Sporting Clays

Sporting clays is an exciting, relatively new shotgun game that is designed to mimic actual hunting conditions. It is thus both challenging and fun. It uses clay targets similar to those of trap and skeet, but the launching machine and course layout differ considerably in order to simulate, as closely as possible, actual field conditions of shooting game birds. The lure of the game lies in its realism.


The sport had its origins in early twentieth century England where live pigeons were used as a teaching and practice layout for developing wing-shooting skills. Introduced to the United States in the early 1980s, sporting clays is one of the fastest growing shotgun sports. More than several hundred courses have been established throughout the country and there are many more informal courses at smaller gun clubs and shooting preserves.

Sporting clays are shot for fun, hunting target practice and as a competitive shooting game. As with other shotgun games, sporting clays is usually shot in groups of shooters, (called squads) with two to six competitors per squad. Each shooter fires from a shooting “cage,” which restricts gun movement within a safety zone. A “round” of sporting clays in a registered National Sporting clay Association (NSCA) event consists of a minimum of 50 targets with additional targets being added in increments of 50 targets.

Sporting clays uses a number of different types of clay targets. Combining different speeds and angles with different types and sizes of targets makes the game challenging. Six target sizes are available and these vary from the standard trap/skeet clay bird to the smaller “midi” and “mini” targets, to flat, disc-shaped targets such as the “battue” target. All shooting is from the standing position, but can be from either a low gun (off the shoulder), like in skeet, or as of 1997, a “free mount” position such as a previously mounted gun.

Stations can present the shooter with a single or a variety of types of paired targets. The delay between targets can be up to three seconds. Paired targets are of three types: simultaneous pairs, following pairs and report pairs; the latter is where the second target is launched upon the report of the first shot. For some targets a second shot is allowed. Courses are laid out in natural surroundings and typically include 10 to 14 shooting stations with shooters moving from one station to the next to complete the course. The order of shooters usually rotates at each station. Types of shots and target numbers are at the discretion of the shooting officials and thus vary from course to course. Details on the type and number of targets are posted at each station.

There are several “standard” shots that reoccur at most sporting clay courses:

Woodcock – a flushing, outgoing target

Passing mallards – often launched from a high tower or hill that cross from one side to the other

High pheasants – often launched from a high tower or hill that pass high overhead

Driven grouse – incoming targets that generally start low and rise up over the shooting station

Springing teal – typically a pair of targets thrown steeply upward

Floating duck – a propelled floating target, often moving toward the shooter

Rabbit – the target rolls and bounces along an uneven ground surface

Most hunting and field conditions can be simulated on a sporting clays course. Most courses make use of natural features such as woods, ponds and topography to create a realistic setting for each type of shot.

Though not part of official NSCA matches, some courses offer “poison targets” which are identified by color. These give negative points if shot and help to simulate hunter discretion such as is needed for determining gender or species of bird.

For those who shoot sporting clays for competition, it should be noted that no two sporting clays courses are alike and target angles and speed at individual stations may be changed from time to time. As a result, sporting clays scores are generally not as high as the scores in traditional clay target games such as trap and skeet. For example, the average necessary for an AA classification in trap is 97%. The average necessary for an AA rating is 80% for the United States Sporting clays Association (USSCA) and 75% for the National Sporting clays Association (NSCA). The typical sporting clays shooter will break 35-40% of the targets on his first attempt and 50% is a reasonable goal for a shooter just getting started. New shooters can attain an NSCA classification after shooting 300 (classification or registered) targets.


Firearms: Sporting clays is essentially a field game and an upland gun is well suited to this shooting sport. The most popular guns for this game, especially on the competitive side, are 12-gauge autoloaders and over-and-unders. Hunters who prefer the 20-gauge may certainly use their smaller gauge guns on the sporting clays course, and some sporting clays courses occasionally sponsor 20- gauge shoots. Skeet, improved-cylinder and modified are the chokes most often used in this game. It’s not uncommon for the avid sporting clays shooter to use interchangeable choke tubes to accommodate different stations during a round. No matter what your choice of gauge, use an open choke since most shooting is done at close range. Trap and skeet loads are used in sporting clays.

Other than the obvious shotgun and shells, a shoulder bag is the next most important piece of equipment since you’ll be carrying shells and accessories from station to station.

Ammunition: Trap and skeet shot shells (shot sizes #9, #8, and #7-1/2) are the appropriate loads for sporting clays. Rules prohibit the use of shot sizes larger than #7-1/2, more than 1-1/8 ounces of shot or a powder charge in excess of 3-1/4 dram equivalent. Skeet loads are ideal for close targets while trap loads may be used at other stations where the targets are farther out.

Further Information

The National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) 5931 Roft Road San Antonio, TX 78253-9261 Phone: (210) 688-3371 Toll free: (800) 877-5338 Fax: (210) 688-3014 Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation