Trap, Skeet, and Sporting Clays; Three Great Ways to Improve Wing Shooting

“Here they come”, I thought to myself, as a bevy of mourning doves came sailing towards me over the picked cornfield with the intention of finding a roost in the locust grove at my back. As I raised the bead of my shotgun to the belly of the lead bird, I digress back to my days on the trap shooting range as my FFA team stood ready to destroy the next round of clay birds coming from the box. I pulled the trigger and the lead bird drops. I pump my father’s Mossberg and try to settle on the next bird as they scatter in all directions. I chose a dove that is cutting across from my right, level the bead, take my lead, and fire without a single pellet making contact. Next I chose a bird that was cutting away from my left back toward the empty field. Thinking that I over led the last bird I elect to shorten the lead and fire, only to watch my wad fly four feet behind the dove as he made a 180o back turn towards my position. I empty my gun on two more birds, only to watch them disappear into the sunset making me look like an amateur.

I walk over to the single downed bird as I replay the series of shots in my head. “I don’t get it. I can shoot trap all day but these doves made me look like a fool”, I chuckled quietly to myself. I called my buddy on the way home to tell him he missed out on the circus act that just happened, and after explaining my dilemma, he informed me that there is a big difference in shooting trap and shooting doves, and that if I wanted to practice for the acrobatic airshow that doves present, I should look into skeet shooting. We set up a time to hit the local gun club later the next week and after we ended the call I remember thinking that there could not be that big of a difference in shooting skeet and trap. Boy was I wrong. Shooting clay pigeons is a great way to practice for the real deal in the field. While all three styles incorporate the same target and principle of wing shooting, skeet, trap, and sporting clays all present unique challenges to the sportsman.

Trap shooting is where my passion for wing shooting started. Trap is unique in that all of the targets come from a centralized box positioned 16 yards in front of the shooter. The shooters stand in one of five stations, taking turns firing from each station. Upon the command of “Pull”, the trap launches a clay pigeon away from the shooter in one of five different directions in order to maintain the unknown component of a flushing bird taking flight in the field. The angles include straight out, soft left, soft right, hard left, and hard right. Shooters can use a variety of gauges in open competitions and because there is only one target at a time, actions from single-shot break-barrels to semi-auto can be used. The gun is really about the shooters preference. Shot sizes in trap usually range from 7 ½ to 9 with chokes being set at improved cylinder to modified. Personally, I prefer to leave a modified choke in during normal competitions using 8 shot because that was the best combination for my gun.

Skeet shooting, I found out, is definitely the place to be to practice for the fast paced, hard crossing shots that doves present. Skeet differs from trap shooting in that there are multiple targets that are launched from two towers located to the front left and right of the shooter. The targets are launched from the towers in a crossing pattern so that the shots are coming from the hard left and right of the shooters position. The shooters take turns rotating around five stations like in trap, however the position of the shooter is what changes the angle of the shot. The clay’s can come from a variety of heights off of the towers presenting the shooter with a greater challenge. Each station consists of two targets launching simultaneously versus trap where only one target is presented to the shooter. Because of this, over- under or double-barrel guns are preferred to single barrel shotguns in skeet shooting. Choke preference also differs in that a more open choke often presents better results because the target is moving at a much sharper angle than in trap. Open cylinder and improved cylinder are often the choice of skeet shooters with smaller shot being more commonly used due to the higher number of pellets down range. The theory is: the wider the pattern, the better the chance of breaking the target. This style of shooting is a great way to learn how to properly lead a bird flying at high speed in a crossing pattern; a vital skill to have when hunting waterfowl and doves.

Then there is the hybrid style referred to as sporting clays. Sporting clays is the love child of skeet and trap shooting that incorporates both styles into a less formal set up. Most sporting clay shoots are set up in courses instead of a single line of five stations. You could think of this being similar to a 3-D archery course. The stations are set up in various areas to provide unique challenges for each shot that often imitate real world hunting scenarios. The targets could be launched in pairs or singles from just about any angle in front of the shooter. This provides a realistic approach to practice for unpredictable live birds in a hunting scenario. To add to the realism, sporting clay stations are often set up in woodlands that provide for obstacles in the flight path. A clay pigeon could be launched from 30 feet off the ground from a hard right crossing pattern and fly in and out of trees much like a quail in a thicket, or a wood duck in swamp. Sporting clay courses also include varying sized targets that fly differently to mimic different real world birds. There are also stations that are set up with discs that bounce across the ground to imitate a rabbit attempting to flee from his ground cover.

All three of these shooting sports are great ways to practice your technique and can be a great way to introduce young shooters to the ranks of bird hunting and proper gun handling etiquette. As always, it is vital to practice gun safety both in the field and on the range. Most ranges require an open/empty action policy while not shooting.

Being a well-rounded wing shooter requires a lot of practice, and even more real world seasoning. No matter what your favorite game bird is to hunt, there is a style of clay shooting to give you the competitive advantage over your quarry and the confidence to make those tough shots on the fly. A single dove makes for a very light meal (that’s being generous). Trust me, your belly, wallet, and pride will be happier when you can connect on the majority of the shots you take on your next bird hunting expedition.

By |2019-07-05T11:23:24-05:00July 12th, 2019|0 Comments

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