What is Sporting Clays
Sporting clays started as practice for hunters, and for many people, it still is. But thousands more enjoy the game for its own sake, making it one of the most popular shotgun shooting sports in the world. Though it began in England, by the late 1980s sporting clays had established a foothold in the USA and continues growing today.
"golf with a shotgun"
A typical sporting clays course has 10-15 stations that can include 1, 2 or 3 clay target throwers or trap machines. Courses can be set with 50 or 100 target presentations; however you can also practice on only a few presentations to work on a problem presentation or to simulate common hunting situations. A sporting station can have from 4 to 12 targets shot as singles, report pairs or true pairs. A single is one target, report pair is two targets with the second launched after the report of the gun and a true pair is two targets launched at the same time.
Sporting Clays was originally created to simulate life like bird hunting scenarios Sporting Clays has evolved into an organized sport with competitions held throughout the world. The National Sporting Clays Association is the governing body that oversees and organizes events in the United States with many State Associations that organize state championships. You are automatically a member of the Illinois Sporting Clays Association by being a member of the National Sporting Clays Association and residing in the state of Illinois.
Sporting Clays is unique as compared to skeet or trap in that no two courses are the same. The appeal is the diversity of terrain and target presentations. Courses can be setup anywhere with enough property for safe shooting. Courses are often set on rolling hills, woods, open fields, cliff sides and over water features. Targets can be set crossing, climbing, falling, going away, coming in, overhead and below your feet.
Shooting a Round of Sporting Clays
Target presentations are shot from stands or positions that can be anything from wooden structures, rings on the ground or any designated safe shooting position. Menus for each target presentation are often set with 6 to 8 targets or 3-4 Pairs however they are sometimes set with only 4 to as many as 12 targets. In some cases, the targets within the menu may vary from a single to pairs and they switch the order of the targets on menu. Read the menu.
Depending on the sporting clays event, you may start at station #1 or be assigned to starting station with a specific time. Your squad or group of shooters will be the same for the course. For European rotation you are allowed to start at any station at any time within the allowable shooting times for the event and you may jump from station to station, however don’t jump in front of another group that is approaching the next station. A shotgun start will give your squad a start time and station and you will proceed through the course in station order. Shotgun starts are common at large events that have tight timelines. European rotations are common at smaller local events or smaller side events at big events.
To keep things fair the order of the shooters changes from station to station with the first shooter moving to last and the second shooter moving to first on the next station. The order change will increment from station to station and repeat throughout the course.
Previewing the targets
The first shooter at the station has the right to view the target presentation before actually attempting the targets. The rules at each club and event may differ. It is commonly accepted to view 1 or 2 good presentations. It is good etiquette to wait for the entire squad to be ready before calling for the view targets.
Singles, Pairs or Doubles
Singles are simply that, one target is thrown however you still have full use of the gun or two shots maximum to attempt the breaking the target.
Most common are doubles that are thrown as report, true or Rafael (following) pairs.
In a report pair the first target is released when the shooter calls “pull” and the 2nd target is released after the 1st shot is attempted or on the “report” of the gun shot. The shooter may take a second shot at the first target if they like.
True pairs have both targets thrown at the same time after the shooter calls for the target. Both targets may not always be immediately visible, and the shooters can choose to shoot either target first and may shoot the same target twice if they miss on the first shot. The shooter may also change which target they shoot first on each pair.
Following pairs or Rafael pairs is two targets thrown from the same target thrower with the second target thrown as soon as the machine or person can send the second target.
Targets are scored as “dead” or “hit” if any visible piece is broken off the target from the shooters shot. See the NSCA rule book for the current definition. A target is scored as “loss”, “lost” or “miss” if no hit is seen. A moved target is not considered hit. The score keeper should call out the result loudly and clearly after the target or pair has been shot. Targets should be score on the score sheet as “0” if missed and “/” if hit.
At smaller self-scoring events each competitor takes turn between shooting, “pulling” and scoring. No longer is a shooter required to load or manual pull targets, courses have moved to powered machines that only require the press of a button(s) to release targets after the shooter calls for the target. Commonly the last two shooters will score and pull 1st and as the first shooter is done shooting, they will take over pulling or scoring with each competitor taking a turn at each station.
Targets can be presented in a variety of sizes and colors on sporting clays course. Sizes ranges from 60 mm up 110 mm. Clay target colors are typically orange or black however can be orange with a black rim, white, green or pink. Targets will choose the color that best contrasts with the background the target will be thrown through.
Standard or 108 mm. The is the same target used in trap and skeet.
International or 110 mm. Slightly large than a standard target. It has 1mm more thickness on the rim to allow it to be thrown with more force from the target thrower for faster speeds.
Midi or 90 mm targets create the illusion of standard target that is farther away or faster. They can be faster in their earlier flight but lose speed quickly.
PRO 70mm is faster off the target thrown than a 90 but doesn’t slow as fast as a mini 60 mm target.
Mini or 60 mm is the smallest and fastest off the thrower but also loses speed very quickly.
Battues are also 108 mm however they are very thin allowing them to fly very fast but are unstable and roll in flight.
Rabbit targets again are 108 mm in diameter like a standard target however it is thinner with a harder rim to allow is to bounce along the ground. Be ready for the bounce and don’t be surprised to see these targets tossed in the air or skipping across water.
Guns, Ammo and Gear
Always shot with a shotgun and typically shot with a 12-gauge however many competitors enjoy the additional challenge of the smaller gauges: 20, 28 and 410. Often there are event special events referred to “sub gauge” that require a smaller gauge for the event. In these sub gauge events you can shot up to that gauge or smaller. For example, a 20-gauge event also allows the smaller 28 gauge and .410. If an event is not specified it is assumed that it is a 12-gauge event. A smaller gauge is always permitted.
Shotguns for Sporting Clays can be over & under, side by side, pump or semiautomatics. All types are used with each having their pros and cons. Guns can range from a loaner, a few hundred dollars or 10s of thousands of dollars. You pick based on your interest and budget. Many clubs have rental or loaner clubs available or they may introduce you to other shooters willing to let you try out theirs. Most shooters are proud to let others give their gun a try.
Eye and ear protection for all shooting sports are mandatory. These two items should never be missed. Clubs should have these available for a low cost.
Ammunition should be “target” loads in the gauge of your shotgun. See the NSCA rule book for the current requirements. Here are some general guidelines however check with the club or event management for their specific.
Black powder, visual training loads, tracers or tracking devices are not permitted in any NSCA registered shooting event.
Gauge Ounce Lead
12 gauge 1 1/8 ounce
20 gauge 7/8 ounce
28 gauge 3/4 ounce
.410 1/2 ounce
No lead shot smaller than U.S. No. 9 (nominal diameter 0.080) or larger than U.S. No. 7-1/2 (nominal diameter 0.095) shall be used in any load. No steel shot smaller than U.S. No. 9 or larger than U.S. No. 6 (nominal diameter 0.110) shall be used in any load.
Variations of Sporting Clays
Super Sporting is very like sporting clays but there are 3 targets presentations shot at each station. Typically the first 3 targets shot are shot as singles and the shooter may shot each of the three targets as singles with full use of the gun. The shooter then shots a combination of report or true pairs with a mix of the three targets. The menu at each super sporting station will describe the order of the targets.
5 Stand is like Sporting Clays but can be shot in smaller space shot with 25 or 50 target rounds. Often 5 Stands are set within a Skeet or Trap field. There can be anywhere from 5-8 target presentation. Each shooter attempts targets from each of the 5 positions that make up the 5 Stand field. The first shooter attempts the first target or pair on their station’s menu and then the next shooter to their right attempts their target(s) and this repeats until the menu is completed. Once the menu is completed the shooters moves to the next station until each shooter has completed the 5 positions.
FITASC or Parcours de Chasse is a round of 25 targets at each parcour that is shot from 3 positions or hoops. At each hoop the first shooter attempts each target as a single and may use two shots for each target. After each shooter completes the singles portion of the menu the next shooter in the rotation shots the pairs until each shooter has completed the menu. The squad then moves onto the next hoop and then the last competing the 25 FITASC targets. FITASC events are often 50, 100 or more targets shot from several parcours.
American Field Sporting heralds “less rules, more fun”. This new discipline started in 2019 combines the best of all the other disciplines into one easy to follow set of rules. It offers the variety of Sporting Clays, FITASC, 5 Stand and Super Sporting into new layouts or fields at faster pace.