Trap Shooting and Skeet Shooting Tips

sporting clays, clay shooting, clay pigeon shooting

This article is about how to become better at shooting targets that are moving - skeet shooting and trap shooting, which will improve your aim with bird hunting. Both sports are sometimes referred to as sporting clays, although sporting clays is actually different. Before I get into the details, I’ll give you some background information. I grew up with firearms. My father was a gun dealer and collector, and my older brother was an avid hunter. Dad had a shop in the backyard, where he did his own reloading. Lots of times on weekends, Daddy and John would go target shooting, and sometimes I’d tag along. When I was just a little kid, I’d shoot my BB gun while the guys shot their .357 and .44 magnums. As I got a little bigger, I graduated to target shooting with a .22. As a teen, I started shooting a 12 gauge shotgun, too - a Remington Wingmaster. Dad had a hand-held clay target thrower, and I got to be a fairly decent shot with moving shooting targets. After I started college, I became even more interested in shooting skeet. For years, I enjoyed skeet shooting and trap shooting every chance I got.

Skeet shooting will improve your bird hunting success.
Skeet shooting will improve your bird hunting success.

My clay pigeon shooting mentor

My best friend and I somehow got to be friends at college with an expert in clay shooting. In fact, Jorge was the reigning Pan American skeet shooting champion. He set about forming a club so that others who were interested in sporting clays, skeet shooting, and trap shooting could get together. When a skeet shooting club was formed at the college, Jorge became president, and my best friend and I were elected as officers. On our first clay pigeon shooting trip as a club, I got to see Jorge in his element. This guy was amazing with clay shooting – he never missed! He dazzled all of us by shooting skeet from the hip. Of course, he gave all the club members some tips, and I followed them religiously. Remember – I was a novice at the time.

Jorge seemed to take a personal interest in teaching my friend and me the art of clay pigeon shooting. I think perhaps that was because we were so new to clay pigeon shooting, and also because we were the only two females in the club. Whatever the reason, he became my clay pigeon shooting mentor.

I grew up with guns.
I grew up with guns.

Skeet shooting, trap shooting, and sporting clays

Skeet shooting, trap shooting, and sporting clays are three different types of clay pigeon shooting. All involve shooting at moving clay discs, often called “clay pigeons.” The three varieties of clay pigeon shooting actually were developed to help bird hunters improve their shooting skills with shooting games, but now they’re sports that even non-hunters enjoy. The clay targets are intended to mimic the flight of a game bird.

Skeet shooting includes seven stations from which a shooter fires at clay discs. The stations are in a semi-circle, with an eighth station located in the center of the straight line of the semi-circle. At each end of the semi-circle, there’s a house, from where the discs are fired. One house fires the clay pigeons from a height of ten feet, and the other launches the clay targets from a height of three feet. Shooters are required to fire at singles and doubles.

American trap shooting is very popular in the United States. In these shooting games, the clay pigeons are launched from ground level, and the shooters shoot from five different stations, all located behind the trap house. Singles and doubles are included. When a contestant reaches a certain high score, he or she has to shoot from stations that are farther away.

Sporting clays is perhaps the most challenging of the three shooting games because the trajectories of the clays are unpredictable. Sporting clays is played on natural terrain in an area that covers at least thirty-five acres. A group of up to six shooters are challenged at different stations by flying targets, including singles and doubles.

Trap shooting:

Trap shooting and skeet shooting tips

The most important thing Jorge taught me about skeet shooting and trap shooting was not to stop the gun when you’re aiming at the clay target. I know this sounds easy, but it’s harder than you might think. When you’re aiming at the moving target, it’s natural to want to stop the gun just before you pull the trigger. When you do that, however, you’ll end up missing the clay pigeons because your shot will end up behind the shooting targets. You have to learn to lead the target and not stop the gun as you execute the shot.

Another tip he gave me might sound silly to you, but it does really help. Jorge told me to draw a black circle on a piece of white paper and pin it up on a wall. He told me to place the shotgun at hip level and to practice aiming at the target on the paper. The object of this maneuver was to learn to get the gun into shooting position as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Did Jorge’s tips pay off for me? Yes, they did! I became excellent at sporting clays. In fact, several years after college, I entered my first skeet shooting competition. It was sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, and I was the only female in the contest. I beat all the guys, hitting 100 out of 100 clay shooting targets. My skeet shooting and trap shooting skills also transferred to the dove field.

Another key to becoming good at skeet shooting is practice. As with any acquired skill, practice vastly improves your ability to hit clay targets. As I’ve already mentioned, my first skeet shooting experience was with a hand-held clay target thrower. These are inexpensive, but it takes some practice in order to learn to use them. Luckily, my brother got really good at operating the device.

What worked better was the mechanical clay target thrower. It sat on four metal legs, which could be pushed into the ground for stability. It had an arm that held the clay pigeons, and two discs could be loaded at one time for doubles. The clay pigeons were loaded onto the arm, and then the arm was cocked and locked into place. They were released by pulling a cord. The arm could be raised or lowered to vary the trajectory of the clay pigeons. This type of clay target thrower provides great practice.

Shooting games

If you’re new to target shooting, especially to clay shooting, I suggest you play shooting games in your spare time. Shooting games will help you with your hand-eye coordination. If you play shooting games that include a “gun,” the shooting games will help you learn to lead the moving shooting targets. They can help you learn not to stop the gun, too.

Shooting games are pretty popular, so you should have no problem finding a wide variety of them for your video game console. In fact, with a little searching, you can even find online shooting games. In my opinion, the online shooting games aren’t as effective for practice purposes as the shooting games that include a hand-held “gun,” but they’ll still help you learn to rate and lead moving shooting targets.

More skeet shooting tips

I also have a special tip for women and novices: Some shotguns have a strong recoil that can leave you sore and bruised. In fact, my own Wingmaster has such a kick. I remember something in college related to this. During my first quarter, I was taking a badminton class, and we had to dress in an outfit that included a sort of sleeveless tank top. I had spent the weekend shooting skeet, and my right shoulder was black and blue. After my next badminton class, the instructor pulled me aside to ask me if my boyfriend had beaten me. I explained to him about my shooting, but I’m not sure he totally believed me. Adding a recoil pad on the shotgun will help avoid bruising, as will wearing shooting shirts or vests that have special padding on the shoulder area. Also, it’s important to remember to hold the shotgun firmly into your shoulder as you shoot.

I haven’t shot skeet in years, and I really miss it. I do still have my old Wingmaster, however. My father gave it to me as a wedding gift from him, since it was the shotgun that I learned to shoot with. My family and friends joked about a “shotgun wedding.” The gun has destroyed tons of clay pigeons and has brought down countless doves and quail. The old gun now stands proudly beside the head of my bed, on the ready for home intruders. I’m not sure I really need it for that purpose, however, since I sleep with two enormous Great Danes that wake up at the slightest sound. I’d love to get involved with skeet shooting again, but I’m not sure my eyesight is good enough now. Also, with the nerve damage and back and shoulder problems I have, shooting skeet probably wouldn’t be such a good idea.

Shooting games:

Skeet shooting rules:

Sporting clays tips:

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Comments 6 comments

Woody 4 years ago

What type of bullets are used in these? I've heard they're different types & sizes


WebscapeOutdoors profile image

WebscapeOutdoors 4 years ago from Michigan, USA

Hi Woody, Skeet and Trap shooting is done with a shotgun, most often a 12 gauge. Shotguns use shells that are filled with small BB's rather than bullets.


habee profile image

habee 4 years ago from Georgia Author

12-gauge is the most popular, but others can be used, also. My Wingmaster is a 12-gauge pump.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

I have always wanted to try this, Holle. So one time, on a cruise ship, I signed up for the trap shooting. What a blast. I hit something every time I shot that gun. Unfortunately, none of those things (or people) I shot were clay pigeons. :)


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Well I forget the name of the thing - but I've got a super bad skeet thrower out in the barn. The thing cost $200 over twenty years ago when I got it.

I never did get to where I could knock all three (if you decide to let it throw three at a time) out of the air. I can always get one. Two is sort of hard! Three...and your a champ!


habee profile image

habee 4 years ago from Georgia Author

So, Doc, how many poor seagulls did you destroy??

Wesman, I don't think I've ever tried 3 at a time from that type of thrower. Maybe if I had another shooter to help! lol

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