Clay Pigeon Shooting Tips For Beginners

Weston Lodge Shooting Ground News Article - 18 December 2018
Clay Pigeon Shooting Tips For Beginners

Clay pigeon shooting is a terrific, enjoyable and satisfying activity for those who want to learn the fundamentals of gun craft and hone their shooting skills… But don’t like the idea of firing at a living creature. For decades now clay pigeon shooting has been a favoured activity for virtually all kinds of people in all sorts of configurations. It’s extremely popular with stag parties, but it’s also popular with individuals, couples, groups of friends and corporate / staff retreats.

While clay pigeon shooting can be a lot of fun, it can also be a little frustrating for beginners who have never handled a shotgun before, especially if they’ll be shooting with seasoned gunslingers. With this in mind, we’ve compiled this handy list of tips to help absolute beginners to stand shoulder to shoulder with friends, colleagues and partners who have been shooting for years…

Let’s start with some jargon busting.

When you set foot in our spacious woodland layout, you may hear others in your party or members of our team using some jargon that it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with. While our friendly staff will be more than happy to explain it all to you, you may feel more confident knowing terms like;

Bird- Don’t worry, it’s not a real bird. This is just the name given to the clay target.
Kill Zone- The area in the sky where you’ll try and shoot the target.
Trap- The spring-loaded mechanism from which the target is fired.
Lead- The distance by which your shotgun muzzle should appear to be in front of fast moving targets. “Giving it some lead” means aiming in front of the target rather than directly at it.
Pick up point- The point at which the muzzle of the gun and the target coincide, where you lock on to the target.  
Hold point- When you pick up the target, you will follow its trajectory with the gun. This is called holding. If you hold just in front of the target, this is called a “maintained lead.”
Break zone- The point at which the shooter is planning to hit or “break” the target.

So, now we know the lingo, let’s take a look at some technique…

It starts with the stance.

As in all sports, martial arts or boxing, the way in which you stand is fundamental to your success. If you’re right-handed, your weight should be on the front (left) foot with your toes pointing towards the intended kill zone, your feet in a rough L shape much like in karate or boxing. If you’re a southpaw, switch this up so that the right foot takes the lead.

Ready position

Your ready position is another fundamental part of your technique, and it’s worth taking some time to get comfortable with it. Mastering it will help you to get used to twisting your body sufficiently to complete the swing that’s necessary when aiming at fast moving birds. Fail to get this right, and you’ll wind up missing a lot.

Loading the gun

For safety reasons, you should never load your gun until it is your turn to shoot. Furthermore, it’s important to treat every firearm as a loaded gun. Different ranges will use different guns. In some, you will find that the staff load the weapons for you while some may prefer to let you do it yourself.

We use 12, and 20 bore shotguns which are competition standard and the loading technique is as follows...

For pump action;

Ensure the safety catch is on, the chamber is empty, and the shotgun is pointed safely away from you (or anyone else).
Place the stock butt on your left thigh or secure it under your arm with the gun pointing sideways.
Place the cartridge above the loading flap just above the trigger guard with the “business end” pointing towards the barrel.
Push the cartridge into the loading flap with your thumb. You should hear it click.

For break action;

Ensure the safety catch is on, the chamber is empty, and the shotgun is pointed safely away from you (or anyone else).
Find and engage the barrel breach level (your instructor will point this out).
Open the gun and lower the barrel away from the shotgun.
Remove and discard any spent casings if there are any inside.
Slide a fresh cartridge into each barrel.
Close the gun until you hear it click into place.

Placing the stock butt

Place the stock butt just outside of the pocket of your shoulder (the little dip between your shoulder and your neck) with the barrel resting by your cheek. Don’t hold the gun down by your waist. This only works in movies.

Aim your muzzle slightly behind your visual pick up point. Keep your weight down on your front foot and lean into the target.
Kill zone and pick up points

Your kill zone will depend on how fast the bird is travelling and how quickly you can establish a pick-up point on the bird in flight. Remember that there will be a short delay before your eyes coordinate with your brain so that you know you’re locked on target. You can then mount the gun and start your “swing” as you follow the bird’s trajectory.

Gun ‘up’ and gun ‘down.’

Gun up is when the weapon is already mounted on the shoulder before you call for the bird. This is definitely the prefered starting point for beginners and will allow your instructor to correct any faults in your stance.  

Gun down is for more experienced shooters and calls for a quick mount after the bird is called. If your instructor asks if you have a preference, it’s recommended that you opt for “gun up”.

“Breaking the target.”

For a productive break,  the trigger needs to be pulled when the muzzle points just ahead of the target to ensure that the clay runs into the lead shot. If you line your muzzle up with the bird, the bullet will inevitably go behind it when you pull the trigger.

This is where your lead or “forward allowance” comes in. Getting a feel for the timing will take time and experience, but active breaking comes when you know how far ahead of the target to aim (your lead) based on the bird’s speed and trajectory.

Some people call this “arranging collisions”.

Shooting styles

These are the three styles of shooting appropriate for clay pigeons, each of them with advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s look first at the easiest for beginners, the “pull away method”.

This is where muzzle points at the bird as the swing commences. Tracking the bird’s trajectory, you then “pull away”, swinging your aim to position yourself just ahead of the bird, pre-empting it’s flight pattern and pulling the trigger.

The second technique is “swing through”. Here, the swing begins with the muzzles pointing behind the target. The muzzle then swings through the target, pulling the trigger on the other side just ahead of the bird’s trajectory.

The third, “maintained lead” is the hardest to master. This is where your muzzle is always pointing ahead of the bird as the gun is brought to the shoulder for a solid mount before the trigger is pulled.

Come join us soon!

Now that you know a little about clay pigeon shooting technique we hope that you will join us soon to put what you’ve learned into practice in our picturesque woodland layout with our team of dedicated and highly experienced staff!