Sporting Clays

This nearly 100-year-old game is still A CHALLENGE

shooting clays

Olympic-level sporting clays coach Dan Carlisle improved Holt Bodinson’s game in five minutes. A good coach will help your shooting every time.

Sporting clays is usually described as “golf with a shotgun.” Well, I play golf and I shoot sporting clays and the only two things these games have in common is they both use the word “course.” They are two completely different sports, played completely differently. Now, I have shot golf balls with a shotgun in some exhibition shooting events, but it wasn’t on a golf course and the golf ball was pretty much destroyed after being shot. But it was one of my longer golf drives.

To put it simply, sporting clays is clay target shooting and that statement is the only thing simple about this game. Originally designed to simulate hunting, it was first introduced in England in the early 1900’s by British shooting schools so their students could practice for upcoming driven-bird hunts. Given the competitive nature of the Brits, they created the other British Open, England’s premier sporting clays competition, which was held shortly afterwards in 1925. Officially introduced in the United States in 1980, sporting clays was embraced by hunters and target shooters, and over the next several years became the fastest growing shooting sport in America.

A typical course design is 10 to 15 stations, each designated with a shooting cage to mark where the shooter will stand. There are one or two clay target trap machines at each station. A shooting squad consists of up to six shooters. A round of sporting clays is 100 targets with usually 5 to 10 targets thrown at each station in pairs and in singles, depending on the targets, the number of stations and the landscape. The pairs can be presented three ways; a true pair—two targets released from different machines simultaneously; a following pair—targets released sequentially from the same machine or on report—the second clay target released on “report” meaning after the first shot is fired. There is no consistent distance or direction in this game as opposed to the known distances and directions of the other clay target games.

Targets can be as close as 15 yards and go out as far as 70 yards with a variety of different types of targets used. The main types of targets used are the “Standard” domed targets, which are 108 millimeters in diameter and a “Middi,” which is a bit smaller at 90 millimeters and creates an optical illusion of distance during flight. Then there are the specialty targets including the “Mini” at 60 millimeters in diameter and the “Rabbit” and “Battue,” which are the same size in diameter as the Standard target, but flat with no dome. Now, think about golf: Fourteen clubs, 18 holes, one ball—no comparison.

Since sporting clays was created to practice bird hunting, the target presentations throughout a course try to imitate hunting scenarios. Shooters will see targets crossing in front of them simulating birds flying by, targets flying straight up as in rising ducks, targets coming towards them like driven pheasant or going away like you see when a hunting dog flushes a bird. There are targets thrown from towers, targets arcing high and even targets rolling across the ground as in a rabbit running. Targets can come from any area and any distance as long as it’s safe. Back to golf—one direction, one ball.


The DT11 from Beretta leads the way in guns used by sporting clays shooters. The premium-grade, Steelium Pro barrels offer durability and better ballistic performance and a stock you can tailor to your specifications.

shotgun trigger

The receiver of the Beretta DT11 has been beefed up to distribute more weight at the hinge pin. Beretta’s detachable trigger system is as elegant as it is practical.

However, just because this game simulates hunting doesn’t mean a field grade hunting gun or field grade ammunition is used. On the contrary, guns and ammunition used in this game don’t fit any exact standard and are customized to the shooter with all sorts of accessories. Even though there really is no one gun of choice, many gun manufacturers have designed guns specifically for this particular game making it a matter of personal preference.

Topping the list is the Beretta DT11. The DT, which stands for detachable trigger is touted as the firm’s top-of-the-line over/under competition shotgun. Used by many pro shooters, it’s showing up at a lot of local shoots as well. Built around a vault-tough cross-bolt action, it’s 3mm wider than it’s predecessor, the DT10, making it stronger and more durable. The trigger breaks at 3-1/2 pounds with little or no creep.

An interesting feature of the DT11 is the forcing cone. At 480mm (18.9 inches), it’s extra long, which practically eliminates shot deformation, and helps reduce felt recoil and muzzle jump. Barrel length varies, depending on the shooter, but it ranges from 28 to 32 inches. Fans of the DT11 brag about its reliability and durability, putting hundreds of thousands of rounds down range without a glitch.

But this is a game of variety and the guns used by sporting clays shooters come in a wide variety as well. Krieghoff showed up as a close second to Beretta, followed by Blaser, Perazzi, Zoli, Caesar Guerini and a smattering of others. Most of these guns are customized to the shooter with fitted stocks, forearms and barrels with the main difference being personal preference.

As with the shotguns, ammunition is just as varied, but here there is some regulation. Shot size can be no larger than No. 7-1/2 and no smaller than No. 9. However, very seldom will 9’s be used unless the target is almost close enough to touch. No. 8’s are used for most of the shots with 7-1/2’s used on the specialty targets

A 1-ounce shot charge in a 12-gauge is really all that is needed, even though some shooters prefer the “big boomer” using 1-1/8. All that does is knock you around and is really unnecessary. But an important aspect to ammunition is velocity. I always preferred a faster load, shooting 1,350 fps, but again it’s personal preference. A great sporting clays shooter—Jon Kruger—shoots a very slow load at 1,180 fps and he’s one of the best shooters there is.

clay chart

Briley’s Sporting Clays Choke Chart breaks down what chokes to use on specific targets and distances. Courtesy: Optimum Performance Shooting School


A variety of targets are used, but the Rabbit and the Mini are specialty targets used specifically for sporting clays, adding a whole new dimension to the game not seen in other clay target sports. Photo: White Flyer

There’s a lot of variables in sporting clays which is what makes it so interesting and difficult for the shooter and there’s even more decisions and accessories other than guns and ammunition.

A big part of the sporting clays game is the interchangeable choke. Years ago, shotguns came with fixed chokes and that was the end of it. Not in the world of sporting clays today. Because of the varying distances, being able to control the shot pattern diameter at different yardages is a very important aspect of this game. A huge selection of chokes is available for all shotguns, some directly from the manufacturer and some after-market. Chokes are a science unto itself, but the accompanying chart from Briley Manufacturing breaks it down as simply as possible.

As you can see, this is a complicated, extensive game and it would take more than just this one column to explain all the equipment and nuances along with the sport. Many organizations and clubs hold events, promote the sport and can help you navigate through it. The Nationals Sporting Clays Association is the dominant organization promoting the sport and conducts the National Championships. Just recently, a new organization was formed with the support of the NSCA, the Professional Sporting Clays Association, whose goal is to showcase the sport with more mainstream coverage by televising a professional competition tour.

No doubt, the “golf with a shotgun” campaign is a marketing strategy designed to bring more folks into the sport and peak interest. But, the challenge of sporting clays comes from the plain, simple fact you will rarely see the same type of target presentation, even if you go back to the same range. Which is unlike any other shooting game or the game of golf. The landscape changes, machines are tweaked for a different angle or the shooting position itself is moved.

Sporting clays was created to simulate hunting and this game requires a fine balance between the good instinct field shooter and a clay target veteran. It’s not a game I would suggest starting your clay target journey with. The consistency of known shots, like those in trap and skeet are better to learn on. But then, didn’t we all start out playing goofy golf?

MAKER: Beretta
17601 Beretta Drive, Accokeek, MD 20607
(800) 636-3420

Action: O/U
Gauge: 12
Chambers: 2-3/4 and 3 inches
Choke: Extended Optimachoke tubes
Drop at comb: 1-1/2 inches
Drop at heel: 2-3/8 inches
Length of pull: 14.7 inches
Barrel length: 30 or 32 inches
Rib type: 10mm to 8mm, tapered
Sights: Mid bead with Bradley-style front bead
Trigger: Adjustable drop-out
Finish: Blue and satin nickel
Retail: $8,050

5931 Roft Road
San Antonio, TX 78253
(210) 688-3371 or (800) 877-5338

Optimum Performance Shooting School
P.O. Box 826
29354 McKinnon Rd., Suite A
Fulshear, TX 77441
(800) 838-7533

11152 Westheimer Road
Suite 902, Houston, TX 77042

GUNS Jan 2015 Cover

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine January 2015 Issue Now!