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How to Take Up Shotgun Target Shooting

Shotguns are highly versatile guns and can be used for a host of ‘target’ disciplines; Graham Allen looks at getting started…

First of all, even though there is a discipline called ‘Target Shotgun’ and I’ll come to it later, the vast majority of shooters who shoot at inanimate objects, instead of quarry of some kind, are shooting clay pigeons. It’s a really challenging discipline, where hand to eye co-ordination is the key but timing also plays its part. It can be enjoyed by just about anyone; it doesn’t matter if you’re able bodied or have some form of disability, it is for all genders and ages and it’s easy to take up. There are clay grounds and clubs in every part of the UK, just give your local ground a call and they will talk you through the process.

Many people get their first taste of clay shooting during some form of team building exercise or at a country show, and it’s very easy to get into the sport, as it’s far less restrictive regarding beginners. You won’t need to buy any specialised equipment, the clothes you wear for general outdoor activities are perfect and it just depends on what time of year it is. There’s no point being cold and miserable on your first trip to a clay ground and there will be a fair bit of standing around; a decent pair of boots might also be a good idea, as it could be muddy underfoot. You’ll be given hearing and eye protection to wear by the qualified instructors.

The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) will be able to tell you where your nearest clay ground is and will be able to offer guidance and it’s well worth checking out their website, as there is a ‘club finder’ page. When you first try your hand, the instructor will give you a safety briefing, as this is the most important aspect of any of the shooting sports; hitting the targets is secondary to being safe with the gun you are using and it should be open at all times when not in use, to show that it is not loaded. The gun should only be loaded when you are told to do so by the instructor. You will be shown how to load and unload the gun and how to apply the safety catch etc.


Clay pigeon shooting grew out of the past-time of live-pigeon shooting, where real birds were released from a trap to be shot by the waiting competitor. Livepigeon shooting was made illegal in the UK is 1921 but ‘trap’ is still the term used for the machine that throws the clay disc into the air. The clays themselves are made in the millions each year from limestone and pitch (not actual clay) and are a standard size for most events, being 110mm in diameter, 25mm high and weigh at least 105g; they can be black or fluorescent orange. Other colours are used but the colours used depend on the lighting conditions etc., as they must be clearly visible when flying through the air. They must be robust enough to withstand being transported, loaded into traps and pass through the mechanism, so they have to be made to fine tolerances. There are various types available for the different disciplines.



    Standard: 110mm in diameter, 25mm thick

    Midi: Smaller than standard, at 90mm in diameter and fly faster than standard clay.

    Mini: Even smaller at 60mm and only 20mm thick.

    Battue: Standard diameter but very thin; these fly fast and then lose height quickly to simulate a landing duck.

    Rabbit: These are standard diameter but thicker than normal, as they are rolled along the ground as speed to simulate a running rabbit.

    Zzz: These are quite unusual, in that it is standard size but made of plastic with a ‘propeller’ fitted to it, so that they fly though the air in an erratic manner and are very challenging to shoot.

    Clays are generally launched into the air by sprung loaded ‘traps’ but more modern styles use flywheels etc. but they must be able to launch the clays to a distance of 100-metres, as single or double clays. The simplest type is a lever than is pulled back against spring tension, loaded with a clay and then released. They are relatively cheap and are a great way of being able to shoot clays informally on private land. If you’re lucky enough to have your own land, it’s a great way to practice or simply have a great time with friends. Modern traps can be electronically controlled and loaded with hundreds of clays in stacks around the central mechanism and can be adjusted for angle and the distance that the clay is thrown. For an Olympic style events, they can be linked together.

    There are many different types of clay pigeon shooting disciplines, but they are relatively similar.



    This is one of the most popular disciplines and a variety of clays are used to make it more lifelike; clays can be thrown at different speeds, angles, distances and elevations, so simulate real shooting and is a great way to practice before taking up shooting live birds such as pigeon. The traps can be set to throw clays that mimic quarry species and ‘driven pheasant’, ‘springing teal’, ‘dropping duck’ etc. are popular. Competitors shoot from what are called stands, with various targets that are thrown along set paths as singles or doubles. Shooters can compete as individuals or shoot in teams of six and shoot 25 targets at a time in ‘FITASC’.

    Super sporting

    This is a combination of Sporting Clays and FITASC and is extremely varied as to how clays are presented to the shooter.

    Compak and sportrap

    This is shot from five ‘cages’ around the course and shooters target single and double clays, as set out by the instructions.


    This takes its name from the original sport of live pigeon shooting where the birds were held a cage and then released in from of the shooter. These days, the clays are thrown from in front of the shooter as singles or doubles.

    Down the line (DTL)

    Here, 25 clays are shot, five at a time at distances of up to 50-metres; the clays are launched at a height of 2.75-metres.

    Olympic trap

    This is what most people will have seen if they have watched the Olympics. The clays are launched from a trench in front of the shooting position from 15 traps. The clays are set to travel 76-metres at a maximum angle of 45-degrees from the shooter. Shooters take it in turns to shoot and do not know how the clay will be presented to them but they each have the same types to keep it fair.


    This started in America and clays are thrown as singles or doubles from a pair of traps 40-metres apart; 25 clays are thrown in total per round. There are a couple of variants, English Skeet, where the gun is already mounted and Olympic Skeet, where the gun is not in the shoulder when the clay is released.

    As can be seen, there’s something for everyone but most people start out shooting Sporting, as it’s the most accessible. There are various other styles of clay shooting but they all follow the same basic principle. As I said, there are grounds everywhere and the following websites offer great advice: cpsa.co.uk, basc. or.uk, bisleyshooting.co.uk



    Guns used are generally Over and Under (O/U) but semi-autos are also popular. Over and Under are divided into Skeet Fast handling and light), Trap heavy with long barrel) and Sporting (multi-chokes) Side by Sides are still used, despite the fact that they are generally harder to shoot but there are some remarkable Side by Side shooter out there. Single shot shotguns are often by novices, as they are light and easy to use but may recoil more than a double gun.

    Buying a gun

    If the new shooter decides to apply for a shotgun certificate, they must fill in the application form and send it to their local police firearms team. The new applicant will be assessed as to whether they have a criminal record etc. and you will have to declare any health issues you may have; it is important to be truthful about this, as the police may contact your GP. You will need a gun cabinet or suitable safe of some kind, but these are affordable and must be securely fixed to a solid wall, out of sight of casual visitors.

    A decent O/U need not cost the earth and there are many makes out there that have guns suitable for the discipline but many start out with something second-hand and it is well worth checking out a few local gunshops before taking the plunge ad there may be a ‘for sale’ board at the ground or club you shoot at.



    Shooters are always trying something new with their equipment and the sport of Practical Shotgun started when a few shooters decided to mix things up a bit and shoot targets other than clays and they can be ones that react when hit, partially obscured or moving. Anyone can shoot Practical Shotgun and it is a very dynamic discipline and the participant does not stay in the same firing position and moves around a course. Safety is of course paramount at all times. The International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) runs the sport worldwide and the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association (UKPSA) run things here.

    Guns used are generally ‘Section 1’ (that require a Firearms certificate to own), semi-auto 12-bore shotguns with an extended tube magazine but box magazine fed guns are becoming more popular; each have advantages and disadvantages. Contact: ukps.co.uk



    Target Shotgun is shot with Section 1 shotguns, often fitted with optical sights. Depending on the range and course of fire, birdshot, buckshot and solid slug cartridges are used. The 100- and 200-yard, ‘Long Range Slug’ matches are very challenging but sighting shots are allowed and the target is a generous 5-feet square! The NRA’s league is the largest in the country. Contact: nra.org.uk