I know it isn’t the year 1902, and I am not a rich, English aristocrat sipping single malt scotch and wondering what the common people are up to today. I am, however, going to talk about an exciting sport that is very easily obtainable by today’s working man or woman. If you have never had the pleasure of shooting sporting clays, you are missing out on a potentially great time. Now that the summer heat is just beginning to taper off a bit, shooters and outdoorsmen alike are dusting off their guns, grabbing their ammo boxes, and heading out to the ranges all across our great nation. On your trip to your favorite gun range, you might take a detour just this once, and find your local sporting clay range (mine has both).
With its roots coming from England, sporting clays is a shotgun shooting game in which a device presents clay pigeons to the gunner in ways that mirror the flight pattern of game birds, or occasionally rabbits, in their natural habitats. Course designers lay out the shooting grounds in stations (also called stands or “butts,” the British term) with each station representing one type of bird or a combination of game; a rabbit and a grouse, for example.
During the course, shooters get to engage about 100 birds across 5 to 10 stations. The fun of the game is that you never know where your targets are coming from, or how fast they will fly through the air. The original purpose of the sport was to imitate shooting live quarry.
When shooting clays, a shotgun is used. These guns vary widely, but the most common types in use are over and under, side by side, automatic, and pump shotguns. The side by side and over and under shotguns are advantageous due to the fact that they can fire successive shots almost instantly, giving the shooter more time to aim. Semi automatic shotguns are becoming more popular due to their increased availability, growing reliability, and lower cost. Somewhat less popular are the pump shotguns, which most serious clay shooters consider less desirable.
In the United States, the National Sporting Clays Association is the main governing body for competitive clays. The NSCA currently has over 22,000 members and over 600 clubs that host registered and recreational shoots. The organization is non-profit, and keeps records of their members’ scores in competition, registers shoots for the clubs and associations, holds national championship competitions each year, and provides a myriad awards for outstanding achievements.
The best way to get better at shooting is to compete. Shooting in a competitive environment will undoubtedly increase your skill as a shotgunner. Sporting clays offers a safe and fun environment to increase your skills, and allows us simple commoners to compete in an activity that the upper crust of English society once reserved for themselves.