Shooting

5 Tips for First-Time Clay Pigeon Shooters

A man shooting a shotgun at clay pigeons

One of the most fun activities you can do that will improve your shooting skills is shoot clay pigeons. There are three main types of clay shoots: trap, skeet, and sporting clays. Each has different rules and directions that the clays are launched. The end goal is the same. You shoot the little clay frisbee-like disc out of the sky.

The sport is designed to provide shooters with a moving target for them to attempt to pick off. Many hunters swear by clay shooting as a way to improve their shooting skills, but it’s a sport valued by all kinds of shooters not just hunters.

You don’t have to have any aspirations to hunt to shoot clays, and even beginners can have a lot of fun. If you’ve never shot clays before, here are a few tips to help you your first time out.

1. Safety Above All Else

shooting range outdoor

Safety is the most important aspect of any shooting sport. You must practice proper gun safety at all times while shooting clays. If you don’t know proper gun safety, learn it before going to shoot clays. Don’t load your gun until it’s time for you to shoot. If you finish a shoot and there’s ammunition in your weapon, unload it before stepping away from the shooting line.

You should also wear the appropriate eye and ear protection all of the time. A pair of fitted shooting glasses are cheap and provide ample protection. There’s a variety of ear protection options out there for you to choose from.

My ears are a little beat up from years of wrestling and combative sports, so I prefer earmuff-style hearing protection as opposed to ear plugs. However, both work well and there’s a wide variety of earplugs out there for you to choose from.

2. Know Your Dominant Eye and Keep Both Eyes Open

Looking down the barrel of a 12 gauge trap shooter's shot gun.

Everyone has a dominant eye. It’s the eye that provides most of the data to your brain. It’s easy to determine which eye is dominant.

With your arm extended, hold a finger out in front of you pointing straight up. Place that finger directly under an object across the room. Now close your left eye. If your finger is still directly under the object, you’re right eye dominant. If it looks like your finger moved when you closed your eye, you’re left eye dominant.

You want to shoot from your eye-dominant side. This could mean a right-handed person will have to learn to shoot left-handed. Don’t get discouraged. It’s usually easier to learn to shoot that way than it is to try to compensate for eye dominance.

When shooting, no matter what eye is dominant, you should keep both of your eyes open. Clay pigeons will be moving no matter what type of clay shooting you’re doing. Having both eyes open will help you track the moving target.

3. Keep Good Body Position

Man Shooting Shotgun in a field

Your body position is extremely important. You want to be well-balanced, with your knees slightly bent and your feet slightly apart. The foot on the trigger-hand side of your body should go behind the other one.

You want to lean slightly forward with a little more weight on your front leg than the rear. This gives you good control of the weapon as it fires and allows you mobility to track the target as it moves.

When I first shot clays I had my weight too far back on my rear leg. This hindered both my mobility and my ability to handle recoil well. It wasn’t too big of an issue because I was shooting a 20 gauge, but I would have progressed faster as a shooter if I got my stance and body position right from the start.

4. Hold the Shotgun Properly

A male clay shooter holding a gun at his shoulder

How you hold the shotgun is also very important. You should have a hand on the stock near the trigger and the other on the forend of the shotgun. The heel or butt of the stock goes on your shoulder.

Last but not least, your cheek needs to be pressed to the sock of the shotgun. This keeps you looking right down the barrel so you can point the bead at the end of the barrel towards your target. I missed many shots my first time shooting because I let my cheek rise off the stock.

One final note on holding and handling the shotgun properly: only put your finger on the trigger after you call for the clay to be launched (most people say “pull!”). This is a safety measure but one you should think about when working on your form.

Many shooters will tell you to keep your shotgun off your shoulder. They will say to start in the ready position until the clay is launched and then raise the gun to your shoulder. That’s not a bad idea, but for beginners, there’s no reason they can’t start with the heel against their shoulder.

5. Lead Your Target

Man shooting skeet with a shotgun

As I’ve said, clays are moving targets. In trap, they move away from you. In skeet, they move across your field of vision. Sporting clays move in a variety of directions. In order to be successful in any of these shooting sports, you need to learn to lead the target.

Shoot where the clay will be, not where it is. This means you will have to point your shotgun in the clay’s path of travel. This is why it’s important to keep both eyes open and position your body so you can turn and move.

It will take some time to fine-tune your target-leading skills, but by the end of your first day of clay shooting, you should be starting to get the hang of it. At the very least, you should be able to tell if you’re leading the target too much or too little.

Clay pigeon shooting is about hand-eye coordination. It takes some practice to learn, but it’s a lot of fun once you do.


Do you have any tips for first-time clay pigeon shooters? Leave a comment below.

5 tips for first time clay pigeon shooters

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