Clay target shooting: 10 tips to improve your accuracy
Crushed by crossers or daunted by ducks? Beat every presentation with our guide to all the clay targets you’ll ever encounter
Clay target shooting
Here’s what you’re likely to come across and how to deal with them. (Read more on how to read the clay target.)
1. Incoming clay target
Chances are you started your clay target shooting career engaging these – probably with an easy close-range target. But as the distance increases, so does the difficulty. Irrespective of distance, the technique is beautifully simple. The quick fix to any problems you’re having is to cut down on excess movement.
Select this before you do anything else. If you can see it at the peak of its trajectory, this will be where you shoot it. Here the bird has little speed, and essentially it is a zero-angle target, meaning the lead required will be minimal.
Try starting this one gun-down to increase your vision around your barrels and help judge exactly the right point to shoot the target. With the gun out of the shoulder, you can let your eyes drift back towards the trap and have lots of time to visually lock on to the bird without the gun getting in the way.
As the target approaches your hold point, slowly start to mount the gun, matching the speed of the clay over its last few metres of flight before it reaches its peak. As it settles for that split second before accelerating back to earth, lock on to the bottom edge and pull the trigger. (Read more on practising your gun mount here.)
Are you still missing? Work on your barrel awareness. You may not actually be shooting at the bird, but underneath it. It’s a rare kind of target in that you can think of it like a rifle shot.
2. Going Away
The target that comes from behind doesn’t get presented that often, so it tends to cause problems when it does. Maintained lead works consistently for this target, avoiding having to accelerate the gun downwards and obscure the target.
The main thing is to choose your kill point and stick to it. Pick a stance that is comfortable and balanced at this point. To an extent, it doesn’t matter where that kill point actually is – though shooting them early to maximise the available surface area isn’t a bad idea. In addition, try taking your head off the stock once you’ve mounted, to give you a larger field of view.
This should only be about a third of the way back towards the trap. You want as much space as possible for your eyes to lock on to the target and for you to watch the bird come to your barrels. If you don’t get a good visual hold, the rest of the shot will fail.
Once your eyes have locked on, bring your head to the gun while still looking at the bird. Your barrels will be well beneath the clay; as the clay approaches, slowly move away, holding beneath the target and firing as you reach your determined kill point. Don’t be afraid to get a few feet underneath if it’s a fast one. You should minimise your gun movement; you want to feel as if you’ve got all the time in the world.
Are you still missing? Losing the target under your gun? The hold point is probably too close to the trap. Missing over the top? The lead you need might be a bit larger than you expect, as you’re shooting with a slow gun.
3. High Crossers
Variations on this type of clay target shooting are endless: long, slow, fast, diving, climbing, curling. So limiting yourself to one method isn’t going to work – you need to be flexible to avoid getting caught out. As a general rule, pull away if it’s curling, and use maintained lead if it’s straighter.
Your first step to beating a crosser is to choose the point on its path where it looks the most breakable. This is a combination of where the line is straightest, the target is showing the most surface area, and how far it is from the shooting position. Working out exactly what this bird is doing at the kill point is a big part of beating it.
Set up your feet allowing you to not only reach your kill point, but to follow through once you’ve pulled the trigger. You don’t want to stop the gun and lose all the lead you’ve built up. Wind back about halfway to the trap to reach your hold point.
Watch the target approach your gun and move slowly. You want to essentially match its speed, allowing you to hold lead in front of the bird, and fire as it reaches the kill point.
Still missing? It can be easy to underestimate the speed of a crosser. Try following it with your finger to get a better reading. And remember, they don’t only cross – they will drop after a while.
You will not be presented with a true dropping clay regularly, and as such, a lot of people aren’t particularly proficient at it. But it’s a skill worth having for simo pairs or wind-affected teal. Try the maintained lead strategy.
Commit to shooting on the drop – take it late. Give yourself as much time as possible to read the target, and let its line straighten towards the ground, removing any need for lateral lead. Make a reference point in the background for height so you can have the same kill point every time.
Take the gun out of your shoulder and move up to your hold point. This will be where the target reaches its peak before dropping back down. Gun down will give you better vision around the gun and help prevent rushing.
Estimate the amount of lead it will take to break the bird, and start your gun with this level of lead when the target peaks. Hold this lead all the way down to the kill point. During this phase of holding the lead, your brain will be making the necessary tiny adjustments to the picture for lead and line without you realising it.
If you’re still missing, really take your time when reading the target before you step into the cage, paying particular attention to the speed and angle of the drop. All this can drastically affect the sight picture.
5. Rising Loopers
Another target with a huge degree of variation, the many looping presentations you get have three stages in common: the initial rise, the peak, then the drop. You need to be able to hit the target in all three stages.
In an ideal world you’ll shoot the target at its peak, as it’s the easiest place to connect. But the target setter will often force you to take the shot elsewhere. In that case, try to get it on the way up. It’s under power so will be moving quickly, but the advantage to this is that the line is usually pretty straight, so you can attack it with a short pull-away move.
Shoot this target gun-down to give greater vision around and below the gun. Set up to be comfortable at the kill point, allowing room with your feet for a short follow-through, and wind back about a third of the way towards the trap.
Watch the target come to your gun, and connect with it briefly before accelerating through the line. The lead can vary massively, but remember a rising target is under power, so don’t be afraid to push out into the daylight.
If you’re still missing? Forget the fact that it’s a looper. Treat it as a straight climbing target and simply push through without worrying about compound lead.
6. Springing teal
A true teal is almost vertical but slightly angled away from the shooter, and doesn’t hang at the peak. This means you need to be able to shoot it aggressively on the climb, not rifle-shoot it at the top.
Though the method of applying lead will be the same for all teal, the exact amount of swing-through will vary depending on the speed and severity of its angle. Essentially the bigger and faster the target, the more gun speed is required. This is generated by starting progressively closer to the trap.
Have a look at the diagram here – it’s got three different hold points on it. Point 1 is where you should be for fast or steep teal that will take a lot of gun speed; point 2 for average teal; and point 3 for slow or shallow teal.
Set yourself up with a comfortable stance that allows you to continue your swing from the hold point to just past the kill point without the need to rock on to the back foot, which might cause your head to lift and miss high. Let your eyes soft-focus in the patch of sky immediately above your barrels.
Don’t move until you clearly see the target pass above your barrels. Accelerate through the line of the target, catching up to and passing the bird, squeezing the trigger when your gun moves beyond the clay.
7. High tower driven
A classic driven bird from a tower will almost always face on, with the underside of the clay facing you. This means it takes relatively little energy to break it.
Your feet need to be shoulder-width apart, with your weight distributed 50/50 between them, as opposed to the more regular weight-forward stance. This gives you more movement as your barrels approach vertical, which is where stopping the gun becomes an issue leading to a miss behind.
This is also a target to shoot gun-down. You need to be moving fluidly throughout, and this really helps – plus it increases your peripheral vision, which is vital on this shot.
To make sure the target is in view over the gun for as much time as possible, you need to start with a hold point much closer to the trap than feels natural. You can even start with the gun just over the trap (assuming it is visible). The target will beat the gun at the start of the shot, but that’s fine – you want to be chasing the target from behind.
Let the target get as close to you as possible – resist the temptation to attack it too early. As the bird approaches the ‘12 o’clock point’ directly above you, try to take it at 11 o’clock. This still gives room for that all-important follow through.
Allow the target to carry on past your gun. It is common for people to get in front of the target too early – make a point of letting it beat your gun by what feels like far too much. Wait until the bird is approximately halfway between the trap and the chosen kill point. Giving the bird this head start is vital – try to get into it too soon and chances are you will miss.
Slowly mount the gun, which at this point is still a fair way behind the target. As the bird approaches the kill point, accelerate and catch the target just as it gets to the kill point. Don’t forget to keep moving the gun as you fire.
If you’re still missing stop and think: can you see the target at the point of taking the shot? If so, you have stopped the gun and missed behind. Keep pushing through the shot.
The rabbit clay is much thicker and heavier than a standard as it has to withstand being bounced along the floor. This makes it hard to break, but also means it slows down quickly. The background whizzing past can obscure this, so be careful not to miss in front.
Try to put a little more weight over your front foot than normal. When shooting below eye level, it is easy to rock on to the back foot, which can lead to you missing in front.
Within reason, the kill point is better later on, as the target will have bled off most of its speed by then. Set your feet to be able to reach this point comfortably and allow a small follow through.
This will vary depending on the angle of the target, but think around halfway back to the trap for crossing bunnies, and less so (around a third of the way back) for more quartering presentations. Make sure you start just below the line of the target.
Call for the target and watch it approach your barrels. Start to move with the target, matching its speed with your gun. Move off the front edge as gradually as you can – if it’s moving at 20mph you want to move at 21mph – and shoot as you pass. Err on the lower side with your shot; pellets will bounce off the floor and spread out quite dramatically, increasing your chance of a hit.
Still missing? Try this: Slow your gun right down and shoot dead at it, no lead. If this doesn’t work, do the same but shut your off eye. Once you have done these two options you can go about increasing lead, but more often than not you won’t need to.
9. Quartering Away
The term ‘quartering’ is pretty loose. It is, in essence, an angled going-away target. It can start level with, behind, or in front of the shooter, and depending on the target setter, it might be doing several things at once.
Set up your feet with a slight weight-forward bias, ensuring you are comfortable just past your chosen kill point to allow for a follow through on the swing. Wind back approximately one third of the way back towards the trap, settling your gun over a physical marker in the terrain (a bush, a pile of clays, or a trap – whatever as long as you keep the same one between shots).
This is the only thing that really changes between different quartering targets. It needs to be closer to the kill point for a shallower angle, and closer to the trap for a wider angle. You also need to establish a ‘visual hold point’ between your gun hold point and the trap.
All the fast movement should be done with your eyes, not your barrels. Visually lock on to the target, focusing hard as it approaches the hold point. As the bird passes your barrels, start a short, smooth move from behind the clay, pulling the trigger as you reach your kill point, which should tie in with you just passing the front edge of the clay.
Too many people try to shoot these targets quickly. Take your time – if you ‘slash’ at it in a hurry, you will miss. The target will never outrun you.
A different shape of clay, this target flies differently to most others. It flies faster than a standard target, then loses momentum and plummets at a rate of knots, showing more of its face but picking up speed as it goes.
This will depend on the presentation but it should be underneath the line of the bird and at the point the clay starts to open up. This could be anywhere from a quarter to two thirds of the way back to the trap. You also need a visual hold point that isn’t too close to the trap (or you won’t see the edge-on clay).
The kill point will be in the latter part of the flight (at earlier stages the bird is edge-on with little surface area visible.) Plan to let the target turn and roll, shooting the bird as it picks up speed towards the ground.
Watch the bird come above the barrels, move with it matching the speed (staying low), then accelerate out into your lead, pulling the trigger as you reach the kill point. Battues are generally faster than a standard, so don’t be frightened to see a big gap.
Shooting this target requires it to be obscured by the gun at the point of pulling the trigger. Resist the urge to try and see a sight picture – you must push through or you will miss below.