Trap, Skeet Or Sporting Clays: Which Is Right For You?

Reprinted from the September 2013 issue of Western Shooting Journal

Me with Western Shooting Journal’s shotgun writer, Al Hague, and his Benelli 12-gauge shotgun.

I had the opportunity recently to shoot trap and sporting clays with Western Shooting Journal’s monthly shotgun columnist, Al Hague. I’ve gone skeet shooting before, so I was able to compare and contrast all three. My husband and I met Al at the Seattle Skeet and Trap Club, where SST board member Dave Dalton showed us around, revealing the best the club had to offer.

Both Al and Dave are top shooters, so at first it was a little intimidating. My husband fared slightly better than I, having grown up with shotguns in the Boy Scouts. For those who are new to the clay sports, all three sports involve shooting at moving clay targets that fly up out of a machine. The three sports were created in order to mimic shooting at birds; the targets are also commonly referred to as clay pigeons. 

My husband Brian Symes was a natural, having grown up with shotguns in the Boy Scouts.

SPORTING CLAYS IS the most difficult of the three – but ironically, because it is the most difficult, people take it the least seriously and are more likely to have a good time with it than treat it like a hardcore competition. Al told me it is virtually impossible to hit every target.

Some describe sporting clays as “golf with a shotgun,” because there are many different stations to shoot from, and each is quite different from the other. Nowadays, many ranges don’t bother to mimic the flight path of a bird, but try to make the targets as tricky as possible. The ones that do try to mimic birds in flight will name the various stations accordingly, such as a “grouse station” or “decoy duck” station. Five Stand is a scaled-down version of sporting clays, with only five stations.

Al Hague shooting sporting clays with his Beretta as Dave Dalton from Seattle Skeet and Trap releases the targets.

The best part was having Dave there to help us adjust the target stations – that’s why it’s always wise to get to know the folks running the gun range. Some of the stations had either been inadvertently moved, or purposely moved to make them extremely difficult. Dave knew how to manipulate the stations so we actually stood a decent chance at hitting them.

SHOOTING TRAP INVOLVES targets that fly away from you to the left, straight back, and to the right. You start at a station on the left side and move over a few feet at a time to several other stations, shooting from various angles around a semi-circle. If you are the type of person who is eager to achieve a perfect shooting record, and you have patience, trap may be for you.

Dave Dalton from Seattle Skeet and Trap with his Krieghoff Supersport.

SHOOTING SKEET ALSO requires intense concentration. The targets cross in front of you, unlike trap where they fly away from you. They are shot out of two stations from a variety of angles.

If you’re new to shooting, especially if you’re female or slightly built, here is some advice from me. Consider a lightweight shotgun. After shooting Al’s beautiful Benelli 12-gauge for awhile, my arms were tired. The length of pull was also too long for my arms. It weighed about 8 pounds. Whereas you can find a 12-gauge shotgun for about half that weight. The only drawback is the recoil will be stronger, so make sure you have the proper loads, or you could end up with a little bruising.

A sporting clays team that was ahead of us. Tom Curtis shooting a Blaser, father and daughter team Fred and Rachel Heistuman, and Todd Watson with a Beretta 391. Both Tom and Fred are officers in the fire department.

Overall, I had a great time learning to shoot the other clay targets. Since I am not the most patient person alive, and have poor vision, sporting clays was easily my favorite. I also thoroughly enjoy the outdoors, so walking around the range from one sporting clays station to another was an additional attraction. Shooting with a shotgun is more low-key than shooting with a pistol or rifle, because there is little or no sights to fuss with. Regardless which clay target sport you try, if you go with friends, you will enjoy it.

I, having grown up with shotguns in the Boy Scouts. For those who are new to the clay sports, all three sports involve shooting at moving clay targets that fly up out of a machine. The three sports were created in order to mimic shooting at birds; the targets are also commonly referred to as clay pigeons.

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