If you’re thinking about taking your clay shooting to the next level, why not invest in a proper tool for the job, suggests Simon Reinhold
Competition clay shooting is about controlled levels of focus. This is also true when it comes to choosing suitable clay guns for the task, given the bewildering range of guns on offer. (Take a look at our best clay shooting jackets too.)
Best clay guns
Ultimately, it comes down to what you feel most comfortable shooting. With that comfort comes confidence and this is the magic — sometimes elusive — ingredient in all types of shotgun shooting, but especially in competition clay shooting. (Read how to start clayshooting.)
However, you must give yourself time to adapt to a new gun. When in retail I had a customer who was a competent Shot but had a peculiar habit. If he missed a straight driven target with a gun, he would sell the gun the next day and order another. It was an expensive way of correcting a drop in confidence, but it is not advisable and is beyond the pocket of most.
It is worth giving any new gun at least a year before deciding whether to keep it or move on. Only then will your scores truly show a reflection of whether it is right for you or not.
What to look for in clay guns is intensely personal. Many have extended multichokes so you can see at a moment’s notice what is in your gun and to act if you feel the need to change chokes for a particular target. The truth is that there isn’t much on a Sporting course properly laid out by a competent designer that cannot be tackled with half-choke.
Many (but not all) also have an adjustable comb that reduces the need for any cast being applied to these relatively large gripped guns. There are numerous options when it comes to rib profiles. Some believe higher ribs and combs afford them a visual pick-up more quickly for Trap-style targets, even on a Sporting course. Wider ventilated ribs are designed to dissipate the rising heat of the barrels after shots, heat that can distort your vision.
What is universally accepted, though, is the need for reliability when you are shooting tens of thousands of cartridges a year. I will highlight the differences between some of the many brands popular in today’s market and some that are the titans of the podium on the world stage. If you want to step up in your CPSA class and shoot more registered targets, or some of the larger non-registered competitions, it may be time to consider moving on from your entry-level game gun.
1. Breda Zenith Black RRP £2,595
The Breda is an attractive-looking gun with modernist engraving. With its low-profile action, locking lugs coming through the face of the action, and barrels hinging on replaceable stub pins in the action walls, the Breda takes its inspiration from a better-known Italian cousin.
It has a seven-position adjustable trigger but the lack of an adjustable comb may not suit all shooters, though the drop at heel and comb and general stock shape are well thought out for the UK market. The handling, which is the key difference in all these guns, is determined but not perhaps as encouraging as some.
At its price point, this is a solid contender for those looking for a new gun at a reasonable price with the peace of mind of a two-year warranty. The replaceable block on the underside of the barrel shows a confidence from the manufacturer in its longevity and is a great concept in itself.
2. Krieghoff K-80 RRP from £13,200
No discussion on clay guns would be complete without mention of a Krieghoff. Favoured by a number of the best shooters in the world, these are Marmite guns. What is surprising when you shoot one is how different they feel and yet how well they handle.
The mechanical trigger feels like nothing else, giving your finger a little kick as the mechanism switches to the second barrel. But, despite that, there is a tangible authority in using one once you have bonded with it. But it may take time to get used to the quirks, and it surprises and disappoints some shooters that they never gel with one and have to sell it disillusioned. The shape of the fore-end and the action are an acquired taste; the barrels are ribless and appear bulged at the chokes — simply the way they are built — but they continue to increase in popularity and frequency on the podium.
They hold their value second-hand. The model on test is available in Holts’ March auction. Given their reputation for Teutonic reliability, they are increasingly the gun of choice for some major players.
What the Perazzi lacks in frills it more than makes up for in other areas. The no-nonsense exterior is a clue; this gun has a finesse rarely found in serious competition over-and-unders. Finesse does not mean that this gun is fragile. What it does mean is that the Perazzi almost holds your hand and walks you through the shot. Its smoothness is outstanding, separate and distinct from some of the heavier contenders. For me it felt very natural to shoot. Part of the smoothness will be the fixed choke, but much of it is the weight evenly distributed through the whole gun — this is the perfect blend of the gunmaker’s art and modern manufacturing techniques. Though chambered for 76mm (3in), the 2016 model on test is not proofed for high-performance steel shot, so check if you are considering using it for game shooting as well as clays. While it is not cheap, the options to have the gun fitted — now in the UK as well as in the Italian factory — and the residual value of the gun make it a popular choice in a list of clay guns.
For a combination of beauty and serious intent, this gun is hard to beat. There is a substantial quality to the DT11 L, rather like a large luxurious car whose handling disguises its weight. Weight is not a bad thing in a competition gun — it absorbs felt recoil — but it is a trade-off with fatigue in your arms over the length of a day’s contest. The best guns feel far lighter than they weigh because of their perfect balance. This DT11 L embodies that equation. More deliberate than the refined features of the Perazzi, for those looking for an elegant certainty, this gun, or one of its less beautifully engraved relatives, may be for you if your budget can stretch that far.
It doesn’t have the DT11’s handling — it is flightier and less forgiving — but the 694’s price point appeals to the fans of the Beretta stablemate. The test version is also available second-hand at Holts’ auction in March.
You can customise the 694’s handling to your requirements by a system of barrel weights, which allows for the fact that not all competition shooters want homogeneous handling characteristics in their guns. The styling and build quality are more angular, but you can see the heritage of the 680 series that put Beretta on the podium repeatedly in the 1980s and cemented its competitive reputation.
With its stepped rib and Monte Carlo stock, this configuration of Blaser is so far removed from what I am used to that it shocked me how well I got on with it. Granted, I was not shooting the stiffest clay targets in the world, but still I was not expecting to feel as comfortable with this gun as I did.
The well-figured stock is of a high grade and the counterbalance system inside it — as well as one on the mid-rib of the barrels — allows for all tastes to be catered for. Add to that the fact that this is modular and the huge combination of fore-end shapes, stock shapes, rib heights and finishes that are available, and the discerning clay shooter is allowed to have almost any whim satisfied on the F3 platform.
Again, the F3 is a no-frills machine; there is little in the way of embellishment to distract the shooter from the silverware on offer at the end of the competition. And that really is the point — nobody worries about how pretty your gun is when you are on the top of the podium.
Clay guns are simply the tools of the trade for those people who like to test themselves in the heat of competition. What many who have never experienced it don’t realise is the fact that you are not competing against anyone but yourself. If it is your day and you have shot well enough to get there, the only ally in a shoot-off is the gun in your hands.
The handling you can adjust and acclimatise to over time, but above all else comes reliability. Without it, the fatal flaw of doubt creeping into your mind may well determine whether you climb on to the podium at all, let alone on which step you get to stand.