Top shots can read a clay in the blink of an eye. Scroll on down and discover how they do it ...

A top-notch Gun will see a bird presented once and instantly know how he is going to kill it.

Stance and ready position accurate

He probably doesn’t even consider how he knows this, but his stance and ready position will be spot on from the start.

He’ll automatically decide the visual pick up point, and know instinctively the ideal kill point.

He will have a couple of contingency plans ready in the back of his mind just in case something untoward happens to the bird in flight. Like a gust of wind.

The talent to ‘read the clay target’

This talent is known as being able to ‘read’ the clay. For most people it takes constant practise.

We can spend ages perfecting our gun mounting technique, dry mounting in front of a mirror for days on end.

We can then invest weeks’ worth of our hard earned salary on having our gun fitted properly.

We’ll complete our endeavours by spending countless hours down at the shooting club trying to hit a variety of targets.

Know where to point the gun

In order to achieve any measure of success we need to know where to point the gun before we pull the trigger – that is, we must be able to read the bird.

We all realise that to hit a target we need to shoot ahead / in front of it because the clay is travelling at several feet per second, as is the shot as it speeds towards the target.

What we’ve got to do is consider and allow for the time delay between these two variables.

Think about it as the clay being broken by travelling into the shot, rather than the shot hitting the clay.

This delay that sets us apart from rifle shooters

If we aim directly at the target – as they do – we’ll miss behind, as by the time the shot reaches the initial position the clay will have moved on.

So we need to be ahead of the target – but where, and by how much?

On English Sporting layouts every stand can be different. Here’s a few pointers to help improve your scores.

clay shooting - read the target


When studying any airborne target there are five main factors to bear in mind, shown in the illustration here.


clay shooting - read the target
Be aware of sloping ground and ‘false’ backgrounds. If, for instance, the tree line naturally drops away to one side, a clay that is travelling (basically) horizontally can give the impression that it’s rising as it goes away from you – often fooling you into missing above the target:

Beware wind

Gusts of wind can play havoc with targets, especially non-standard clays.

If the bird’s flying into a head wind it will slow considerably faster than usual – and can be blown off its normal flightline in any direction.

Before you can read the bird’s flightline you need to:

  • Make sure you know what type of target it is you’re shooting; standard, mini etc.
  • Know exactly from where the clay will appear.
  • Watch how the target is presented; face on, belly or edge on.
  • Remember that a clay presented edge on may appear to be further away than it actually is.
  • Try and gauge distance accurately.

clay shooting - read the target

If a clay appears from above the tree line, for instance, it’s probably about 25 yards above you.

A few simple steps to help you read the clay target


First step is to decide the pick up and kill points.

As you mount the gun keep the bead of the muzzles on, or just below the flightline.

Pull ahead of the target and keep the gun moving as you pull the trigger.

Don’t forget that the bird will almost certainly be veering slightly to one side. Allow  for this.

Going away clay targets

  • Don’t assume this type is travelling in a straight line
  • To check, make sure you know exactly where it disappears from view, either by hitting the ground or going behind any vegetation.
  • From this you can work out if it’s straying off to one side or other.
  • Remember, the longer you leave it before you pull the trigger, the more likely the clay will deviate off its line as it runs out of power.

Crow type targets

  • Always watch where the clay falls. This can tell you if the target is drifting to the front, back, left or right.
  • Choose your kill point with this in mind. Be wary of ‘deceptions’ where a false tree or ground line, for instance, can lure you into following the shape of the principal object – rather than the actual flight path of the clay.

The golden rules of successful clayshooting

  • Try and develop a ‘feel’ for a target.
  • Watch closely and try and judge the speed, angle and distance of the clay before you shoot.
  • Remember, whatever your ability, and assuming your technique is okay, if a bird catches you out and you miss it… you misread it.


Horizons – sloping ground can trick you.
Backgrounds – clear skies can make targets appear smaller and quicker.
Deceptions – false ground, tree or hedge lines.