Going to the range and shooting stationary paper targets is good training for shooting stationary paper. It does actually help with your sight picture and trigger control, but in most dynamic situations the targets have a strong tendency to move. One great way to practice the fast hand-eye coordination needed to hit moving targets is with clay bird shooting. Trap and skeet shooting, two of the most popular types of clay bird shooting, are a good place to get started in this sport.

You will want to start with a suitable shotgun in at least 20 but preferably 12 gauge. It can be a pump action, semi-auto or double-barreled, with a 26-inch or longer barrel(s) and a fairly open choke. I prefer #8-size shot for both trap and skeet shooting. In trap shooting, the clay birds—bright orange discs about the size of your palm—are launched away from the shooter from a small block house at the center of the field. There are five positions in an arc from one side of the house to the other, and the shooter takes five shots from each position for a total of 25 shots. The shooter does not know in which direction each bird will be launched, and there is a good degree of unpredictability.

In skeet shooting, there are two houses that launch the clay birds. The one on the left side is called the high house and launches the birds from a higher position, while the right-side house is called the low house. There are eight shooting positions in a semi-circle from one house to the other, with one central position between the two. At each station the shooter will engage one bird from each house and sometimes two at the same time (a double). The shooter also gets one extra shot he or she can take from any station for a total of 25 shots.

It’s widely accepted that skeet shooting is harder to learn but easier to master than trap. See below to learn 8 tips and tricks for both trap & skeet shooting.

 

Point and Shoot

Point and Shoot

Point and Shoot: There are several tips to becoming a good shotgun shooter and breaking clays. First, the shotgun is very different from a rifle or pistol, where you focus on squeezing the trigger while not disturbing the sight picture. Forget all of that. With a shotgun, you point it at the target and pull the trigger. Trap and skeet shotguns don’t even have sights—just a small bead at the end of the barrel.

 

Keep Both Eyes Open

Keep Both Eyes Open

Keep Both Eyes Open: Since you are shooting at a moving target, you need to keep both eyes open in order to properly track it. First determine your dominant eye by making a small opening with your outstretched hands and focusing on an object with both eyes open. Then close one eye and then the other. The eye that can still see the object is your dominant eye, and when you shoot with both eyes open, that will be the one that focuses on the target. If you are right-handed but left-eye dominant, you will need to blur the vision of your left eye by placing a small bit of tape of your shooting glasses or shoot left-handed. Eye-dominance confusion is the first thing I check with a new shooter who seems to be having a lot of trouble. Also note that eye dominance can change for kids and women.

 

Be Aware of Body Position

Be Aware of Body Position

Be Aware of Body Position: Since you are pointing and not aiming the shotgun, your body position is very important. You want to be relaxed and comfortable in a boxer’s stance with your lead leg slightly bent and your rear leg straight, and a slight bend at the waist, leaning forward a bit into the shotgun. This allows you to control the recoil and easily rotate at the waist to track the clay bird.

 

Holding the Shotgun

Holding the Shotgun

Holding the Shotgun: How you hold the shotgun is also extremely important for achieving hits. More-experienced shooters start with the shotgun in the ready position, with the stock touching the waist and then swing up once they call the bird (most people yell “Pull!”). Beginners prefer to call the bird once they already have the shotgun shouldered. A proper hold means that the butt of the stock is firmly held against the pocket of your shoulder, between your arm and collarbone. Bring the shooting elbow up so your arm is parallel to the ground to ensure a good fit. You want the entire butt of the stock on the shoulder, not just a portion of it.

 

Keep Your Cheek Glued to the Stock

Keep Your Cheek Glued to the Stock

Keep Your Cheek Glued to the Stock: You will want your cheek firmly against the comb (top) of the stock, with your head forward so your nose is not more than one or two inches from the thumb on your shooting hand. When you look down the shotgun, all you should be able to see is the top of the receiver and the bead at the front of the barrel. If you can see any length of barrel, your head is too high on the stock. A very common mistake is poor follow-through, where the shooter, anxious to see results, lifts his or her head off the stock as they are firing. Keep your cheek firmly glued to the stock until well after you have fired your shot. Trying to look for hits guarantees misses.

 

Swinging the Shotgun

Swinging the Shotgun

Swinging the Shotgun: As you track the bird, swing the front of the shotgun to it, as soon as the muzzle covers the bird so you can’t see it, then pull the trigger crisply and quickly. Follow-through is also important when engaging targets with a lot of lead. Here you want to make sure that the shotgun keeps moving after you fire. Resist the urge to swing to the target and then stop, shoot, then try and follow it again. The shooter must continuously swing the shotgun though the target as they fire. In situations with less lead required, a failure to follow-through can be more forgiving.

 

Dry-Fire Practice at Home Using a Shotgun like the Ruger Red Label

Dry-Fire Practice at Home Using a Shotgun like the Ruger Red Label

Dry-Fire Practice at Home: You can practice by simply pointing and tracking the targets with your finger at first and then with an unloaded shotgun. Dry-fire practice at home is also very helpful to new shooters. Make sure there is no ammunition in your training area. Find a nice blank wall that is also in a safe direction. Using a flashlight with a narrow beam or even a laser pointer, a trainer can simulate the travel of a clay bird against the wall while the student practices tracking it and dry firing while following through and swinging through the target.

 

Universal Shotgun Trainer LT-120 from LaserLyte

Universal Shotgun Trainer LT-120 from LaserLyte

Use Laser Training Devices: There are also various laser training devices that are very effective at improving dry-fire training. The Universal Shotgun Trainer LT-120 from LaserLyte fits inside the muzzle of any 12 or 20 gauge shotgun and projects a ring of eight red laser dots surrounding one dot at the center when it detects the sound of a trigger pull and dry fire. The laser simulates the shot pattern and spread you would normally get at the given distance. This allows the user to visualize the pattern they would produce from a live round and helps the trainer see if the student is properly following through and achieving hits.

 

Shooting clays can be a bit frustrating at first, but most every shooter will break a few birds even their first time out, and it is much more visual, physical and exciting than paper target practice. Look for a clay bird shooting range in your area and contact one of their instructors for additional assistance. The National Rifle Association also maintains an online list of shotgun instructors and available classes by zip code.

For more information, visit nrainstructors.org or call 800-672-3888.

Show Comments
  • Very well written blog post. This will really helpful for those who are interested in trap and skeet shooting.

  • Pete

    after almost 40 years I decided to get back in. I bought my “bucket list” gun, a Browning 725. But, then I found out just how perishable this skill is! These instructions have answered my disappointment. Dry fire practice at home! Practice, practice…….

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