Sporting clays is a wonderful sport in and of itself. But for the hunter, it is more than that. This represents the most lifelike practice you can get for hunting without shooting at real birds. In this episode I talk through numerous things you can do in order to focus your sporting clays time and money on building hunting skills that you can take into the woods. 

If your goal is to win sporting clays competitions, then this episode and strategy is not for you. But if your goal with shooting sporting clays is to become the best possible hunter then you will want to do some things differently to make as much of your sporting clays practice transferable to the woods.

First, you will want to shoot whatever shotgun you plan to hunt with. Using a gun made especially for sporting clays may give you a few advantages or comforts for the clays course, but it will not help you get to know your hunting shotgun. You want to practice mounting, aiming, reloading, and doing everything with the gun you plan to hunt with. This is the most important thing you can do. Will using a hunting shotgun make sporting clays harder and possibly cost you a few points worth of your score? It could, but your goal should NOT be the best possible score, it’s to get the best possible hunting practice. And you need to use your hunting shotgun for that to happen.

Next, you want to wear as much of your hunting gear as makes sense. Prove it out on the sporting clays course. This is particularly applicable to shirts, jackets, coats, etc. You want to make sure you can manage, shoulder, and shoot your gun right while wearing all this gear if you can.

Gloves are also a big one. You want to make sure your can run the shotgun, reload, and work your action with the gloves you plan to hunt with. This is crucial. You will be reloading under pressure, and if your gloves cause you to bobble some reloads and cost you a few points on the course then good! Because you learned those gloves could cost you a few birds in the woods. Better to miss clay targets now than real birds later.

Also avoid the temptation to get ready for the shot before you see the clay bird in the air. Since you are the one calling pull, it’s easy to anticipate the shot and get your gun up and in the air. This may make some of your shots easier, but it is not realistic. In the woods, birds will not appear on command. You should stand unassuming and wait until you see the clays to raise your gun, get your footing, mount the gun and shoot. This may cost you a few points on the sporting clays range, but it will help you shoot faster and more effectively in the woods under real hunting conditions. 

Do not take any shortcuts on the sporting clays range. Do things harder, push yourself, try to think about how to make everything more realistic to hunting scenarios. This will give you the best practice possible for hunting ducks, pheasants, doves, and anything that flies.

Most importantly, listen to this entire podcast episode to get all of the details!

The single biggest thing you can do to take more birds when hunting is to practice shooting sporting clays in the off season. On this episode I give an overview of what sporting clays is, why it’s so helpful, what to expect your first time, the costs, and how you can find a course and get started. 

Here is the episode I mentioned in the show: How To Set A Realistic Annual Hunting Budget

Sporting clays is imperative for the wing shooter. Unless you can hunt birds constantly, sporting clays is the best way to develop and hone your shooting skills. Due to the variable shots, angles, speeds, and scenarios it provides significantly more realistic practice than trap shooting or skeet, though both are helpful. 

  1. Trap shooting involves shooting at clays as they are being launched away from you, like a bird flushing away. 
  2. Skeet shooting focuses on clays crossing in front of you, simulating passing shots, or birds being flushed from the side but flying into your field of fire.
  3. Sporting clays is kind of like those two crossed with golf. You typically have a 20-position course where clay targets are thrown from different angles, directions, and with different purposes to mimic a variety of realistic hunting scenarios. 

All three utilize clay targets often referred to as sporting clays, clay pigeons, clay targets, etc. 

To get started shooting sporting clays you first need to find a course. They tend to be much smaller than golf courses and are more easily hidden, sometimes close by and without much signage or fanfare. Search on Google and in the yellow pages or other local directory and ask around at local shops and local gunsmiths. There may be courses close by that you do not know about.

Once you find a course you may be easily able to schedule a day and time to come, else you may have to join a club. Weigh your options and do what is best for you. But I recommend trying to get access to a course at least twice a year in order to be regularly improving your skills. More is better of course, but it’s also more costly.

There is typically a fee to run the course plus the cost of ammo. Most courses are 100 targets, and some provide options for less or more. There may be other costs or options as well such as a golf cart, or hiring a guide/tutor to help you learn about the sport and how to shoot the course. I very much recommend paying the extra fee to get a seasoned shooter to go with you and train you. If you are shooting in a group, then you can often split the cost and it becomes more manageable.

This professional instruction is invaluable if you are new to sport and it’s something I think you should continue to pay for once every year or two in order to keep growing and improving.

Most courses require you to use target loads for safety reasons. Some enable you to bring your own ammo and some may require you to buy it there. Ask in advance so you can be well prepared.

Most importantly, you should listen to this entire podcast episode to get all of the details of how to start shooting sporting clays.