As the clay season starts in earnest I reckon it’s time we had a look at tackling a couple of the trickier targets you’re likely to meet on a Sporting layout, the ones that so many course designers just love to present – namely those at long-distance and the super high.

On average, most shooters working their way around a Sporting layout (without an instructor coaching them) should probably hit around half of their intended targets.

I say average, but hopefully many shooters will be getting even higher scores – testament to the fact they have taken time to practice on the trickier birds, rather than simply say: “Huh, can’t hit that, let’s move on” – without even firing a shot!

And this is just plain daft. Every target you’ll see presented is hittable if it’s tackled correctly.

If you think it’s beyond your capability, well, you’ve half talked yourself into missing before you’ve even closed the gun.

You’ve got to have a go, even if it means you’re learning by your mistakes.

When you ask the buttoner to show you the bird, don’t get in a flap if you think it looks difficult.

Remember that course designers – me included – often make the presentation of pretty standard targets look incredibly tricky to hit.

The emphasis here is on the word ‘look’ because, in reality, such birds are generally no more difficult to break than any other… it’s just that in the eyes of the shooter they look extremely hard to hit.

Remember, no course designer will present a bird that’s impossible to hit.

So, with this in mind, let’s have a look at nailing a few of those long-distance little blighters.

So then, how far away does a clay have to be before you think you can’t hit it?

To be honest, that’s variable and all down to the experience and proficiency of the man behind the gun.

But to put things into context we need to consider what is actually ‘long-range’ in respect to the typical shotgun/cartridge combination.

In my book I reckon it’s somewhere around the 45 to 50-yard mark.

Yes, I realise it’s possible to break clays at much greater distances, but to do this consistently (and cleanly) is probably going to demand a level of performance that’s way above average.

As a matter of interest you might like to know that on the majority of layouts here at Grimsthorpe, the average distance from the stand/hoop to the optimum killing point is probably around the 25-30 yards.

That’s not really a huge difference to a ‘long-range bird’ so it’s surprising how those extra few yards can put some shooters in a bit of a panic.

Matter if we want to hit targets out to, say, 50 yards it’s important we know what a standard clay looks like at that distance.

The simplest method is to measure it out then get a mate to throw a few clays high into the air at that distance while you stand back (without your gun!) and note what they look like.

Alternatively, standing a target on its side on the ground – bolting rabbit style – will allow you to get an impression of the size of the clay.

And admittedly, it does look small.

On the plus side, because it’s further away it is probably going to be in view for longer than usual, and, as a result, might even appear to be travelling just that little bit slower.

Here we have an irony.

The bird is the same size, and it’s travelling at the same speed as any other clay from any other trap.

It’s just that what you see – the perceived image – is so much different to what you’re used to.

The principle thing to remember is that the amount of lead necessary to kill the bird is no different to usual… it just seems that way.

The angle that the muzzles are ahead of a 50-yarder when you pull the trigger is exactly the same as one at 25 yards, assuming they are both travelling at the same speed.

If you were shooting a mini, flying at the same trajectory but at half the distance from the shooter, the bird would look almost identical in the air.

The crucial thing – irrespective of the shooting style you favour – is to be ahead of the bird when you fire.

Really high birds can be a daunting prospect for any shooter, and especially for a novice.

This is generally because the average shooter doesn’t get much opportunity to practice shooting them, but as we said before, I promise that they will be hittable if you treat them just as you would any other target.

Because it’s high it’s more likely to be visible for longer but don’t convince yourself that because of this it’s travelling slower than any other clay.

Your swing needs to be smooth and unhurried, as it should for any bird.

And just because it’s in sight don’t be tempted to mount the gun earlier than usual.

Study the flight line and wait until the bird is approaching your intended kill point before you start your mount and swing.

Mount the gun too early and you’ll find you’ll probably end up aiming at the bird – almost guaranteed to make you miss – and, equally important if you’re shooting a lot of cartridges, you’ll also end up with arms that really ache!

Judging distance is not so easy with high birds because there are fewer (if any) reference points you can use to form an opinion.

There’s no easy way to learn how to judge exactly how high a bird is, but I remember seeing a demonstration at a game fair once where a life size dummy of a cock pheasant was hung beneath a balloon and shooters were asked to judge how far it was away.

Interestingly, I seem to remember that the vast majority of shooters underestimated how high it was.

Hitting high birds consistently is often a matter of confidence.

The angle of lead given will be the same for a lower bird, irrespective of how far away the bird is, so remember your sight pictures for other targets, relax, don’t get flustered, and let your instincts take over.

From then on it’s simply a matter of practice.

Hang a clay pigeon sized disc of cardboard underneath a child’s helium-filled balloon. (Or you could use an actual clay if the balloon is big enough to carry it.)

Attach the balloon to 50 yards of fishing line and let the balloon rise in the air – a still, windless day would be best – and don’t forget to hang onto the other end of the line.

When all the line is played out, well… that’s how big a clay will look!

Get more shooting instruction!

How to shoot long range targets and high birds