and concentration.


Sporting targets are a more varied type of target because they simulate game. Each week a ground will alter their clay traps so there is always a new challenge for you.

Clay Target Differences

Standard’ targets have a 110mm diameter and are domed.

Midi’s are just like standards in shape, but 90mm in diameter

Mini clays are the same shape as standards, but only 60mm across. Often called bumble bees!

Battues are 110mm in diameter, flat in shape with a lipped edge. They tend to twist as they fly making them ideal ‘loopers’.

Rabbit – 55mm radius – Stronger than a standard clay, designed to bounce along the ground at high speed.

Basic Shooting Principles

The skill of shooting is akin to catching a ball. You don’t position your hand to where the ball is, but where the ball’s going to be. Using the same concept, you shoot to position your shot in the flight path of the moving clay.

The 2 important skills you need to shoot well are hand/eye coordination and an understanding of what the target is going to do so you can anticipate it’s correct flight path.

As your shot leaves your gun, it moves through the air in a cigar shaped cloud. All you need to do is to make certain that the clay flies through that cigar of shot.

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

Some targets are designed to mislead you as to what they are doing in the air. Some simple looking targets are frequently missed for this reason.

Methods of Shooting

The two most common techniques are ‘swing through’ and ‘maintain lead’. Using either method, the 2 important factors that will hit the clay are your gun speed and the exact point that you pull the trigger.

A target needs an amount of lead in front of it where you need to shoot in order to hit the clay. Maintain lead is a measured technique of tracking the clays path, staying ahead of it by the precise amount of lead that you think the target needs.

Instead of consciously measuring each time using maintain lead, advanced shooters often use swing through as their preferred technique. Coming from behind, you swing through the clay until you have enough lead in front. Squeeze the trigger while keeping your gun moving and watch the clay shatter.

Basic Target Types

There are 7 basic targets in sporting shooting, which represent many different types of game.


Rabbit clays mimic running rabbits. The clays are 55mm in radius and are stronger than standards to withstand repeatedly bouncing on the ground.

Simulated Teal

A Teal clay simulates Teal duck, and flies straight up in the air, often very quickly, usually falling on the same path as it went up. These fast clays are difficult even for experienced shooters.


Quartering clays usually require less lead than crossing targets. Look to see where the target comes from & where it lands to help you to correctly interpret the flight path of the clay.


Driven targets replicate game birds being driven over the guns. Your gun barrels will hide the target just as you want to shoot, so you have to use a swing through technique to hit them consistently.

Incoming Targets

Incomers are clays that head towards you at a variety of different angles. Unlike driven birds, incomers usually drop short rather than flying over you.

Going Away Clays

Going away targets become impossible to hit very quickly so don’t hang on them or you will miss your chance.

Looper Birds

Loopers come in many forms. There are several techniques to hit them depending on your shooting style. A looper will often be quartering, falling, and moving forwards at the same time, making them tricky targets, especially the further away they are.